Sunday, May 8, 2011

Her name was Karen.

Her name was Karen. She was a showgirl. Okay, no, not really. But now you have Barry Manilow playing in your head. Haha!

Actually, her name was Karen. She’s a United Express flight attendant. And she’s the best flight attendant (FA) I have experienced in a long time. As you know, when you fly into a hub airport, the FA does one of three things. Often, it’s nothing. Sometimes it’s to tell you to check the monitors when you land for connecting gate information. And sometimes they interrupt work, sleep, reading and conversation to read off connecting gates for ten minutes over the PA.

But not Karen. Karen went row by row and provided tailored information to each individual passenger with a connection. She also inquired if each passenger was familiar with Dulles International. When not, she gave detailed directions on how to navigate the terminal upon arrival. From my advantage, I saw lots of smiles and thank you’s for Karen’s tremendous service and hospitality. I certainly appreciated it and was in awe.

The cost to United Airlines for this remarkable service? $0.00, that’s what. The cost to Karen? Maybe less time thumbing through her special “Royal Wedding” edition of People magazine. And the benefit to Karen? Also none. This was one of those 20 row planes that only has one FA. Nobody but us passengers (i.e. customers!) to witness and appreciate her efforts. No colleague or supervisor for whom she was putting on a show. It was Karen just being Karen.

So if you’re a loyal reader of this blog and my musings (thank you, if you are!), you know what is to follow: a question with no answer. The question: How do we identify and hire the Karens of the world? What question can we ask, either of the candidate or their reference, to learn who is a Karen and who is not?

Whether they are on the road, out on tour, standing behind the table at a fair, or behind closed doors in an interview (or serving alone in an airplane cabin), trust is a key component with our staff and in our operations. Much of their work is done in solitude. Our people are our best admissions tool and no website or viewbook or social media endeavor can reverse the effects of a bad staff member. We need to treasure and nurture the good ones, but we have to first figure out how to identify and hire them.

Hey Karen! If you’re reading this, there’s a job for you in Canada.

And on a personal note: Congratulations to Shelia Bogan from Dublin School on her move to NYC and to day school admissions. The likes of boarding schools—and NYC!—will never be the same. It’s a lucky school that will benefit from her aversion to sleep and her addiction to work. Congratulations also to my former colleague and friend Emily Surovick (a Karen if there ever was one!) at Chestnut Hill Academy. Emily is expecting her second child and leaving our profession to be a stay-at-home mom. They are unlikely to find someone with as much poise, style, grace and dedication as Emily. She’s a class act and it was a privilege to work alongside her for a year.


  1. Andrew!!!! What a sweetheart! Thank you so much for the kind words and also for lunch! It was so great to see you and hear about your adventures. Next time, I'll join you on that G&T!!

  2. I'd say a clear benefit to Karen is this post. We'll all be on the lookout for her the next time we board a UA flight.

    Nice entry, Andrew.

  3. Fun to read Andrew!We all need those Karen's! I will be singing the Bary M song all day! Sorry to miss you in Philly...See you San Fran!!
    Cheers, Mimi Babcock

  4. Peter: I'm honored you follow along. Thanks for the post.

    Mimi: looking forward. Should be fun as always. Did you get my lunch invite?

    Em: get your own G&T!