For minutes at a time, silence. She monitors a dozen cameras, controls the locks to multiple doors in two buildings, mans the telephones and is open on the instant messaging system, but for a brief stretch on a Tuesday morning, there’s nothing.
Until there’s something.
It takes only a moment, but suddenly – as though a nuclear bomb of activity has just detonated beside her 6-footwide circular cubicle – there’s a mushroom cloud of distraction.
A maintenance man slaps shut an 8-foot aluminum step ladder. High heels clap over the floor as two women walk toward the elevator. Laden with a large brown box, a delivery man stands impatiently outside the glass doors.
In the middle of it all, the telephone rings. Then it rings again.
“Good morning, Martin Marietta. How may I direct your call? Just one moment.”
LaVern Grady’s voice is strong. Soothing. Melodic.
“There’s really no pattern to it at all,” she says with a laugh during a lull several minutes later. “Telephones ring. People come in and out. No one time of year is busier than any other and there’s never a way to predict it. You just have to make it fun.”
Martin Marietta’s people may be its center, but as a front receptionist at corporate headquarters in Raleigh, Grady is physically at the company’s heart. For more than a decade, she’s kept calm in the face of daily commotion.
“I like working with people,” she says after fielding another call. “I’ve worked for various companies in my life and held many different positions, but people are my thing. I’m not a paper-pusher. I need to interact with others.”
That need has driven her to become quite familiar with the company’s corporate employees.
When members of the Accounts Payable Department pull into the parking lot in the morning, she knows their cars. When Human Resources staff members run toward the door hidden beneath umbrellas after a rainy lunch break, she can identify them from their shoes. She even knows which employees are likely to do something silly.
“One of the odder ways I’ve seen someone come in is when a guy with his access card in his back pocket got a running start and did a backward leap to trigger the door,” she says with another laugh.
Her interest in people goes beyond just her co-workers, however. Outside the corporate office is a residential neighborhood lined with evergreens and the oak trees for which Raleigh is known. Each day, men and women live their lives in that neighborhood, walking, running and driving by the Martin Marietta building that for decades has been part of their community. Grady makes herself aware of these people and knows who belongs and who doesn’t.
When people from that outside world enter Martin Marietta, Grady is often the one who forms their first impression of the company. Whether they be neighbors, customers, vendors, job applicants, new or visiting employees, or family members, her face is often the first seen by guests to the building.
From powerful politicians to the men and women who sweep the floors, Grady has seen them all.
“The secret,” she says, “is treating everyone the same way. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in so many different environments, but I’m not intimidated by anyone and I don’t feel as though I’m better than anyone. To me, we’re all the same.”