What do Weber-Shandwick, F-H, Makovsky, M. Booth and, yes, Peppercomm, have in common?
They’re hugely successful strategic communications firms whose prowess is directly connected to the strength and performance of their back office functions.
Show me a PR firm with a weak CFO, office manager or personnel director, and I’ll show you an agency that isn’t winning new clients, growing profits or attracting and retaining great people.
Alas, back office workers are often treated in much the same way as the Untouchables in India’s Caste System. They’re literally invisible, are rarely mentioned in internal memos and NEVER included in those already suspect best workplace tales that PR Week likes to spin.
But, that’s not the case at my firm.
If an office manager hall of fame were to be created, I’d make sure Peppercomm’s Lee Stechmann would be among the first class to be elected (He’s the Babe Ruth of the Back Office).
Making the case for Lee
To begin with, Lee is arguably our best writer. His daily, and weekly, updates are equal parts Dostoyevsky and Louis CK.
Case in point: Every Friday, Lee reminds employees on our two floors in the New York office to remove their food from the fridge, place empty plates in the dishwasher and dispose of any refuse in the general kitchen area.
On one particular Friday, he added a note to help those who might be in need of extra grease to clean their silverware. It read, “You’ll find Dawn underneath the fifth floor kitchen sink.”
Good lord! I was aghast and immediately responded with an agency- wide memo asking why Lee had put poor Dawn under the sink, and how long he intended to keep her there.
To his credit, Stechmann issued an immediate clarification that read like a police bulletin and assured employees that Dawn was NOT an underachieving employee being punished for her transgressions but, rather, a dish washing detergent.
That said, Dawn’s plight is still considered an unsolved mystery at Peppercomm and the fifth floor sink is still roped off with yellow crime scene tape.
Above and beyond
But, it isn’t Lee’s flair with the pen that elevates him to Greek god status on the Mount Olympus of clean-up.
Rather, it’s his random acts of love and kindness that truly set the man apart. To wit:
Our building (like every Manhattan office) plays host to occasional visits from small, furry creatures. Rather than declare war on them, though, Lee extends an olive branch. Peppercomm’s Sarah Sanzari recalls spotting Lee on a Saturday morning carefully plucking tiny mice from the glue traps in which they’d been snared, cleaning them up, rehabilitating them, and freeing them outside the building. Holy Saint Francis of Assisi, Batman!
Adam Giambattista, another Peppercommer, says Lee never bothers to ask when he spies AG lugging two heavy boxes up the staircase connecting our fifth and sixth floors. He’ll simply grab one and carry it himself.
And, Nicole Newby says she’ll often discuss her love of cats with Lee, who provides shelter in his garage during the winter for homeless felines. Now, you tell me: How many office managers in this world will shower cats and mice alike with equal amounts of affection?
Lee’s true piece d’resistance, though, occurred about five years ago when one of his beloved little fellow’s passed away of natural causes (a fact later confirmed by a coroner’s report).
As you’ll see in the accompanying photograph, Lee built a tiny coffin for his deceased office mate and adorned it with laurel wreaths (or, reasonable facsimiles thereof).
In honor of our fallen comrade (and Lee’s quick/thinking craftsmanship), we observed an agency-wide moment of silence before Stechmann tossed the carcass down the garbage chute.
Great people make for great workplaces. And, those great people aren’t limited to the ones with fancy titles and high-profile digital footprints. They include top professionals such as Lee Stechmann without whom, I think it’s safe to say, Peppercomm wouldn’t be Peppercomm.
And, what higher honor can a business bestow on a single individual than to annually name him their unofficial Most Valuable Player year-in and year-out? Lee is given that honor at every year’s offsite retreat (I don’t give him anything. I just tell Lee he’s our most important employee. Maybe I should give him something, huh?).
I also have no doubt that Lee’s quiet excellence has played a key part in our having won virtually every Fortune Magazine award for great cultures.
I’m sure Burson, Mitchell, Marina Maher and other top firms have their back office heroes but, trust me, none shine brighter than our very own Lee Stechmann.