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, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and the USA, and now make our way to Bristol, England to visit with Debs Eden.
A Harbourside Walk to Work
My alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m. and I’m up by 6:30; the most important thing to do first is to brush my teeth! I don’t like eating breakfast at home, so usually skip it and have a banana mid-morning instead.
I’m very lucky. I can walk to work and it takes me around 40 minutes. It’s trainers on, and off I go – doesn’t matter what the weather is. I can walk along the harbourside, which is glorious – I’m very lucky. I don’t have a playlist for the walk; I prefer to listen to life going on around me rather than shut it out.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? I’m a massive Queen fan – my love affair started when I was eight years old and first heard Killer Queen; I’ve been very lucky and saw them live twice whilst Freddie Mercury was still with us. I also love a radio show with Elaine Paige (the British musical theatre star) on a Sunday. She plays two hours of musical theatre songs (total guilty pleasure – top of the voice singing)!
At the Office
Morning Routines: I start work at 8:30 but usually arrive to find the office full of the sales teams who start at 8:00 – so it’s lots of “mornings” and “hellos”. I like to sit down, change my trainers for heels and then have a quick scan of my emails; my in box is usually very manageable in the morning, as I like to check it via my phone mid way through the evening before. I’ll make a peppermint tea and a glass of water and then I’m ready to go.
Primary Responsibilities: My role is pretty traditional, as I support the CEO of an owner managed business; it’s diary, travel (lots), personal work and projects.
There is nothing typical about my day! The biggest difference relates to whether my CEO is in the office or overseas, which he is A LOT as we are growing rapidly and opening offices in the USA and Asia this year. If he is in Australia, then I have to shift my hours to be available very early in the morning; if he’s in New York or the west coast of America, I know I’ll need to be “on the ball” from lunchtime. So I have to be flexible and be familiar with different time zones.
How long is your work day? My day is officially 8:30 until 5:30, with lunch at 1:00; I like to arrive between 8:00 and 8:15 but am pretty good at wrapping up at 5:30. Initially I found it strange having a very set in stone lunch hour but now I love it – although I do wish it was a half hour earlier, as I’m always hungry at 12:30! It’s funny to see the whole office get up and head for the lift at 1:00!
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? I do try and bring sandwiches, with a banana and an apple – but then someone will get out snacks, and all my good intentions are ruined! If I don’t bring lunch, then it’s Pret for me.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Yes, I have my emails on my mobile phone and check regularly out of hours – although, as a company, we are very good at sending/replying only during working hours, so I don’t get lots of emails out of hours, except from my CEO. We are also good at doing all our work during the week, so my in box is very quiet on a weekend. It’s best not to check emails during my commute, as I’m walking!
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? My CEO is a big challenge (he won’t mind me saying this); he’s incredibly successful and entrepreneurial, and he owns the business. This means that every single thing that happens has a personal impact on him. My biggest challenge is helping him understand that he can trust me to do things without his constant input.
Don’t take anything personally
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love supporting people – I think most PAs would say this. I love being the “go to” person and the problem solver. I love knowing about everything (naturally nosy), and I love being a role model to others.
On Saying “No”
I never say no to my CEO – it’s my job to say yes to him. Even if I don’t know how to do something, I’ll just say “yes” and then figure it out. I’m always available to assist our COO and other Directors, and am very lucky in that most of the senior team have been with Darren since the beginning, eight years ago; they are pretty awesome people. It’s common knowledge in the company that I have the most challenging role in the business!
Be interested in people, and in personal development
I love the city – I adored living in London and got to know it better than most Londoners! But Bristol is the place for me; it’s a beautiful city with a fantastic balance of water. It’s green and urban. Plus, we are close to Somerset, Devon and Cornwall and the seaside is just an hour away by train. I’m still close (an hour and 45 minutes) to London, and have lots of friends there still.
I am a huge fan of yoga and meditation. I practice daily at home and attend yoga class once a week; it’s changed my life and helped me address issues such as stress (there are no longer any stress issues). I can sometimes be coerced into running; I’ve completed the Bristol 10k the past two years, although I won’t pretend to enjoy it!
I spend quite a large amount of time on the Bristol PA Network, working alongside the Exeter PA Network. I built and maintain our website, produce regular newsletters, and tweet.
I love writing – I’ve just drafted up a plan for a series of LinkedIn articles on career and personal development; I also love social media and keeping up to date with our profession.
I read a huge amount – novels, non-fiction/business books, articles, beauty blogs – you name it and I’ll read it! Finally, Netflix – I’m addicted to some of their brilliant programmes such as Orange is the New Black, etc., and I’m just in the middle of watching Heroes (which is quite old, but I love it).
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Brunch and hot chocolate in my favourite local café – just sitting with the laptop and catching up with the week; I know the staff really well and they always give me extra marshmallows with my hot chocolate! Most of my PA pals will know exactly which café I’m referring to!
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I’m not a sun worshiper – you’ll never see me with a tan! Having said that, I love the beach and can sit for hours (in the shade) listening to the sound of the sea and breathing in the salty air. My dream holiday would be a yoga retreat on a (shady) beach.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I’ve always taken responsibility for my own development and it’s been ad hoc as and when I feel I need it; I’ve learned a lot from other amazing PAs and bosses.
Believe that you can achieve anything you set out to do
Peer and Professional Associations: I’m active in the Exeter and Cardiff PA Networks – I know the founders of both networks, and we support each other with all our endeavours.
Preferred form(s) of social media?
- LOVE Twitter and LinkedIn for business and career development
- LOVE Pinterest for food, recipes, anything visual
- LOVE YouTube for yoga videos
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? At work, I sit next to a very bright young man who’s just left university – he’s our digital guru at work and he’s working on a music app. It’s not really relevant to this question but he’s introduced me to loads of really great apps that I’d never heard of. He has also reinvigorated my passion for development, and we are working together on a Hack-a-thon.
Learn from more experienced assistants, and never dismiss anyone
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? I am a BIG fan of dressing well for work; I always wear dresses and heels with a good handbag. I don’t skimp on quality, and find that a good piece will last a long time. I feel good when I’m dressed well, and it’s a big part of my brand. My favourite shops for work outfits are Hobbs, LKBennett and Reiss.
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? I always carry face powder and lip gloss! Again, I have very little brand loyalty and am a marketing department’s dream customer – if something is new or on offer, then I’m tempted! My other “can’t live without” is Liz Earle cleanse & polish – I must’ve introduced every single one of my friends to this!
Heels or flats in the office? Heels – with a change into flats at 1:00 p.m. for an hour! I’ve christened it “slipper hour”, and it’s really caught on in my office. For your commute? Trainers! They’re ugly, but comfortable and good for speed.
Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Bit of a fan of Russell & Bromley – and Aldo, although the Bristol store just closed down!
Preferred scent: I’m a changeling; I’ll use up one bottle and then get something totally different! At the moment, I am loving Jo Malone and just finished a bottle of Blackberry & Bay – so I’ll be moving on to Hugo Boss Orange (which is completely different).
What might we find in your desk drawer? My work colleagues love my drawer – tights, medicines, glasses cleaner, full make-up bag, business cards (mine and Darren’s), cables, thank you cards ….. I regularly hear people say “Debs will have that”.
Travel or travel planning advice?, I do a huge amount of travel planning for the CEO and other senior team members. I would say, get to know a great flight specialist. Also, find an event and incentive planner because they are often “in the know” regarding hotels. Don’t ignore tools such as Skyscanner; they are a great starting point for planning a trip. Finally, set up your Outlook calendar to show different time zones – I’ve found this invaluable.
Inspirational reads? I do book reviews for PA Life magazine, so have read many business books – the problem with most of them is that they are far too long. I want bite size pieces of information – with pictures – that I can read and digest quickly; I hate it when business books are full of tiny writing because it turns them into school text books!
I love fiction and rummaging through the best seller list. I probably get a couple of new books each month from Amazon or, if not from Amazon, then from the local charity shop.
Never stop learning and growing
Role models or mentors? My great friend Victoria Darragh is incredible – she has a commercial brain that is astonishing and can get through so much work; she’s a great inspiration and a great friend.
I also have a coach, Tracie Jolliff. I made a decision in 2014 to invest my own money in a leadership coach and it’s been an incredible journey. Prior to Tracie, I had two coaches who just didn’t suit me and I had to bin them. I knew as soon as I met Tracie at a networking event that she was the right coach for me – she has SO MUCH experience in leadership, and a wonderfully supportive manner. Working with Tracie has helped me believe that I can achieve anything I want.
I also have a group of London based PA friends I meet with quarterly for a Saturday lunch. They are the most amazing group of ladies, with senior roles, and we have shared so many experiences, laughs and stories ….. they know who they are!
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I’ve been an award winning PA and used this to launch a secondary career in mentoring (which I love). I’m also very proud of the Bristol PA Network which I set up from a start point of nothing – I didn’t have any members or speakers but, one year on, I have a membership of nearly 200 and have put on some great events!
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? Definitely. I aim to continue mentoring and want to undertake a coaching qualification, and would then use this for career coaching. I also want to use my public speaking avenues to help PAs understand the value of development plans and goal setting – whether for business or personal purposes (in fact, the two are very closely connected).
I’ve just been accepted as a mentor by Entrepreneurial Spark, which is outside the PA profession; I’ll be mentoring start-up business owners!
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Don’t take anything personally, and believe that you can achieve anything you set out to do.
Focus on one task at a time, and do it well
Your most effective time management strategies? Try not to let Darren spend too much time talking! – Seriously, though: plan plan plan. I use Wunderlist to keep a to-do list. It syncs with my phone and I can share tasks with people. Also, do one thing at a time, and do it well – THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT. Forget multi- tasking, and keep a clear head.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Listen to us – we’ve got a lot to offer and a huge amount of experience to share.
For those interested in promotion: Learn from more experienced assistants, and never dismiss anyone – we all have knowledge that can be shared. Be a master of all trades; as an assistant, you’ll be asked to do all sorts of things, and you’ll need to be able to turn your hand to any tasks. Be interested in people, and in personal development – never stop learning and growing.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Debs referenced may be interested in checking the following link. To explore a range of resources recommended by our readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page.