By Candice Wagener | Photography by Hillary Schave
Madeleine Niebauer embraced remote work and flexible schedules well before those terms became part of our vernacular. Niebauer was a trailblazer in 2016 when she founded vChief, a startup providing flexible, on-demand talent for the chief of staff role. Today, vChief is one of Inc.’s 5000 fastest-growing private companies in America and is on course to double their team members from 15 to 30 and consultants from 100 to 200 in 2022.
Many associate the chief of staff role with politics, but much of vChief ’s client roster is composed primarily of startups and education and social-good organizations. Niebauer’s own experiences working as a chief of staff for Teach for America were the impetus that led her to wonder about shifting perceptions and making the role more customizable.
Through vChief, companies can enlist exactly the kind of support they need. Whether that’s a thought partner, an analytics genius or someone to carry out a one-off project, ranging from full-time to a few hours a week, Niebauer and her team will find the right fit from their growing list of consultants. Flexible opportunities have been the key to vChief’s success.
“It’s just a reflection of the future of work,” says Niebauer. “I think ‘The Great Resignation’ is less about everybody quitting and not doing work and it’s more about people aligning work with their values and with their lives … I don’t think that’s going away.”
She doesn’t just talk the talk, either. Before travel restrictions were a consideration, her family of five took extended-stay, worldschooling adventures to South America and Southeast Asia while Niebauer was working 10-20 hours a week building vChief. If all goes according to plan, the Niebauer family will be exploring Egypt and Tanzania in January 2022.
“One of the first things to elevate throughout her journey of creating vChief has been leadership,” says Jackie Sergi, Niebauer’s executive coach since 2016. “It was such a beautiful shift for her to step into the light and actually thrive in it. She’s growing an organization as a working woman and a parent and as a founder who’s setting culture. She’s advising so many organizations. She’s stepping up to the plate and doing so with kindness and authenticity.”
VChief is giving back, too. Niebauer recently launched a pro bono program supporting leaders of nonprofits or social enterprises with an annual budget under $500,000 that offers six months of chief of staff service for up to 10 hours per week to four organizations annually.
Now that she’s building a dedicated team at vChief, she’s very intentionally creating flexible work opportunities for her employees, including a remote work environment, four-day work week, part-time hours for those who seek them, a work-from-home stipend and unlimited vacation time. After five years of service, team members receive a five-week paid sabbatical, plus $5,000 spending money.
“She is absolutely motivated by people and purpose, and she will actively identify ways to build thoughtful relationships,” says Sergi. “She pours into everyone else.”