The brains behind Santa Claus
Every day until Christmas, you can find Santa Claus at CherryVale Mall, bouncing happy children on his knee, updating his massive database of toy requests.
He also was in the Light Up the Parks Parade in Loves and Machesney Park on Nov. 19. On Dec. 8, Santa will be dressed up in Civil War-period clothing for a holiday walk sponsored by the Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Santa has to balance this plethora of public events with his North Pole duties — making sure toy production is on track, gift wrapping is stocked and the naughty/nice lists are being constantly updated.
It’s an insane schedule that has to be too much for one person to handle. Every year seemingly a new movie comes out starring Santa, the elves, even the reindeer, but you rarely see the real unsung hero of Christmas.
Santa’s administrative assistant.
While you can send letters to Santa Claus at the North Pole, there is no known way to request an interview with the person who handles his scheduling. So to get an idea of what it must be like to keep Santa on track, so to speak, we talked to the administrative assistants for the area’s largest land developer, the head of one of the Rock River Valley’s three largest hospital systems and for the commercial loan division of Boone County’s largest bank.
So how would you keep track of a man who has to be seemingly everywhere at once, this time of year?
“Today’s technology would be the biggest help for Santa,” said Danielle Schlichting, who has been the administrative assistant for the past five years for uber developer Sunil Puri, head of First Rockford Group. “We know what works for Sunil. I know Sunil is not quite Santa, but his Blackberry global phone is good anywhere in the world, so he’s always reachable via e-mail, cell phone, whatever.”
Deborah Johnson, who keeps Dr. Bill Gorski, president and CEO for SwedishAmerican Hospital on schedule, said Santa, like the military, most likely has developed cutting-edge technology that hasn’t yet reached the masses.
“You’re familiar with the GPS system. Santa has a KTN system, which is ‘Know Their Name,’ ” said Johnson. “He has a little wire inside his hat that picks up on the vibrations of the people he’s around and that’s how he can remember all of his elves names and all of the children he has to go and see.”
A brief look at Santa’s schedule just in the Rock River Valley shows he’s very nearly overbooked just in Boone, Ogle and Winnebago counties. How do you handle someone who rarely rejects requests, no matter how far-flung the locale?
Schlichting, who joined First Rockford fresh out of the DePaul University, said Santa’s administrative assistant probably is “more of a no person.”
“Someone able to put their foot down a bit more,” she added. “That might tarnish Santa’s reputation a bit, but one man can only do so much. Someone has to step in and make some executive decisions so that everything doesn’t land in his lap.”
Wendie Temple, an administrative assistant in the commercial loan division of Belvidere National Bank & Trust, the largest banking chain in Boone County, said “you’d have to have one heck of a good Excel spreadsheet.”
“He’d have to have somebody standing back there telling him OK, you are going to the Netherlands in four hours, here’s what you need, here’s what you need for Sweden, here’s what you need for China. It’s your job to help him have a better flow.”
SwedishAmerican’s Johnson said the global demand for Santa is too great even for the greatest administrative assistant.
“Can you keep a secret? We use a double. We have to,” she said. “That magical essence of being everywhere on one night only occurs on Christmas Eve. The rest of the time we need to use a double. But that’s a trade secret.”
The public Santa is one thing, Santa CEO of the world’s largest and most secretive gift manufacturing and distribution system is another.
Temple of Belvidere National Bank said the business side would be the most difficult.
“You’d have to keep him focused on the big picture and away from the elves,” Temple said. “The elves would want to know what color to paint the trains and whatever.
They’d have a tendency to get him bogged down in a lot of detail.”
Johnson, who worked for former SwedishAmerican CEO Dr. Bob Klint for seven years before Gorski, said Santa probably has created a unique but efficient support system — “the Board of Elves.”
“The board oversees all of the production, to make sure there isn’t too much, there isn’t too little, to make sure there’s no lead paint and that things are at the standard that Santa wants,” she said. “I work very closely with the Board of Elves. I administer from the background. Santa is the frontman, of course, but I put together all of the materials that they need. I put together all of the board meetings. I arrange the special meetings that they have and Santa is chairman.”
Another challenge would be satisfying the many media requests, including the Rockford Register Star.
“In Rockford, it’s usually one-on-one interviews, but Santa is a global phenomenon,” Schlichting said. “You’d have to schedule media junkets where all kinds of media come at once. That way you kill a lot of birds with one stone.”
And, of course, there’s Santa the family man.
“Mrs. Claus and I would work closely together to make sure that whatever family
events she has scheduled with children or grandchildren doesn’t conflict so that we could coordinate everything,” First Rockford’s Schlichting said. “Plus, you’d have to make sure Santa is getting enough sleep. Sunil doesn’t sleep. If he’s in India, he’s up at 4 a.m. checking his e-mail. Santa is older, though, you’d have to make sure he’s getting enough rest.”
After describing what it would take to handle Santa’s duties, our administrative assistants were torn over whether they would apply, if the job ever became available.
“I have my hands full as it is,” Schlichting said laughing. “That would be a lot of work for one person. I almost think Santa would need a couple of assistants.”
Temple liked the fact Santa would have relatively easy summers because it’s similar to her current schedule. The commercial loan officers she works with are in agricultural lending and farmers organize their finances mostly in the winter.
“It’d be perfect. You work when it’s cold, nasty and crummy and then you go to Florida the rest of the time.”
Johnson focused on the North Pole.
“There isn’t a more beautiful place in the world. Aurora Borealis 365 days a year. Snow is like diamonds and Santa is a wonderful person to work for.”
Assistant Business Editor Alex Gary may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 815-987-1339.
A look at how Santa gets things done
The Rockford Register Star is not the only organization interested in how Santa Claus magically makes children happy every year. The Web site howstuffworks.com, which explains the mechanics behind things from real estate investment trusts to nuclear reactors to how people are able to swallow swords, has a number of articles on Santa’s secretive North Pole operation. Here’s some of the site’s theories just on the big man himself.
The Sleigh — In addition to being outfitted with flying reindeer, Santa’s sleigh must be a highly advanced flying machine that performs faster and more efficiently than any spaceship currently used by NASA. The vehicle would have to be equipped with a special Antimatter Propulsion Unit that allows Santa to skip from one roof to the next in less than 24 hours and make it home to the North Pole in time for a nap and Christmas dinner. The sleigh would probably be outfitted with an iPod player and a hot cocoa maker, allowing maximum comfort during Santa’s trip around the Earth.
The Suit — The traditional red suit Santa wears would have to be a bit more complex than it looks. First, it would be made out of a protective, lead-free material that blocks any radiation from Santa’s engine — antimatter rockets produce dangerous gamma radiation, so it’s important for Santa to keep safe up in the sky. Second, the suit would also be threaded with carbon nanotubes, allowing the suit to shrink with Santa if he ever changes his size.
The Belt — For climbing up and down chimneys, Santa would need a little support. We assume he’s taken some rock climbing lessons, and his belt comes with all the necessary hooks, grapples, bells and whistles to get him in and out of your living room before you even have a chance to spot him.
By the numbers
Number of letters, packages and cards the U.S. Postal Service delivered between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2006. The busiest mailing day last year was Dec. 18, with more than twice as many cards and letters being processed as the average on any given day.
Number of packages delivered by the U.S. Postal Service every day during the holiday season last year through Christmas Eve. The busiest delivery day: Dec. 20.
Retail sales by the nation’s department stores (including leased departments) in December 2006. This represented a 44 percent jump from the previous month (when retail sales, many holiday-related, registered $21.8 billion). No other month-to-month increase in department store sales last year was as large.
The proportion of total 2006 sales for department stores (including leased departments) in December. For jewelry stores, the percentage was 22 percent.
The proportion of growth in inventories by our nation’s department stores (excluding leased departments) through Aug. 31 to Nov. 30, 2006. Thanks to the holiday crowds, inventories plummeted by 23 percent in December.
The number of people employed at department stores in December 2006. Retail employment typically swells during the holiday season, last year rising by an estimated 40,600 from November and 174,700 from October.
Value of retail sales by electronic shopping and mail-order houses in December 2006 — the highest total for any month last year.
The value of total retail e-commerce sales for the fourth quarter of 2006. This amount represented 3.4 percent of total retail sales during the period and exceeded e-commerce sales for all other quarters of the year. E-commerce sales were up 24 percent from the fourth quarter of 2005.
The number of electronic shopping and mail-order houses in business in 2005. These businesses, which employed 253,677 workers, are a popular source of holiday gifts. Their sales: $162 billion, of which 40.5 percent were attributable to e-commerce. California led the nation in the number of these establishments and their employees, with 2,383 and 30,800, respectively.
The number of malls and shopping centers dotting the U.S. landscape as of 2005, a total that increased by approximately 12,000 since 1990.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau