Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Corrie Fourie of South Africa.
Corrie Fourie is Executive Assistant to the Managing Director (Country Manager) of Fresenius Kabi South Africa. Here’s a look at his world.
An early riser
My normal day start at 4:00 a.m. when my alarm is set to buzz; however, I am often awake before the alarm goes off. My morning routine is to switch on the kettle for my first cup of coffee which I enjoy on the patio all year round whilst I catch up on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) and also scan the latest news headlines. Once I’ve had my shower, I sort my lunch/snack box, which I normally pre-pack in the evening, for the day.
By 4:45, I drive to the train station about 15 minutes from where I live and park my vehicle for the day. The train commute takes about 25 minutes, followed by a short drive by Uber.
At the office, independent of pandemic times
Primary Responsibilities: These include diary management for both the Managing Director and Director of Finance. I’m responsible for project and event management. I draft agendas for a number of bodies – management meetings, country committee meetings and directors’ meetings. As well, I’m responsible for travel management and scheduling/compiling itineraries for visiting groups.
Morning Routines: Once I arrive at the office, at around 5:15, I have my cereal and a second cup of coffee whilst I check emails. I revisit the diary of the day and ensure attention to any updates or changes for the particular day and for the rest of the week. By the time my colleagues and Managing Director (MD) arrive at the office, I have already scheduled further meetings, printed any documents required, and am ready for a quick catch up session with my MD. The rest of my day is spent on preparing requests for payments, ensuring the boardroom and meeting rooms are prepped, and requesting or following up on catering for the various meetings. As well, I’ll coordinate events, travel and projects.
It is our responsibility to stay in demand through the continuation of our own self development and training
How long is your work day? Since I start early in the morning, I leave the office at 3:00 p.m., having spent around 10 hours at the office. Unless it’s absolute crucial, I hardly work after hours or during weekends. I am also fortunate to have a manager who respects one’s pivate time and contacts me on work-related matters after hours only when the matter is crucial.
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? I personally make a point of taking regular walking breaks about the office. This is a good way of interacting with colleagues from various departments whom I don’t often interact with during a regular day. The medical aid which we belong to has a voluntary fitness program to which one can enroll.
We recently opened an onsite canteen which serves healthy meal options, and also arrange regular employee wellness days, offering check ups for various medical conditions.
What might be a typical lunch? My daily diet includes a fresh fruit and yoghurt snack mid-morning and a light snack/healthy sandwich, which I aim to have away from my desk, midday.
Inside the career
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? That would be the ability to maintain a good balance between the different aspects and tasks for which I am responsible. Since I work within a very regulated environment, there is a constant flow of documents and working procedures which have to be updated and can be time consuming.
What do you most enjoy about your career? Surely, that’s the variety of tasks and the fact that each day brings different challenges. Over the years, I managed to build a good relationship with my Manager. It’s built on trust and respect, which makes a huge difference.
I am a member of IMA and currently serve as the Founding Member (Director), National Chair of IMA South Africa
On saying “no”
I seldom say “no” to people. I view my role as the pivotal point within the organisation and therefore appreciate it when colleagues from other department seek my advice and/or assistance. I also use these instances as an opportunity to coach and train. On the odd occasion when I have to say no, I do so with the necessary tact so as not to create a negative vibe.
Working during a pandemic
Tell us about your experience with remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic. What are some of the challenges and benefits of working from home? I am in the lucky position of having the setup to work both remotely and in the office. The benefits of working from home reflect the fact that I could determine my own pace; I often worked late at night. The challenge I experienced included suddenly converting and coordinating my manager’s diary and meetings from home, and finding time for our regular catch up sessions. It took a couple of days to finally get in sync with each other.
Working remotely, I could really focus and concentrate on the task at hand
How would you rate your productivity when working remotely? Did your productivity increase or decrease, or did it depend on the day? My productivity surely increased, as I saved the time normally filled with travel to and from the office, and used it to attend to updating documents and files. Since I work in an open office, I am often interrupted by colleagues moving from one end of the office/building to the next. Working remotely, I could really focus and concentrate on the task at hand.
What would be your ideal work scenario once we settle in to new norms? Would you prefer to be back in the office, at home, or proceed with a hybrid approach? Most of my colleagues and I have already moved back to the office. Interaction with other humans is part and parcel of our DNA, and it was therefore great to be back at the office where all the safety measures related to COVID-19 have been put in place to ensure a safe working environment. I would surely jump at an opportunity to have a hybrid arrangement where one could combine both working from home and the office on certain days. This, of course, is dependent on the industry and type of job one is employed in. There are definitely some industries which could migrate the majority of their staff to a work from home norm, which could save resources and have impactful benefits.
What’s been your biggest career lesson/takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic? Working as an EA, one have to be able to adapt at short notice. The EA has a pivotal role to play within any organisation and it is up to us to remain the binding factor in support of our management.
As well, it is our responsibility to stay in demand through the continuation of our own self development and training, grasping every opportunity to do so through endless opportunities which we are given.
There is simply no substitute for being present around the creative process together with your boss and your colleagues in the office
What’s been your biggest life lesson/takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic? I was recently invited to participate in a panel discussion hosted by International Management Assistants (IMA). One of the life lessons I talked about was how the COVID-19 pandemic unveiled the human nature of management assistants.
Working remotely, social distancing and self-isolation tested and unveiled our humanity as management assistants. Being apart from each other and from our colleagues and managers just made no sense as the human nature craves relationships and interaction. We need human-to-human and in-person interaction and communication to serve our basics human needs and, as management assistants, to function properly, feel fulfilled and be at one with the colleagues and managers we support. There is simply no substitute for being present around the creative process together with your boss and your colleagues in the office.
How many professional development-focused webinars do you estimate you’ve attended during the COVID-19 pandemic? I attended about 25 webinars during the months I spent working from home. How did you feel about learning from webinars? The one thing I missed the most was the opportunity to travel and attend the in-person conferences and learning events IMA hosts.
I was born in South Africa, in a town called Krugersdorp. It is about 65 kilometers from Johannesburg. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I reside in a suburb in Pretoria, but occasionally have to break away to the countryside. There are countless countryside destinations within a few hours’ drive from where I reside. This is where I recharge and energize whenever I can.
How long have you been in this career? I have been an Assistant for the best part of 30 years. What was your first such role? I worked as a relief Assistant/Secretary for the Regional Manager of Airfreight, whilst in the employ of Safcor Panalpina.
How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? My previous MD (female) decided to opt for a male assistant, and I was subsequently headhunted for the position.
We as management assistants often have to rely on our creative thinking in the execution of our tasks
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I enjoy reading. I play the piano, study the art of opera singing, and recently also started painting. Serving as the National Chair of IMA South Africa, there is also a lot of administration that often keeps me busy.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I aim to walk around my neighbourhood every day once I get home. This I find relaxing, as it gives me the opportunity to clear my mind. Most evenings, my dinners are accompanied by a good glass of red wine before I watch my regular TV show and news.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? There are many destinations in South Africa, on the coast or in the countryside. I also love international travel and often aim to extend my stay when I attend a conference or an IMA training day.
On membership in IMA: I am able to connect at any time should I need assistance in another country … a huge benefit to both my employer and myself
Education and professional development
Whilst I served in the South African National Defense Force, I completed a course in HR Administration and the Warrant Officers Course. The latter is a development course for middle management. My service and education within the Defense environment left an imprint on me as far as discipline, commitment and trust are concerned, and which certainly benefits my performance as a management assistant. I hold the post-nominal “JCM” designatory title, having served in the National Citizen Force for 10 years.
Following my exit from the Defense Force, I completed the Performance Diploma in Artistic Voice (Dip IVI) through the International Voice Institute of the University of San Francisco. I was also part of the ad hoc Opera Chorus, which boosted my creative side. We as management assistants often have to rely on our creative thinking in the execution of our tasks. Furthermore, I have completed several courses covering various aspects of office administration.
I make a point of taking regular walking breaks about the office
Peer and Professional Associations: I am a member of IMA, International Management Assistants, and currently serve as the Founding Member (Director), National Chair of IMA South Africa. I was part of the group that started PANSA, and was also a member of OPSA and PAFSA. These are all national associations for management assistants within South Africa. For a short while, I served as the Chair of OPSA.
How have these associations helped you? It certainly raised the awareness of my colleagues and peers of my presence as male EA within a female-dominated environment. How has your service in these leadership roles impacted your career? Serving in leadership positions certainly developed and strengthened my strategic thinking skills to the benefit of my manager and the company I work for.
What are the primary means of communication for members of your network(s)/professional associations? Social media and online meeting platforms have become the main source of communication, given the fact that IMA spans across 27+ countries with around 3,000 members.
Corrie, on his relationship with his manager: It’s built on trust and respect
Networking, inspiration and achievements
Let’s talk about the positive benefits your networking has had on your career, and/or for your employer. Being a member of an international network of management assistants across 27 countries, I am able to connect at any time should I need assistance in another country. Since I am employed within an international company, this is indeed a huge benefit to both my employer and myself.
When my manager travels abroad, I am confident that should a problem arise where I need assistance or advice, I have the backup of a much needed international network of management assistants able to assist.
Serving in leadership positions certainly developed and strengthened my strategic thinking skills to the benefit of my manager and the company I work for
Inspirational reads? Personal Best, written by Marc Woods. He is a five-time Paralympian and a multiple gold medallist, surely an inspiration to achieve one’s true potential.
Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position?
- Communication skills – Since I interact with a variety of clients both internally and externally, communication are possibly the most important quality in my role
- Organization skills – skills that are vital within my area of work
- Tech savvy – moving towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is crucial to stay abreast of developments within the office technology environment
- Good judgment – It is important that one be one step ahead of your manager; and from that basis, good judgement is non-negotiable
- Team player – I have to work as part of a team in support of my manager, the management team and the colleagues whom I serve
Role models or mentors? I have worked for great bosses and have always found them inspiring for the manner in which they lead. I have also a couple of peers whom I admire for their utmost dedication and professionalism towards our profession.
Have you received any awards or recognition within this career? My dedication and commitment throughout my working career have resulted in many awards and achievements. These include the following: Commendation for Praiseworthy Service (Survey & Mapping Regiment), Commendation for Outstanding Service – Warrant Officer of the SA Army, Award as Achiever of the Year – HR Service School, Award for Person with Best Initiative.
Recognition associated with the management assistant role includes the HR Service School PA Finalist of the Year, the Northern Gauteng Business Chamber’s PA Crystal Ward, a Dictum Publishers’ PA Finalist of the Year, PAFSA’s 2008 PA Finalist of the Year, OPSA’s Certificate of Achievement in 2012 and 2013, and EUMA 2014 recognition, to name but a few.
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? One question I often ask is, “ Why am I doing this?” If I have clarity and feel comfortable with my reasoning, then I am prepared to give 100%.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I would like to focus on project management skills and skills as a professional conference organizer. Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IMA International Conference which was scheduled in South Africa for this year had to be postponed to 2023.
This will be a historical moment in IMA’s history, as it will be the association’s first international conference outside the borders of Europe. Our aim is to make this an event to be remembered, and we hope to attract both members and non-members from across the globe. We hope will come to visit South Africa and to attend a truly international event for management assistants on the southern tip of Africa, where we can learn, connect and share our experience.
The Digital Age
What are your preferred forms of social media? Facebook and LinkedIn What apps do you make use of in your professional life? Linked In, Twitter, MS Teams Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? Trello, Microsoft Forms, One Tab, Evernote, WorkFlowy
Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphones, etc. may have had on your quality of life. As mentioned, my manager respects my time out of the office. I have, however, previously worked for managers who would bother you 24/7, often with matters outside my scope of responsibilities. That could be rather annoying.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital, or paper-based? Since I work within a regulated environment, it is not possible to migrate to a totally paperless environment. However, I aim to do so where possible.
Travel or travel planning recommendations? Before I travel, I do some research on the particular destination. I find it interesting to visit places often off the beaten track. This is where one really get to interact with the locals. I also prefer to stay in Airbnb properties, to interact and experience cultures.
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and expense tracking? I find the Travel IT app to be a very useful app.
When my manager travels abroad, I am confident that should a problem arise where I need assistance or advice, I have the backup of a much needed international network of management assistants
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. Take into account the travel/commute between your residence and work. Study the requirements and skills set for the job and, where applicable, try apply within an industry where you would fit in, or in which you have an interest.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Be sure to study and read about the company/business where your interview takes place. Your self introduction should be short, powerful and to the point.
Your self introduction should be short, powerful and to the point
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? How to handle a difficult boss
What are a couple of suggestions you’d offer that new assistant on the block, in terms of how to build effective business relationships within the office? It is crucial to interact and build relations with all colleagues. Be vigilant to stay confidential and build trust from the start.
Your most effective time management strategy? Realise and identify the most important task to get out the way. Don’t procrastinate.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Get to know your boss’ likes and dislikes. Know the important people and dates in his/her life. Learn about diet requirements, travel preferences and important contacts in case of emergencies.
It is crucial to interact and build relations with all colleagues
Your thoughts on goal setting? We often set goals which we cannot achieve. Be sure to set your goals and plan properly so as to ensure achievement.
For those interested in promotion: You have to be dedicated, go above and beyond, and show commitment. Be eager to learn and stay focused on your goals.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Here are some links to ideas, people and/or resources mentioned above.
To explore a range of resources that are relevant to your career, click here to explore what you can find under Exceptional EA’s Real Careers tab.
Interested in knowing more about some of the professional associations and networks specifically for assistants? Click here to see the list Shelagh’s developed based on your peers’ recommendations.
Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to 24 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates , the United States of America and Wales.