For countless KAers, clients and business partners, Kathy James is the first face of KA. Recently named senior receptionist at our headquarters building in Minneapolis, Kathy has been building our brand presence from her front desk post for 33 years. To visitors from all walks of life, she’s a warm welcome and first call for help, guidance, directions, lost and found, and assorted kindnesses. Here, she shares some insights into her career, and KA culture.
Q: Since you are the first voice/face so many people see and hear when they call or visit KA, you have to be one of the most well-known representatives of our company. What do you enjoy most about your work?
KATHY JAMES, SENIOR RECEPTIONIST, KRAUS-ANDERSON TWIN CITIES OFFICE: I like interacting with the employees and clients. I like it when I can make a client or an interviewee feel at ease and calm before their meeting.
Q: Do you have any tips you share with trainees about being a good front desk ambassador to KA?
KATHY JAMES: Always smile even if you know don’t feel like it. A smile sets the tone of the day for you and the visitor. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Treat others equally without partiality. Don’t bring your personal life to work.
Q: How did you come to work at Kraus-Anderson?
KATHY JAMES: I applied though an agency, Diane Pflafferty. When I walked in she said, “You’re perfect! I can’t believe how perfect you are!” Sheepishly, I said, “I am?” Diane sent me to KA. The interview went really well. When I arrived home from the interview I got a call from Diane saying, Kraus-Anderson is offering you the position. I was ecstatic.
Q: Talk about your job in your early years at KA. What was your day like? What were the challenges?
KATHY JAMES: My days were extremely busy. The phones were analog and all the calls came through a central location – the front desk. No direct dial back then. I would get 500 to 700 calls a day, 100 calls by 9 AM. The secretaries hated to come down to relieve me for breaks and lunch. You had to be fast and accurate. I had memorized all of the three digit extensions so recall became my best friend. My recall used to be a problem when I first started. I could not retain any information. I prayed and prayed because I really needed this job. Sharon (Layeux, then office manager) was about to let me go after three months. Then one day, boom, I had the miracle I needed. I could retain all of the information.
Q: Your desk downtown was practically right outside of Lloyd Engelsma’s office, and you saw him often. Share a couple of Lloyd stories that help us understand what he was like.
KATHY JAMES: Lloyd would always make it a habit to shake hands and introduce himself to anyone in the lobby. He definitely had celebrity status. The men he spoke to were impressed and awed with his openness and humility. When Lloyd didn’t care to answer a question he would shrug is holders and laugh.
Q: You’ve also developed a lot of friendships over the years with our field staff, and still have many fans among our retirees. Talk about how that has enriched your time at KA.
KATHY JAMES: The retirees have a wealth of wisdom and excellent problem solving skills. Not much rattles them. When you’ve been under extreme pressure as they have, they don’t sweat the small stuff.
Q: Who are some of the other more memorable people you have encountered at KA?
KATHY JAMES: Bill Jaeger (then construction company president) didn’t know my name for the first four months. I was, “Hey you.” One time he took me into the plan room, straightened it up and told me, “Now, keep it this way,” and I did. After answering ten calls in a row, Bill would be the last call. (This happened more than once.) He would say, “Why aren’t you answering the phone?” I would explain he was call #10. He would say, “Oh, okay I better get off the phone. Give me Al.”
I remember Elaine Nygaard’s wonderfully unique laugh. Sharon Layeux’s mentorship, care and concern for me. I wouldn’t be here without her. Sue Trowbridge could draw the best out of anybody. She is a good friend. She got me on her bowling league and I played softball on her team too.
Q: How has your job changed over the years? What’s stayed the same?
KATHY JAMES: Well, it has gotten easier. The direct dial extensions have made a big difference. I hated giving up my IBM Selectric Typewriter. There is still a lot of information to be memorized along with faces and names.
Q: You worked at our former 525 South Eighth Street office, then moved with all of us to the temporary office in NE while we built the new headquarters. Now you’re back downtown in the new building. How the new space changed your work days at KA?
KATHY JAMES: I love the natural light. The check-in system with the iPad is so smooth. I love not being responsible for locking the office exterior doors. I do miss the employee contact, but on the other hand I’m really busy at the front desk.
Q: Other highlights that stand out for you during your time at KA?
KATHY JAMES: The only time I forgot to lock the office at 525 South Eighth was one of those snowy days when KA decided to let all of the employees go home early. I grabbed my purse and left the building. When I got home I remembered I had forgotten to lock the door. Just so happened there was an accident with injuries on the corner. (This was before cell phones.) The driver came in the office and dialed 911. His wife was badly injured. Jerry Dreis so happened to come upstairs and locked the doors after the guy finished his call to 911. I don’t feel so bad now for not locking the doors. At the time I was mortified.
Q: You’ve lived in Minneapolis for a long time, and you still have roots to your rural Kentucky home; Your southern charm and sense of humor are part of what makes you so effective in your work here. What are some cultural observations/favorite things from each of your “homes”— Kentucky and KA?
- Hospitality is a gift, but it can be taught and it is a skill worth learning.
- Holding a conversation is a great tool for anybody.
- Never gossip. Whatever is said to you in confidence is not to be passed around.
- Even though it is common to exaggerate a story in KY, it is not acceptable to lie in MN.
Q: Any advice to a new person just starting out here?
KATHY JAMES: Character is important. Your coworkers need to trust you (newbie) to do your job and to do it well. You shouldn’t be on your cell phone and you shouldn’t be surfing the internet. If you don’t have anything to do find something to do. Excel.