Rhonda Cote

Rhonda Cote of O&G Industries

You could compare what Rhonda Cote does to “intelligent filtering.” Stationed behind the curving front desk at the Main Office lobby, overseeing the comings and goings of employees and guests, tracking live-feed cameras from around the company, continually plugged into the telephone switchboard, Rhonda Cote filters: permitting the regular, redirecting the off-course, setting straight the erroneous and rejecting the downright devious.

Rhonda began with O&G in 1993 in the mail room. A year or so afterward she began training to be “the 7 A.M. girl” under “Bert” Zander. With Bert’s retirement in 1996 Rhonda moved to the front desk full time. On a typical workday the 7 A.M. girl is among the first in (before 7 A.M. actually), unlocking doors, switching on equipment and setting the workplace stage for the day. 

Though she never thought she’d be doing so well now while she was growing up, she clearly landed on her calling. She’s custom made for her position. “I like people and I like helping,” she says. She’s the first and often only point of  contact with O&G that many people have. No matter the tempest that may be brewing, Rhonda sails with an even keel – professional, helpful, friendly.

The position at switchboard has demanded that she multitask, before the term “multitasking” ever joined the business lexicon. In the last half-decade or so it has become her norm. Perhaps it’s accentuated because Rhonda is willing to take on new assignments. Some are short term, others blossom into perpetuity. She has to think about all that she does in and around her primary responsibility which is directing telephone traffic. All the tasks she completes are not printed on any job description.  

Chief among her morning rituals is checking every security camera (twenty locations and close to 90 cameras), verifying they are all working, and troubleshooting any issues with Nick Silano or Julie Locascio. (“I could do it in an hour if there were no calls coming in, but of course there always are,” she says.) These cameras are indispensable tools so they are a priority for Rhonda, right behind her switchboard duties.

She maintains the in/out log of Main Office employees, tracking where they are and when they are expected to return. She transfers calls to and from company cars, projects and plants. She reconciles auto travel logs and tracks down the wayward employee when they’re needed by someone. She takes lunch orders and sees that they’re correct when delivered (“How I ended up with that job I don’t know,” she quips.)

She collects cash for dress-down Friday, reserves and juggles conference rooms, researches company contact info for employees on the road, stuffs outgoing mailers, prints paper driving maps for those who don’t quite trust their GPSs. A hodge-podge of items – blueprints, documents, keys, cards, gym clothes – are dropped at the main desk and entrusted to Rhonda for safe forwarding to their destinations.

Some years back when it was new and enticing, the company considered changing to an automated answering system. It was rejected by company officers and that suits Rhonda: “That’s too impersonal. You have all kinds of people calling up, you have emergencies, you miss the contact.”

Not infrequently, discretion is called for when Rhonda is “filtering.” To whom should a particular call be routed? How much should be said, how should it be said, what should not be repeated? She reads situations quickly and handles them discretely – when a family member with important news calls in urgently looking for an employee, for instance.

In 18 years manning the front desk Rhonda has heard some strange things, some so “off” they transcend the cheesy and sleazy and reach the comical. Like the salesman, trying to gin up a false familiarity, who called in to speak with his “good friend” and could she please pass him through? That “friend,” sadly she informed him, had passed away six months earlier. Or the woman about whom Rhonda had been warned by another O&G location, calling with outlandish questions about making asphalt. Undeterred by her first failed run at the recipe, she was pressing the 7 A.M. girl hard for answers. In broken English, with a man’s muffled voice prompting her from the background, she insisted on knowing the temperature asphalt had to reach to work. She didn’t need to say she wanted to cook up her own asphalt but Rhonda knew. The E-Z Bake Asphalt Plant was not going to happen on her watch. 

“Our office number is close to a doctor’s in town. People call and want me to read their MRI results. Sometimes they get indignant when I try to explain that we aren’t the doctor.” They are usually elderly callers, and she has a soft spot in her heart for them: she worked in a nursing home before joining O&G. “So I just say, ‘I know that number, I’ll connect you.’ It also happens with area businesses. “It’s happened often enough that I’ll know who they’re looking and get the caller the number.”

Many years ago Rhonda rode out a divorce and found herself single with two small children to support. She didn’t cave. She dug in and supplemented the 45-hour-a-week job O&G provided with part-time work. For years she cooked and tended bar at taverns and clubs in Torrington. Now, with her son and daughter grown and working and with financial pressures relaxed a bit, she has cut back on the extra jobs. She still works gigs selectively, mainly because she enjoys being with people. Her smile from across the bar is proof.