Real Careers: Menekşe Ahbab and Filiz Yurttaşer

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, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Uganda, the USA and Wales.

Today, I’m excited to take readers on our first journey to Istanbul, Turkey to visit with Menekşe Ahbab and Filiz Yurttaşer.

Filiz Yurttaşer (left) is Executive Assistant to the Home and Personal Care Factory Director at Unilever Turkey.

Menekşe Ahbab (right) is Indirect Sales Director and Distributor Director Assistant at Hewlett Packard Enterprise MEMA (Middle East, Mediterranean & Africa). While you might be a bit surprised that it took a counterpart from another country to introduce them, you’re not as likely to be surprised to learn who facilitated the introductions.

These two admin. professionals work closely to advance the profile and profession of Turkish administrative professionals, and are hosting a January 14th network event in Istanbul for more than 200 EAs. With their collaborative approach, it seemed to make sense to interview these peers together. Here’s a look at their worlds.

Turkish Peers, Introduced by England’s Lucy Brazier

Menekşe: Actually, this is a funny story. We both work in Istanbul and live not far away from each other. I was attending conferences as a keynote speaker, and so was Filiz, yet our paths never crossed. I follow Executive Secretary and Lucy Brazier through the internet and admire Lucy’s efforts to network with executive assistants around the world. One day I sent her a message through Facebook saying how important it is to network with our counterparts, and that I desired to do the same in Turkey. Lucy replied, and said that she knew an EA in Turkey who had the same will. Guess who?

Filiz: Yes, that really is a funny story. I knew Lucy through Executive Secretary Live in London. Every year, I join this event. I really enjoy being with professionals and having the chance to discuss our needs all over the world – and, of course, I enjoy being inspired by great colleagues. I have also been a member of EUMA since 2012 and also attended many EUMA conferences and meetings. However, when I received an email from Lucy, I was surprised that I didn’t already know such a successful colleague in Istanbul. Since then Menekşe and I have remained in contact, and work as partners.

MenekşeIndeed. Filiz introduced me to EUMA, and I have been a member since 2015.  Both Filiz and I work together toward a successful EA network in Turkey.

Starting Their Days Right

Filiz: I usually wake up at 6:00 a.m., exercise for 15 minutes, and then have a light breakfast before preparing for work. I prefer to take the company shuttle as this means I get a chance to read the newspaper and follow social media on my phone during the 40-minute journey. Arriving early at the office means that I can have a cup of tea with my friends and chat with them. I usually play classical music on my laptop, and this helps my plants and me start our day with great joy and motivation. This frees me to focus on challenges that occur throughout the day.

Menekşe: I usually wake up early. I have two daughters and they wake me up really early with their morning kisses. This is the best way of starting a day! I usually have a cup of coffee while I chit chat with the girls. Istanbul is known for its beautiful historical places and scenic views – and its traffic, of course. My commute to Istanbul usually takes 45 minutes by car.

At the Office

Morning Routines

Menekşe: My role is rather regional. I support two directors who are in charge of 70 countries in the MEMA (Middle East, Mediterranean & Africa) region. Even though one of them is based in Turkey, he usually travels within the region. I have another director who is based in Dubai. As you can imagine, my job is all about virtual meetings, calls and connecting with other team members who live all around the globe. I usually start the day by checking calendars, virtual meeting agendas and all other necessary technical issues. Then I read emails, and prioritise them as burning and important.

I personally think that, in business, there is no such thing as “less important”. Thus, I don’t work with long to do lists. However, I check my fairly short to do list every morning. The rest of the day, I usually attend to all the calls, write and share action items, and gather the agenda items for the next calls. I love my coffee so wouldn’t imagine a workday without it.

Old ways need new touches; we need to encourage training

Filiz: Unilever Turkey is a  leading NAMET&RUB (North Africa, Middle East, Turkey and Russia) cluster Home and Personal Care Factory. It ranks in the top three Unilever factories on a global volume basis, and is accepted as a strategic site in three categories (Powders, HC Liquids and PC Liquids) in global Unilever. I work for two directors; one’s office is in the factory, and the other’s is in our head office. Of course, both have their own working style, and so I take care of their respective priorities. Apart from daily routines, I consolidate all department highlights and prepare a performance update quarterly on behalf of my executives, catching up on the news relating to Unilever as well as our competitors. I organise seminars and events, and take care of every single detail. I do follow in person each staff member’s birthday, any appropriate condolences, the birth of babies, and also promotions or leave situations, and take action on behalf of my executives to help to build their personal brands.   

Primary Responsibilities

 Filiz: During our Factory “World Class Award” journey, I was a very active member of the TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) Team and the Be-Safe Behaviour Committee. I organise events and coach interns based on their specific needs. I also lead Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects. 

MenekşeSimilar to my colleagues in other countries, my primary responsibility lays around calendar management, email handling, meeting organisation, approvals and so on. Beyond these responsibilities, I also work with the other team members and am involved in projects. I mainly support marketing projects and plan, lead and manage events. I also work with our Strategy and Finance departments on other important business issues.

Dealing with Challenges

We share common challenges with all colleagues, not only in Turkey but all around the world

MenekşeI personally think we share common challenges with all colleagues, not only in Turkey but all around the world. I recently read Bonnie Low-Kramen’s article on “Why training your admin staff will boost your profits and improve productivity” at Smart CEO. I agree with all the points she underlines. We are the true partners of the leaders, and we need to improve our skills. Old ways always need new touches and we and our companies need to encourage training.

Enjoying the Career

I do not like a routine

Filiz: Executive Secretarial duties are in my nature and abilities. But, in general, I believe there are limitless possibilities to learn and improve. Every day, even every moment, we have to open our eyes and ears to be aware of the rapidly changing needs of the business. In short, I do not like a routine. So, a dynamic environment, creative things/projects, and problem solving and helping people to reach their goals motivate me to be in this role.

We have to open our eyes and ears to be aware of the rapidly changing needs of the business

MenekşeI agree with Filiz, In April 2015 I wrote an article “Executive Assistants: Magic Makers”.  As stated in my article, everyone has different motivations when choosing an occupation – and mine was totally hunger for knowledge. I most enjoy the great possibility of learning and growing. That is the source of creative thinking and finding the best and most effective solutions.

On Saying “No”

MenekşeWell, that’s a challenge most of the time. It doesn’t matter how hard it is, this is part of our job. “No” is a very negative and, in some cases, irritating word; I try not to use it very often. In my experience, saying “no” in a “yes” manner is important.

We need to keep our positive attitude even if the answer is no

Filiz: I totally agree with Menekşe. As executive assistants, we need to keep our positive attitude even if the answer is “No”.

About Their World

Map of worldFiliz: I was born in Mardin, a city in southeast Turkey. Let me give you some insight about this city. Mardin has often been considered an open-air museum, due to its historical architecture. Most buildings use the beige coloured limestone rock which has been mined for centuries in quarries around the area, much like part of Malta. The whole city is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site under the “Mardin Cultural Landscape” However, in 1984 my family and I moved to Istanbul. So, both Menekşe and I live in Istanbul, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I think it is a pearl of the world.

Awards and Recognition

Filiz: While I was working for Unilever’s Communications Department in 2008 as Communications Assistant, I received an invitation to attend a week long Communication Team Meeting in Tokyo. At the conclusion of the week, I received an award for “The Most Active Person in Communications” in the AMET (Asia, Middle East and Turkey) Region, as voted by the Regional Directors.

I strongly believe EAs are should be recognised more

MenekşeLet’s face it; this is a thankless position. Even though I am very happy and proud to hear that Filiz has been recognised, these examples are really rare. As William James puts it, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”  I strongly believe EAs are should be recognised more.



Preferred form(s) of social media? 

MenekşeI use nearly every form of social media.

Meaingful Careers

Role models or mentors?

Filiz Yurttaşer and EUMA Founder Sonia Vanular Filiz: I have met a lot of professionals and executives throughout my career, but there are two women really inspired me. Let me tell you who they are and why I feel they are my role models. Sonia Vanular (pictured here with Filiz) is the founder of EUMA. I met Sonia in Athens during EUMA’s 2012 Conference and really admire her determination, energy and vision. Since becoming a EUMA member, I’ve had the chance to meet many professionals such as Sue France, Angela Garry, Bonnie Low-Kramen, Vickie Sokol Evans, Anel Martin, Lucy Brazier, Laura Schwartz and a lot more. Each has made great contributions to our profession. I follow them very closely and polish my knowledge through their different points of view.

If she did it, so can I

I am also inspired by a lady from Turkey, Melek Pulatkonak. Melek is an entrepreneur and curator. She worked at Microsoft’s Global Startup Business Team. A couple of years ago, she decided to establish TurkishWin, the most impactful network focusing on Turkish professional women all around the world. In a short period of time, TurkishWin opened eight branches – in İstanbul, Ankara, New York, London, Sydney and Zurich. TurkishWin runs many valuable projects and continuously achieves successful results, making the motto “If she did it, so can I” a reality.

So, Sonia Vanular and Melek Pulatkonak are both my role models. My desire is to establish, with Menekşe, a network for our colleagues in Turkey – just as Sonia Vanular and Melek Pulatkonak have done.

Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years?

MenekşeHaving had over 18 years of EA experience, I truly would like to support people who choose this profession. Filiz and I have begun to share our experience with university students. We also believe networking is very important.

Filiz: Yes, we work very hard towards building a strong and solid EA Network in Turkey.

Lessons Learned

If you could offer a new executive advice on how to best capitalise on having an assistant, and working together, what would that be?

Filiz: I very much like a quote from Joan Burge, as it explains my feeling: “Today’s office professional is dynamic, ever changing, part of the management team, makes decisions, takes risks, and participates in staff meetings. Through a manager’s encouragement, sharing of responsibility, information, and willingness to see his or her assistant as a business partner, the assistant will become a valuable asset to the manager. Once, an executive follows this piece of advice there is no doubt to build a best personal brand for both sides.” Don’t you think, Menekşe …

MenekşeI can’t agree more Filiz. Overall, we are business partners to our executives. It is pleasing to see more and more executives starting to realise the importance of this vital position.

We are business partners to our executives


… and now, a note from Shelagh. Filiz and Menekşe are clearly committed to building their Turkish network, and have established a website for their peers. You may find it at

Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources referenced above 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.

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