Management with a smile
Lydia Stapleton is proof that nice guys really do finish first

by Anne-Marie Jennings
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 04/98) - In these days of changing economic realities, staying in the same job for a long period of time is becoming a rare occurrence.

But for Lydia Stapleton -- who has worked for the same company in Yellowknife since her arrival from British Columbia a decade ago -- sticking with the same company is absolutely normal. "If it isn't broken, I don't see any reason to fix it," Stapleton says.

For many people who live and work in Yellowknife, Stapleton is often the friendly voice clients hear when they make a telephone call.

During her tenure with Office Compliments, she has not only logged in thousands of calls for hundreds of companies around town, but has moved her way up from the company's receptionist to office manager.

When she and her husband first came to Yellowknife -- the move came on the advice and positive reaction from friends who had already moved North -- neither Stapleton or her husband, Pat, had jobs waiting, or even a place of their own. But like many Yellowknifers, it didn't take long to get things rolling.

"My husband came up first to check the situation out, and then we came up together. We had friends we stayed with for five days. At that time, there was zero vacancy in town, but the landlady who interviewed us really liked us and put us at the top of the list."

It was difficult for me," she explains. "When we were moving to Yellowknife from Kelowna, I asked the movers how long it would take to get here. He laughed, and told me he's moved a lot of people from Yellowknife, but never to Yellowknife.

"So I wasn't exactly sure what I was getting into."

Shortly after their arrival, they had a place to stay, Pat had a job, and Lydia Stapleton was about to take the first step in what was to change her career path forever.

"I went down to the unemployment centre, and they asked me if I had a resume," she remembers. "I said I'd never had a resume.

"The last job I'd had I worked at for 10 years, it was not an "in thing" at the time. They suggested that I have one. They promptly sent me to Office Compliments."

When Stapleton returned to Office Compliments to pick up her resume, she was then introduced to Pat Moore, then-owner of Office Compliments. Moore spoke to Stapleton, asked her to come in for an interview.

She hasn't worked anywhere else since.

"I've really never looked back. It's a team-building company, I love what I do. I feel it was a job that was designed especially for me," she enthuses.

With her position at Office Compliments, Stapleton has done it all -- answer phones for as many as 90 different clients at one time, supervise the communications and tourism departments, and now manage the office.

And although she says there is very little about he job she doesn't like, there is one thing which she could do without -- taking minutes in management meetings.

Stapleton adds that she has learned from her own experience how to go about treating people in her professional life, which comes from her own genuine interest in people.

"I'm in a position -- especially supervising -- where I don't have favorites. I do try to treat everyone equally. I always like to think back to my very first job and how it feels.

"I was a lighting consultant in Kelowna for 10 years and I had top sales for 10 years. One day my boss called a meeting and asked me to tell the others how it is that we all go through the same steps when we're in sales and where the difference lies as to who can wrap up a sale and the end and who can't.

"The only thing I could say is I never lost sight of what it's like to walk into a maze of beautiful lighting and not even begin to know where to start. You have to remember what it was like the very first time you did that."

When dealing with unpleasant clients, Stapleton uses her best weapon -- kindness.

"You just remain cool, calm and collected and guide them through their troubles just by being kind," Stapleton says. "Generally, you find their whole tone changes. "If you answer the phone with a smile, the person on the other end will end up smiling. My boss in Kelowna used to say he'd never seen someone who could do collections and leave the clients with a smile on their face."

Stapleton's work ethic has also endeared her to many of the clients she works for through Office Compliments. For Mike Stilwell and his management consultant company, there is nobody better than Lydia.

"She is a heartthrob," Stilwell says. "She is a warm and wonderful person -- and that's strictly from a business perspective."

Jack Walker, owner and operator of the Yellowknife Inn, is also quick to sing Stapleton's praises.

"You'd have a hard time finding a person more pleasant," Walker says. "Whenever you talk to her on the phone, the feeling you get is that she'd go to the end of the world for you."

As for her job, Stapleton says that, while most people who work as a manager might find it difficult, she feels being an office manager is a perfect fit for her. "I think it's just getting your feet wet and really knowing what your responsibilities are. As you go along you take on more and more responsibilities."

Stapleton has spent her days in the North in one place -- Yellowknife.

"The people are very friendly," she says. "It's a community of opportunity. It's that type of community where you're given the opportunity -- people allow you to prove yourself."

While she says she's forgotten most of the strange requests made by clients, there is one task which sticks in her mind.

"The original owner of NWT Air lives in Palm Springs in the winter but still has a home up here. He got married last summer, and I was in charge of the RSVPs. There were people invited from all over the world, and he actually sent his jet for some people.

"The bride-to-be called me and said. 'Have you heard from Liz and Philip?' I said, 'What's the surname?' She said, `Have you not heard from Lizzie and Phil?' I said 'I'm sorry I don't know who you mean.'

Then I heard laughing. She said, 'Silly -- the Queen.'"

Whomever Stapleton is answering the phones for, she never forgets to add a decidedly personal touch to her work -- which her clients have come to appreciate.

"People love to be recognized," Stapleton explains.

"Obviously it's important to me and it's important to recognize people's voices. You like to make them feel special."

But in a day and age when people rarely stay in the same job for 10 years -- either by choice or circumstances -- Stapleton is aware of her fortune.

"People say it's very unusual," she says. "I think I like the stability. I like who I work for -- because it is a team-building company it's like a little family. I feel very comfortable."

Ten years away from the town you grew up in can seem like a lifetime, and for some, the pull to move back one day is too strong because of what is missing. For Stapleton, there is only one thing she wishes was the same in Yellowknife as in Kelowna.

"I miss the weather," she says. "When I first moved to Yellowknife, it was always Kelowna, Kelowna, Kelowna. "If I moved back it would be Yellowknife, Yellowknife, Yellowknife."

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