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 Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, the USA and Wales, and now make our way back to Germany to visit with Angela Parker.
Angela Parker is Executive Assistant to the Management Board, PFAFF Industriesysteme und Maschinen GmbH. Here’s a look at her world.
A Very Early Riser
Since my husband usually starts work at 6:00 a.m., the alarm goes off at 4:00. I fix my breakfast, which consists of two big mugs of tea and some granola. I then get ready, and have breakfast while watching the morning news on TV. Lately I have been leaving the house at around 6:15, and my commute is less than nine km (about 5.5 miles). I take the car and am there in less than 10 minutes. I do not listen to music, but to a news station whose insightful analysis and interviews I really enjoy.
At the Office
Morning Routines: Upon arriving at the office around 6:30, I pick up the newspaper and any mail from the mailbox at our main gate. I switch on the computer, go to the kitchen to prepare a thermos with hot water for a board member, empty the dishwasher and open the offices of the three board members I look after. Once that is done, I check my emails as well as the email accounts of the board members and the schedule for the day. I inform the board members of employee birthdays and check who will visit our company that day. I then use the quiet time before the board members arrive (usually between 8:00 hrs and 8:30) to work on those tasks that require my undivided attention.
Primary Responsibilities: Of course I schedule meetings, check the emails and take the appropriate actions. In addition, I handle all travel arrangements not just for the three board members, but also for all other staff members. The main destination is China, but there are few countries where my colleagues do not travel.
Since we do business around the world, I review contracts and agreements (mainly in English) and point out possible risks to the board member who have to sign them. If the extent of the intended agreement requires it, I prepare the corresponding shareholder resolution as well and see to it that it is signed as well. I also work with our lawyers on all other legal matters.
Over the past four years, my employer has undergone a lot of organisational changes. In 2013 it was taken over by a Chinese company. In 2014 we established a production facility in China and changed our legal form to LLC. This year, our parent company merged another company with ours. During all this I liaised with the lawyers, auditors, notaries, our parent company, the supervisory board and any other parties. In addition, I work with our marketing department proofreading their material and doing translations. I prepare our weekly management meetings (board members plus department heads), the bi-weekly board meetings and the four shareholder meetings per year. I keep the minutes during all these the meetings and see to it that the tasks assigned during the meetings are completed. In addition, I also draft resolutions to be passed by the shareholders, the management board and other entities.
Like most EAs, I do not have a typical day. I try to adhere to the aforementioned morning routine. After everyone else comes to work, I basically have to go with the flow and tend to all things that are being put on my desk plus work on assorted projects.
How long is your work day? Nowadays I usually start my work day at 6:30 as the aftermath of the merger has resulted in extra work. It usually ends between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. when all three board members are present. When they are travelling, I try to leave earlier.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I do not work from home or during my commute as I do not have remote access to my email account. When I do take time off, I leave my private cell phone number and email address for emergencies. I also compiled a comprehensive manual for my workplace; it lists all important procedures and contacts. This manual is updated regularly.
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? My lunch break is 30 minutes. I spend it at my desk reading the local paper and enjoying a cheese sandwich and two apples.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Juggling the many demands I am confronted with every day, since everybody wants to have his requests handled first and does not always understand that I do not have a magic wand hidden in my desk.
Each employer affords opportunities to learn and see business from a different perspective
What do you most enjoy about your career? No two days are the same. Ever since I was a teenager, I have always wanted to work with people from other countries. I have always worked for companies with international business ties and it has been enlightening in so many ways. I have worked for machine builders, logistics companies and wholesalers of varying sizes and corporate structures. Each employer afforded me the opportunity to learn something new and see business from a different perspective. Growing up, becoming an assistant never entered my mind. My favourites were the diplomatic service, teaching or translating. Being an assistant provides me with the opportunity to do a little bit of everything.
On Saying “No”
I have learned to say “no” to people. The older I get, the more careful I am in using my resources. Saying “no” has been particularly easy, when I know that a person likes to ask a lot of favours without returning them. I have also said “no” to bullying bosses and those with little or no leadership skills, by moving to a different employer. The work life is too long to put up with managers who subscribe to the adage, “Do as I say, not do as I do.”
I was born in Oldenburg in northwestern Germany, not far from the North Sea coast. Since my father was a soldier in the German military, I moved several times during my childhood and youth. Upon graduating from school, I moved to Frankfurt/Main for an apprenticeship in a first-class hotel. Shortly after the apprenticeship, I met my husband there. We moved to the US for two years and upon our return to Germany made our home in a village near Ludwigshafen on the Rhine river.
I prefer small communities, since I spent most of my life in semi-rural areas. I still have a soft spot for Frankfurt, though, and go there regularly to attend functions of EUMA (European Management Assistants).
Since I have a lot of excitement at work, I head straight home after work to cook for my husband and me. We spend our evenings at home talking about our days and watching TV. Our kids are grown and moved out a few years ago. We see each other occasionally. I also visit my parents, who live about two hours from me. I joined EUMA, an international network for management assistants, in 2010 and regularly attend their regional, national and international events. Having acted as the National Public Relations Officer of EUMA Germany since November 2014, I was officially elected into office in May 2015. This new duty has been keeping me quite busy as well.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? I rarely listen to music, but when I do, it would be funk, hip hop, rap, disco, and soul from the 70s thru the 90s. Since my husband is from Detroit, we also listen to the Motown favourites.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? With a delicious piece of cake from my favourite bakery and a cup of coffee. Sometimes I treat myself to a pedicure.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I would love to visit the Baltics and the Kaliningrad district, because my mother was born there. I would also love to spend a nice vacation at the North Sea. Nowadays my husband and I usually travel to his home town where his family still lives.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I had very good teachers in school. Particularly, my German and English teachers opened my mind and taught me to look at things from many different perspectives and argue my case in a logical manner. My career path has not been a straight one, but over the years I have learned a lot through various seminars, reading trade magazines and earning a certificate as translator for German and English, in addition to working fulltime and raising two children.
Look at matters from different perspectives
Peer and Professional Associations: As mentioned, I have been a member of the European Management Assistants, an international network for management support professionals, for five years now and I am currently the National PRO (Public Relations Officer) of EUMA Germany. I was very flattered when I was approached by the chairwoman and the treasurer to take on the PRO-position, because I have always preferred to remain in the background. Over the past few months I have learned to venture out and take centre stage. The feedback I have received has been positive and I can see that I have developed as a person. Moreover, networking is always a good idea, to improve your visibility.
Preferred form(s) of social media? I have been the host of the EUMA-group on XING, a Germany-based international network similar to LinkedIn, for a couple of years. A few months ago I also joined Facebook and LinkedIn as well, because I realized the need to do so to keep up-to-date with the latest trends and in contact with EUMA members.
Join an international professional network such as EUMA to develop professionally and personally, and to gain visibility
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I am quite happy with the things I have. I sometimes have the impression that we tend to rely too much on these electronic helpers and are lost when they break down or are compromised by hackers or viruses.
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? A pantsuit (black, gray or navy) with a blouse provides a professional appearance, but confidence and competence is something one exudes from within – every day.
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Lip gloss
Heels or flats in the office? Mainly flats, because they are more comfortable and at 1.80 m (5’ 11”) I am towering over most people at work anyway. I noticed that some male bosses do not take it well, when their assistant is taller than they. For your commute? Flats. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? I recently discovered Peter Kaiser, a German brand from Pirmasens, a small town not far from where I work. They are a customer of my employer and have a very nice factory store.
What might we find in your desk drawer? My business cards, some management and travel magazines. Sometimes also some candy.
Travel or travel planning advice? At my present employer, I standardised the travel organization with the blessing of the chairwoman of the management board. I have profiles for all travellers and these contain all data required to apply for visas and make all travel arrangements, as well as their personal preferences and health issues to consider. I have been working with the same travel agent for about 15 years.
Colleagues greatly appreciate thorough, thoughtfully planned travel folders
Each traveller receives a folder with a detailed schedule, confirmations, contact data of the applicable embassy or consulate, the emergency numbers of our travel agent, our health insurance company and their personal policy number, an assistance hotline and a medical facility at the destination as well as the current travel information provided by the German state department for their destination. My colleagues greatly appreciate these folders. In addition, I also keep electronic copies of all passports and visas, so I could send them to the travellers, in case they lose their passports.
Inspirational reads? I read Der Untertan by Heinrich Mann a few years ago and found it a brilliant character study. Even though the book was first published a little over 100 years ago, it has not lost any of its appeal and should be mandatory reading material for all aspiring managers.
Leadership attributes: Determination, readiness to stand up for beliefs, communicative and supportive
Role models or mentors? I would have to say the chairwoman of the management board I have been working for for the past four years. She has maneuvered our company away from the brink of bankruptcy onto the path of recovery. She has great determination, stands up for what she believes in and is truly a great leader, communicator and networker. She is very supportive of me and values my opinion.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I originally completed an apprenticeship as a hotel clerk, and worked a year before moving to the US with my husband. Upon our return to Germany and 18 months after the birth of our first child, I got my start as an assistant through temping. On my first assignment I walked into the interview and told the HR Director of the company that I had little to no experience. I got the assignment anyway and, at the end of my three months there, my manager wanted to keep me for good. Since the works council of the company did not consent, I moved on to my next assignment.
As I had lived in GA for two years with my husband, I was instrumental in selecting the location for the new US sales office of a former employer of mine. I did all the research, recommended a suitable location in South Carolina, established contact with the local chamber of commerce and other agencies. The new location turned out to be a great success. Since my job requires me to deal with a lot of legal matters, I recently attended a three-day-seminar on international contracts. I was the only participant without a law degree, but I held my own and at the end of the seminar, the professor who gave the seminar complimented me on my insight and pointed remarks.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? Since my job entails so many legal matters, I want to learn more about this. I will attend another seminar on corporate law in October and plan to attend one on contract management next year. Through my EUMA membership and regular participation in the trainings and conferences offered by the association, I am keeping my skills current and abreast of all the latest trends in my profession. I would love to remain with my current employer until I retire, but since one never knows what may happen until then, I keep on networking too, so I will have options.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? The importance and benefits of networking.
Time management: Use templates and standard procedures (SOPs)
Your most effective time management strategy? Use templates and standard procedures to do our work. It has proven very helpful in managing routine tasks.
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Get off the guilt trip that is all too often imposed on working mothers. I raised two children while working full time without my parents or my in-laws close by, and my husband often away because of his job in the military. They are now grown and are both very successful in their chosen fields. Besides, being a working mom really hones your time management and organisational skills – a plus for any employer.
Do you prefer the background? Be prepared to venture out and take centre stage
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: If the assistant has been in place longer than the new manager: Trust the assistant’s experience, judgment and contacts. Let her show you the ropes. Appreciate what she can do for you. Treat her with the same respect you want her to give you. She could be your greatest asset – or your worst enemy.
For those interested in promotion: Join an international professional network such as EUMA to develop professionally and personally, and to gain visibility.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Angela referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page or click here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers.
- EUMA – European Management Assistants
- EUMA Germany
- Mann, Heinrich – Der Untertan/Man of Straw