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, Canada, England, the Netherlands, Scotland, South Africa and the USA, and now make our way to Italy to visit with Michela Luoni.
A Relaxed Breakfast, Then On the Run to Milan
I’m on maternity leave, therefore when I’ll be back to work my routine will be very different; I used to get up at 7:30, an hour prior my train. I do this as I love having breakfast with no hassle: a yogurt (half of it goes to one of my cats who waits under my chair to lick the pot), tea and cookies. Then 15 minutes to clean up the cat litter boxes, tidy up and it’s time to make myself ready and then run to the train station.
I live a seven-minute walk away from the train station, and I usually do speed-walking. Then it’s another 40 minutes on the train to reach Milan, followed by 20 minutes on the tube to get to the office … delays, which are very frequent, permitted. They are almost scheduled!
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? I’m not used to listening to music on the train; I can’t help lip synching the songs while keeping the time with my feet. Embarrassing enough.
At the Office
Morning Routines: During my commuting time, I focus on what is on my agenda, catch up with emails and news feeds from Twitter and LinkedIn. Once arrived, as turning on the PC requires a bit of time, I have a coffee with my peers at the coffee machine.
Primary Responsibilities: I’m the Executive Assistant of the CEO, plus I’m in charge of the office management; therefore, everything that happens in the office is on my to-do list. I also take care of the Press Office and the corporate social media channels, and I’m responsible for the Receptionist and her duties.
No day is similar to another; that’s the good and the bad side of our profession. We schedule monthly activities or weekly meetings, but the majority of the work comes unforeseen.
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? Sadly, at my desk, but I go out and take a stroll to get food at the nearby supermarket or simply breathe fresh air, mostly during winter. I like walking under the rain without the umbrella. Once or twice a week I go out for lunch with some peers.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Yes, I always work when commuting and I’m in the radar of my mobile phone as well during the evening. I rarely work during weekends but, if so, it’s because of some emergency (travel rescheduling and similar needs).
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? It’s hard keeping my role always relevant and “useful”. This job has low awareness in Italy, and the assistants are hardly considered as an added value but a cost. That’s why, if you are a smart one, you end up covering many positions and wearing different hats.
Ask questions to assess priorities and timelines; negotiate your “no”
What do you most enjoy about your career? The variety of activities, going from one thing to another; I can organize an event, negotiate an agreement or corporate rates for employees, or get a good deal with a supplier.
On Saying “No”
Due to the above flexibility, sometimes is good for you to curb the responsibilities and tasks that managers (and some colleagues) tend to lay on you; hence, negotiate your “no” by proposing an alternative / some change of priority. Furthermore, always ask when things need to be done, as the priorities of others aren’t yours. You’ll realize how frequently you tend to give high priority to things that can be deferred a bit later.
I was born in the same town where I now live, Busto Arsizio. It is located in northwest Italy, between Milan and Malpensa Airport. Despite the fact that I love the city, and I always preferred to work in Milan rather my town, I won’t live there; I prefer to return home to a smaller city.
I’m involved in EUMA (European Management Assistant) activities, but my time is going to be mostly dedicated to my family, especially now that we have a baby. We do long strolls, and we meet up with friends.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? When I drive alone, I always sing aloud. If Maite (my daughter) is with me in the car, we listen to the radio. Otherwise, I put my in fav CD and it’s rock music.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? After putting the baby to bed, it’s relaxing just eating an ice cream or a dessert on the sofa with my husband and my two cats; during the weekend, it’s nice to enjoy breakfast in a café.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I love travelling, and the USA is still at the top of the list, as is returning to South Africa, maybe going on a photo safari.
Education and Professional Development
Education: As mentioned, in our country the stereotyped concept of the secretary is still alive and kicking. Generally speaking, secretarial roles aren’t given sufficient consideration. While this is evolving, there are no vocational schools or national continuing education courses, not to mention a proper job description with a corresponding salary. That means that the majority of us end up covering the secretarial role by chance, and your experience in the position is what you use to determine your wage. That’s my case; when I resigned from the airport, there weren’t specific courses to become a PA. Thanks to personal skills, I managed to rise, over the course of 12 years, from the ranks. As of now, I am the only person who financially supports my training and development as an Assistant.
Professional development and networking enrich your career and perception of your role
Peer and Professional Associations: After attending Executive Secretary Live in 2013, I was keen to stay in touch with professionals of such value and afterwards I joined EUMA (European Management Assistants), a European Association represented in 25 countries. So, I’ve been building an international and high quality network. I warmly encourage everyone to join a professional association where available, in order to keep learning, remain up to date on the latest trends and evolve with the role.
Preferred form(s) of social media? Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? My dream app would be a commuter facilitator with no delays!
Awards and Recognition
I’ve been recently appointed as National P.R. Officer of EUMA Italy. Hence, together with the National Committee, we’ll strive to bring our Italian membership to a higher level, with continuous learning and qualified international networking.
Present your boss solutions, not problems, and speak up for yourself as necessary
Style and Substance
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Mascara and eye pencil
Heels or flats in the office? I use both, depending on the situation; if I have a meeting or an event, heels are a must. For your commute? When it’s heels time, I always have a pair of flats in my bag, just in case! Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Any good Italian leather shoes.
Preferred scent: Hypnotic Poison by Dior or Alien by Thierry Mugler
What might we find in your desk drawer? Anything and everything! It’s a mix: half Mary Poppins’ bag, and half MacGyver’s tools!
Travel or travel planning advice? My first long term job was as a ground hostess at Malpensa Airport; I learned a lot about travel, ticketing rules and airline company polices. Consequently, even if have a travel provider, I regularly double check air connections, prices, and ticket rules myself.
Inspirational reads? Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman is an evergreen. I’ve been subscribed to Executive Secretary Magazine from the first re-edition (I also gave my short comment in an article), and I love Joan Burge from Office Dynamics; her Monday Motivators is motivational, and Nicky Christmas’ Practically Perfect PA is full of useful tips and insights.
Role models or mentors? Since attending Executive Secretary Live in 2013, my perception of the role has been enriched. I met the most brilliant and powerful women, and I realized that being an assistant abroad was entirely different; s/he is a professional as well as a manager, and can be an influential figure.
So: Lucy Brazier above all, then Bonnie Low Kramer, Laura Schwartz, Julie Perrine and Marsha Egan, just to name a few; all changed my approach to the job. After IYOTSA 2014, my admiration also goes to Anel Martin, who raised the awareness of our profession throughout the world. Amazing!
Assistants are professionals, and can be influential figures
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. My former boss had never thought of needing an assistant. Thus, I was the novelty of the office when I joined Zodiak Active four years ago; this soon changed, given proven abilities to manage. Over the course of the years, I have faced many challenging situations (Christmas parties included!) and tasks that I accomplished with no specific training.
For example, the PR position was closed one year after my arrival and I was asked to manage the Press Office, press releases and reviews. I was also asked to deal with our corporate social media channels: LinkedIn, FB page, and Twitter. That was all new to me. I learned on the job, with the support of our social media managers, and I did so well that last year I gave a workshop to EUMA members, on “How to use social media for professional updating”.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? If being a working mother is not easy, in Italy it is twice as hard; we rarely benefit from social facilitations, family welfare politics or work flexibility. My goal, then, is to avoid lagging behind in my job; I want to keep learning, stay up to date and be prepared for new challenges.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? You are the extension of your boss, so avoid gossiping and don’t affiliate with colleagues when they criticise your executive.
You are an extension of your boss; let that guide your actions
Advice for a new mother returning to the workplace? Take it easy … if you can!
Your most effective time management strategy? I write a to-do list based on my calendar.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: While time is precious, take 10 minutes at least once a week to sit down with her/him and review your priorities, plans, and expectations. S/he could be the best business card for your company, and a brand ambassador of your corporate values. Don’t underestimate your assistant.
For those interested in promotion: Try to be always one step ahead of your boss, give him/her solutions and not problems, and speak up for yourself when necessary.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Michela referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by our readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page.
- Lucy Brazier – Executive Secretary Magazine and Executive Secretary Live
- Joan Burge – Office Dynamics
- News from Italian’s Admin (Michela was modest and did not mention this!)
- Nicky Christmas – Practically Perfect PA
- Marsha Egan
- Bonnie Low Kramer – Be The Ultimate Assistant
- Anel Martin
- Julie Perrine
- Laura Schwartz
- Goleman, Daniel – Emotional Intelligence