When the best-laid plans work Party: Good visualizing skills and attention to details -- and, oh, those details -- helped Barbara Bandel pull a holiday party together for some 900 people

Scenes Of The Season

December 26, 1998|By Lisa Pollak | Lisa Pollak,SUN STAFF

Good evening, and welcome to "Someone's Gotta Do It," the show about the unsung heroes of the holiday season. The show that asks: Who changes the hay in the live-animal manger? Who sneaks Santa behind the mall for cigarettes? Who scales the skyscraper when the lights spell Happy olidays?

Each week we give credit where credit is due as we bring you the story of a humble, behind-the-scenes holiday soldier. Tonight we're pleased to present the valiant tale of Barbara Bandel, a k a the Woman in Charge of Planning the Company Holiday Party that the Boss Started Talking About in August.

Yes, August. And now let us return to that fateful month, when our heroine -- the newly hired executive assistant to Joe Rensin, chairman and CEO of Creditrust Corp. in Woodlawn -- has a pivotal conversation with her boss.

The annual holiday party is on his mind, you see, and he doesn't mean some-deli-tray-and-soft- drinks-in-the-lunchroom-affair. This boss is thinking big. This boss is thinking extravagant.

This boss is thinking fish.

"Let's have the party at the aquarium," he says.

"The aquarium?" says Bandel, knowing this is either one fantastic idea or about as likely to happen as her boss sprouting gills. "That's a fantastic idea."

And so, on Aug. 13, after some five weeks on the job, Bandel calls the National Aquarium, discovering not only is it possible to hold the party there, but to hold it on Dec. 22, the night her boss suggested.

But our story hardly ends there. Bandel's mission is not merely to book the party, it is to plan the party, to please a boss she barely knows, not to mention an estimated 600 to 700 guests, all while handling her regular duties as the executive assistant to the chief honcho at a rapidly expanding debt collection company.

Bandel: "I can't say I really know what the man wants. Even when you see someone five days a week, you still don't really know their likes and dislikes for a party. But he's more or less left it to me to make the decisions, and hopefully they'll be right."

Thus, with little pressure and nothing at stake, our protagonist throws herself into her assignment. Step 1: A visit to the chosen venue.

Bandel: "I'm good at visualizing. I could visualize a party there."

She visualizes numerous buffets to ensure short lines. She visualizes open bars with top-shelf liquor. She visualizes scuba divers in Creditrust T-shirts feeding aquatic creatures before awe-struck guests. She visualizes searchlights and a red carpet and a hired "greeter" in top hat and tails. She visualizes a live band; pine garlands and white lights; a massive vinyl banner emblazoned with the company's name. She visualizes rows and rows of alphabetized name tags on which the names of every single employee and guest are spelled correctly.

Step 2: Maintain a cool head.

Bandel: "I don't panic and scream and cry. I just say, everything is going to be OK."

So it's OK when the the guest list grows to 991 people. OK when colleagues say they'd prefer a DJ to a band. OK when the font size on the name tags has to be changed so employees' names are big enough for the boss to read from a distance. OK, even, that a computer problem means she'll have to alphabetize those name tags by hand.

But as regular viewers of "Someone's Gotta Do It" know, if the job was so easy, everybody would be doing it.

It's mid-afternoon on the day before the party when our courageous protagonist, in her words, "begins to lose it." She runs out of name tag labels. The printer needs toner. A bulb burns out in the overhead projector right before the boss' morning presentation.

It didn't help that she was up all night fretting: Should there be a spotlight on the CEO when he gives his thank-you speech to the guests?

And then, after four months of planning, the fateful evening arrives. Wondrously it unfolds, almost exactly as our heroine had visualized: The divers. The searchlights. The alphabetized name tags. Hundreds of happy, buzzed people in formal wear eating tenderloin and crab fondue. So what if her boss comes in the back entrance, missing the red carpet and giant banner? So what if there's a last-minute scramble to find a podium for his speech?

Because finally, after the climactic moment arrives, and the CEO walks through the crowd, and the DJ plays "We Are The Champions" and the spotlight -- heck, he deserves it -- finds the podium, and the boss gives a 12-page speech thanking his employees for a job well-done, and a tidal wave of applause fills the National Aquarium ... something happens that makes all Bandel's labor worthwhile.

The CEO leans into the microphone. "BEFORE I CLOSE THIS EVENING," he says, "THERE IS ONE OTHER PERSON WHO DESERVES YOUR SPECIAL RECOGNITION AND THANKS TONIGHT. MANY OF YOU KNOW BARBARA BANDEL, MY EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT. WHAT YOU MAY NOT KNOW IS THAT BARBARA SINGLE-HANDEDLY PLANNED AND COORDINATED THIS ENTIRE EVENT THIS EVENING. PLEASE GIVE BARBARA A BIG CREDITRUST THANK YOU."

Later, when the cheering subsides, she gets a big Creditrust hug. And something else. "I did the math, Barbara," her boss says eagerly. "We could be 2,000 employees by the end of next year -- next year's party could have 3,000 people."

Barbara Bandel doesn't miss a beat. "I just want everyone to have a wonderful time."

As we like to say here, "Someone's Gotta Do It."

Pub Date: 12/26/98

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