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 London, England to visit with Bonnie Cookson.
Bonnie Cookson is Executive Assistant to CEO & Chairman of Hailo. Here’s a look at her world.
A Commuter’s Dream
I usually leave home at about 8:00 a.m. and I am lucky enough to live in central London, so I can walk to work. I really enjoy this walk in the morning, as it clears my head and gets me ready for the day ahead. However, if the weather is particularly bad, I jump in a Hailo cab (perks of the job!), which takes about 20 minutes. I usually listen to music on my commute – I love how you can use Spotify to browse for music depending on your mood. It is usually something upbeat in the mornings.
At the Office
Morning Routines: I can’t function without coffee, so I grab one on my walk. I am usually one of the first into the office and, once I have logged in, I go and see the CEO and ask if there is anything he needs that’s urgent for the day ahead. If there is, I deal with that first – then I sit down and go through my emails. I’m usually aware of what’s in my inbox as I’m a bit of a sucker for checking my emails in the mornings before I leave my flat. I action anything that’s urgent and then write myself a to do list. I cannot live without lists!
By 10:00 a.m. the office is busy and in full swing; the day kinds of whizzes by in a flash. Life at a start-up is hectic, crazy, fast, fun and sometimes bonkers. But I love it!
Primary Responsibilities: My primary responsibility is to support our CEO and Chairman, managing their calendars and travel and making sure their weeks run smoothly without any errors. Although this is my primary role, like most EAs I end up getting involved in all aspects of the business. I am also responsible for making sure our London office runs smoothly … organising social events, managing budgets, overseeing projects and also being there for our Senior Management Team – which is made up of our COO, CMO, CFO, People Director and Head of Tech.
I also organise and sit in on board meetings, prepare board packs and monthly board dinners. I wear many hats in my job – sometimes feel like a shepherd herding sheep keeping the crazy Hailo office going!
A typical day is impossible to define. Each day, week and month I am faced with new challenges. To give you an idea, today looked a little something like this:I attended an EA industry event called Assist Travel, which was hosted by @PracticalPA – I met some great EAs and the event was focused on travel, and I went in to find us a new supplier for flight bookings. I also managed to speak to some assistants about Hailo for Business and how this can help their companies get around London more smoothly.
I left the event at noon, and it was conveniently just minutes away from our driver office, so I popped in there afterwards for a cup of tea and to say hi to the guys who run it (our three “cabbie”founders). I then made my way back to HQ and dealt with some urgent emails. I emailed the assistants for all of our board members to get dates in the calendar for 2016 board meetings. Next I went on to start organising a team offsite for our General Managers in the UK, Spain and Ireland, and made sure everyone was up to speed with logistics. I had a quick pit stop for some food and then back to my desk to diarise a photo shoot for our SMT next week.
I organised a few external visitor meetings for the coming days and then updated our guest list for the Christmas party, even though it is only September! I then moved on to finalising some details for our company exhibition stand at office* Show in October and worked with marketing to get the designs signed off. These were all between tasks answering the phone, responding to queries from staff who often come to my desk for help. I am often seen as the “Google” of Hailo… people often think I know the answer to everything, and I try!
The day is not over yet, though, so who knows what else could happen …
How long is your work day? I am usually in the office for 8:30 – 9:00 a.m., and am there until 6:00 and later. If it’s a particularly busy day or there are some big meetings happening, I will stay later.
What might be a typical lunch? The Hailo office is based in the iconic Somerset House in London, and we have some lovely restaurants here that offer take out for lunch. If not, I will usually walk to a local sushi place or salad bar and grab something, then bring it back and eat at my desk. A couple of times a week, I try to sit in the cafe at work and eat lunch with colleagues and catch up on the latest Hailo news!
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I am always online and available to my boss and colleagues outside office hours, so it’s hard to define “typical working hours”!
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? My answer to this question would differ depending on which day you asked me. Things change so quickly, and in a split second you might have to drop everything and deal with something urgent. One of the things I find most challenging is being faced with problems that are out of your control – travel delays / technology issues / people not showing up when they should. You always find a way to resolve it, but it can be quite frustrating!
Another thing that is more of a pet hate than a challenge is applying for visas. I have had to do this many times over the years for executives, and it is one of the most complicated processes you will ever encounter as an EA!
Make sure you build a solid relationship with your boss and never be afraid to approach him or her; you need them as much as they need you
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love that no two days are the same. I enjoy learning from my boss and being involved in every aspect of the business.
On Saying “No”
I find it hard to say no to people, but I’ve learnt over the years that a good EA never says no. You just find an alternative solution if you can’t do exactly what is being asked of you. So, when someone asks for something and I either don’t have time or don’t feel its something I should do, I priorotise and say yes, but just not right now.
I was born in Solihull, in the Midlands, where I grew up and lived until I was in my early 20s. I didn’t go to university but, as part of my job, studied for a CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) qualification as a mature student when I was 25. I moved to Palma de Mallorca, Spain in 2007 and lived there for 18 months, and then made the move to London in 2011.
I am a real city girl and, as much as I love the odd weekend away out of London, this really is the place where I feel most at home. I love the buzz you get here, and having everything on your doorstep is great!
Away from the office, I can be found relaxing! Work can be stressful. I’m a big fan of yoga. I eat out in London a lot. I’m lucky in that I live in an area with lots of amazing restaurants and there are always new places popping up. I love travelling, too, and try to get away two to three times a year.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Relaxing on my sofa watching trash TV with a glass of wine!
A dream holiday or travel adventure? One of my favourite places to visit is New York City. I have been a few times now , and I love the buzz. It’s kind of like London, but cooler and even more crazy! I also love beach holidays and relaxing in the sun. One place on my list that I haven’t visited yet is Paris (which is crazy because it is so close to London!) but I will 100% do that in 2016.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I did a professional qualification with the Chartered Institute of Marketing back in 2009, partly because my role involved marketing and events, but more because I am just really interested in it. Did it help with career development? I’m not sure. Did I enjoy it? Definitely. There are lots of industry qualifications for PAs and EAs, but I think 99% of it is personality and the relationship you have with your boss – this is key to being successful.
On success: I think 99% of it is personality and the relationship you have with your boss
Peer and Professional Associations: Not so much associations, but I subscribe to Executive PA Magazine, Miss Jones PA and Practically Perfect PA All three are great resources and blogs and I read them regularly. They also bring together a community of EA professionals.
I was contacted recently about being part of setting up a new network for central London EAs – it is early days, but I am excited about this new opportunity. I met with the other two founding EAs at office* Show to discuss next steps … watch this space!
Preferred form(s) of social media? I LOVE anything social, and anything to do with technology. I am an avid user of pretty much every social media platform going. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are the ones I use the most but I’m also a huge fan of Spotify (I use it every day without fail), and I will always have a soft spot for Skype. I used to work there, so I have a real insight into life behind the scenes. LinkedIn is also great for networking, and I use Pinterest when I’m looking for inspiration.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? A “Boss Tracker” app. Sometimes I spend a lot of time trying to hunt him and others down. This has always been the case in previous jobs, too. Some sort of tracking device would be helpful!
For career growth, make sure you get into a community where you can meet other people in the industry and learn from their experience
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? Here at Hailo, we have a dress down policy in the office. You can wear whatever you want – it’s not a stuffy suited and booted environment. This has its pros and cons. Sometimes it is nice to have the freedom to dress in your own style, rather than conform to an office “uniform” – but on the other hand, I find this means all of my clothes merge into one and I often spend too much time in the morning wondering what to wear.
I have a friend who is a personal shopper (www.thestylealchemy.com), and she has helped me put together a great work wear wardrobe that still allows me to show off my personality. She is always on speed dial, too, for events and parties. I have used her services professionally as well as personally, and she is a must have in every PA’s little black book!
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Coconut oil; it does EVERYTHING! You can use it as a hair mask, frizz fighter, skin moisturizer, lip balm, make up remover, body scrub … it is literally is 20 products in one. I use it all the time.
Heels or flats for the office? I’m very tall, so I tend not to wear very high heels that often. I would usually change into heels after work if I was going out for drinks. For your commute? Flats or trainers to commute – all that walking!
Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? I am more of a boot lover than a shoe lover. I get so excited when Autumn comes, just because I can wear boots! I usually tend to shop on the high street or online – Zara, COS, &Other Stories and Whistles are probably my favourites and all sell lovely boots!
Preferred scent: La Vie Est Belle – Lancome. I love it, and people always comment on it.
What might we find in your desk drawer? All kinds of rubbish! The usual pens, stationery and notepads. Also a few last minute “essentials” every woman needs – deodorant, toothbrush, make up – you never know when you might get an invite for an after work drink! Then things like extra phone chargers, mac chargers and keys to various parts of the office.
If you do only one thing, copy all of the travel itinerary from your boss’ calendar into yours, too
Travel or travel planning advice? Plan ahead (where possible) to get the best rates. Use your contacts to get good local knowledge on the destination – recommendations on hotels and restaurants are always good. If you do only one thing, copy all of the travel itinerary from your boss’ calendar into yours, too – that way, if s/he contacts you out of hours, you can access the details easily from your mobile.
Role models or mentors? A former boss of mine, the Global Head of Brand at Skype; we built up a lot of trust and he really let me make the role my own. I would often make decisions on his behalf and I learnt so much from him. Even though he is no longer my boss he is now a great mentor, and friend!
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I was a finalist in Executive PA Magazine’s PA of The Year annual award. These awards are great recognition for all of the hard working EAs and PAs across the UK, so getting to the final six was a career highlight for me!
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I love what I do and I’d like to do it forever – but I do tend to move companies every two to three years. It’s nice to mix it up and keep it fresh. I would like to take on a broader role, perhaps as Chief of Staff – helping to manage other EAs.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Always have confidence. Make sure you build a solid relationship with your boss and never be afraid to approach him or her. You need them as much as they need you.
Always have confidence
Your most effective time management strategy? Writing a to do list – if it’s on the list, it gets done! I work through it point by point, making sure I don’t spend too much time on the “itty bitty” stuff and prioritising the urgent stuff.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Always keep your door open. Have regular 1:1s with your assistant and keep her/him up to speed with every single aspect of the business. Treat your assistant like a business partner. The more s/he knows, and the more responsibility s/he is given, the more likely your assistant is to be the best possible assistant and give you the best possible support you need.
Interested in promotion? Always go above and beyond what is expected of you
For those interested in promotion: For career growth, make sure you get into a community where you can meet other people in the industry and learn from their experiences too. Keep up to date with what’s happening in your network – attend industry events, and use social media as a platform to promote yourself. Make a list of companies you are interested in and follow them too. The more people you know and the more you know about the EA role, the more chance you have of landing your dream job.
For promotion – always go above and beyond what is expected of you. Make sure you are the one person in the office who the company just cannot live without. If this means doing the odd email out of office hours, it’s worth it. Above all, ensure you make your executive’s life as stress free as possible.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Bonnie 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.