19 July 2023
By Vicki Salemi
Bosses usually get a bad rap — you may have endured a “Devil Wears Prada”-type — but that’s all the more reason to appreciate fantastic bosses.
“Awesome bosses listen, welcome feedback, ask others their opinion and respect different points of view,” said Kirstin Ferguson, Ph.D. and author of “Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership” (Berrett-Koehler). “These are bosses who give you opportunities you didn’t even know you were ready for and see potential in you before you did.”
Here are some terrific bosses and their direct reports who rave about them.
Upper East Sider Shurabhi Das, 32, is a senior manager at IvyWise, an educational consultancy in Midtown.
She credits COO Merrily Bodell, 55, with supporting her professionally and personally over the past 10 years.
“The trust, respect and care have only deepened and grown over the years,” said Das. “There’s no one I trust more than Merrily. When filling out forms, I list Merrily as my emergency contact.”
“We joke that we call each other mother- and daughter-in-law, too,” said Bodell, who recently tapped Das for her new role in research upon recognizing Das’ interest in data.
Das started as a project coordinator at IvyWise in 2013, leaving two years later to pursue a graduate degree in London.
Das kept in touch with her boss and returned to the company in 2017 as social media manager.
Her employer sponsored her US work permit and green card, which she secured last year and is “forever grateful” for.
Bodell thrives on guidance and people management. “I love the business and financial management, but what melts my butter is working with people,” she said. “I feel like my skills in motherhood and management are related and important. I think that adds to my experience. I feel like they’re my kids in a way. I definitely feel so proud helping people and Shurabhi specifically.”
In addition to recognizing talent, the COO builds team camaraderie by hosting Boat Day, an annual companywide outing at her Westport, Conn., home including boating, swimming and, last year, a taco truck in her backyard.
The return-to-office bash in April 2022 featured manicures, massages, lunch and a special surprise.
“I got the North Shore Animal League to come in with a bunch of puppies, because who doesn’t love puppies?” she said. “I secretly felt like Shurabhi needed a puppy.” (Her plan worked, as Das adopted a pup she called Mowgli.)
Das said she has learned from Bodell how to become a better leader, and loyalty to her boss and company runs deep.
“It’s been over 10 years, so I think that’s a pretty good indication that I’ll have to be thrown out against my will,” she said.
Matt Cermack, 33, talent manager at Atrium, a Nomad-based workforce management firm, was anxious.
He had just endured an uncomfortable phone conversation telling a candidate they didn’t land a job.
“Jenna Gaston, our supportive and compassionate manager, somehow witnessed my distress and immediately offered her support,” said Cermack. “I didn’t have to ask. She knew.”
Gaston, 35, senior division director, assured Cermack that he had handled the situation appropriately.
As their team headed to dinner, she stayed behind while Cermack composed himself.
“She has Spidey senses tingling,” said Cermack, who has also learned how to support and lead others through Gaston’s examples. “Like, eye contact ‘I got you’ unspoken support.”
Cermack said that Gaston “goes above and beyond to be there” in personal pursuits, too.
When he ran the Brooklyn half-marathon in a torrential downpour, then-pregnant Gaston stood at the Mile 1 marker in her raincoat, cheering him on.
“It was amazing! To see her take it one step further, to be there for me in my personal life was so great — really the best surprise.”
Gaston credits learning empathy from her parents, along with work experience and Atrium’s leadership training.
“Learning from so many different leaders in life and having great mentors has really shaped me,” she said.
“I have the best boss ever,” said Deb Petrara, 59, of Oyster Bay, LI.
The senior manager at ABI Research, a global technology intelligence firm, credits her boss Jay Scheer, 39, marketing director, for having her back.
Petrara says he demonstrates a unique leadership style of giving input that’s more of a suggestion than a direction.
“He has never overridden or derailed my input or decisions. He has a knack for letting us run,” said Petrara. “It’s very difficult, especially for women and older women, to be loud and proud about their ideas or their concerns.”
Thanks to Scheer, she feels empowered.
“Having that support where I can speak up is huge,” she said. “It’s made me a better thinker and a better strategist and writer. I’m not afraid of taking chances,” said Petrara.
Scheer said the praise is “incredibly humbling. I’ve had some great bosses and not-so-great bosses. I think the big difference along that spectrum is trust. Giving your employees the trust to do their jobs, what they’re hired for and take ownership for their work, giving them the room to succeed and also try new things, maybe experiment a little bit, get out of their comfort zone. I think that engenders confidence in the employee and also buy-in into the organization and where they’re going.”
The six-member department works remotely, meeting virtually twice a week.
There’s also the “marketing trust tree” group chat.
Whether they share a joke, technology issue or something else, it’s like being in a room behind closed doors.
“It’s our water cooler,” said Petrara. “There’s no wrong answer. It’s a safe space. There are no repercussions because he set it up that way. Jay allows us to be vocal.”