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 and the USA, and now make our way to Yorkshire to visit with Louise Whitehead.
A Productive Commute
I rise at around 6:30 a.m. and have a fairly simple routine – shower, dress, hot water with lemon or (depending on how virtuous or tired I’m feeling), a coffee, check through my phone, and then off we go.
I get a bus and a train to work and give myself an hour to get door to door, just due to traffic. I may spend my commute listening to music, reading the paper or the latest book I have on the go (you will always find a paperback in my bag) and/or checking my emails. What’s on your commuting playlist? I like energetic music to get me going on a morning – anything from dance to hip hop to Latin beats, and there is always room for some Michael Jackson!
At the Office
Morning Routines: My first priority is checking through the emails, for myself and my bosses, over a cup of coffee. I look over my to-do list (which I put together when leaving the night before), amend it if anything else has cropped up overnight, and have a quick check on social media.
Primary Responsibilities: I provide comprehensive Senior EA support to three Partners and the wider Restructuring Services team. This includes extensive and complex multiple diary management and the organisation of all meetings, travel and accommodation.
I am responsible for event management, as we regularly host seminars and networking events. I also manage multiple cross service line projects, conducting end-to-end event management for those as well as supporting the delivery of the group’s strategic objectives.
I act as first point of contact for the department, taking calls and enquiries and handling or directing them when appropriate, and I liaise with our key clients on behalf of my Partners. I deal with the mail and the team whereabouts and am also closely involved with our internal Yorkshire and North East EA Network, designed to share knowledge, offer training and host internal and external networking events.
How long is your work day? My official hours are 9:00 – 5:30, but I’m usually in the office by about 8:15 as I prefer to arrive early in case anything urgent needs picking up. If I am involved in events or seminars taking place before or after work, I will come in early to set up, or stay late to host. Otherwise I try to leave on time where possible, though flexibility is key; I stay late if needed, or I have any PA networking events to attend.
What might be a typical lunch break? I always try to get out of the office, even if just for a quick walk and a breath of fresh air – I find it makes the afternoon more productive and it’s especially important in the winter when it’s dark before and after work; a little sunlight at lunchtime can work wonders. Sometimes I bring in lunch from home and sometimes I go out for informal networking lunches with fellow PAs or lunch with a friend. One of the benefits of working in Leeds city centre is access to a wide variety of fantastic food, so there is temptation on every corner!
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I try to maintain a separation of work and home, though I check my emails both at home and on my commute in case anything needs to be dealt with out of hours.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? I would say the most challenging aspect is reacting quickly to the constantly changing and shifting priorities of my Partners, and the complex diary management that involves. Things change in the blink of an eye and it’s about being ready to reschedule meetings at the last minute, along with any accompanying travel plans, while causing the minimal amount of disruption to those involved. As I also support the delivery of a number of cross service line projects, conducting end-to-end event management and liaising with key clients, it is vital to manage my time effectively to ensure everything gets done to the highest standard.
Take charge of your own career; ask for extra training as and when required
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love the variety of the PA role and I love to be busy. I’m a naturally organised and supportive person and I therefore enjoy the support role of a PA and the ways in which I can facilitate or enable my Directors to achieve their objectives. I am very much a people person and find my enjoyment of any role has always been largely linked to my relationships with colleagues. At Deloitte, I work with a fantastic team of people which makes being at work a pleasure, and no two days are the same, which makes the job really interesting. I particularly enjoying managing events and taking on additional responsibilities each year to ensure I always feel challenged, and I’m lucky to work somewhere that encourages me to take on new things.
On Saying “No”
I rarely say no. Unless I absolutely have to, I will always try to make the time to help with whatever is asked of me. What I do try to do is manage expectations of when I can deliver something and ensure deadlines are clearly communicated.
I was born in Yorkshire and lived here until I went to university up in Newcastle. I have been lucky enough to spend time travelling the world as well, spending extended periods in India, Nepal, South East Asia and Australia; I am settled again in beautiful Yorkshire near to my family and friends. At heart, are you a city gal or small community person? A bit of both! I enjoy the buzz and bustle of a big city in small doses but I don’t like feeling crowded and enjoy space, peace and calm.
I focus on spending quality time with my husband, friends and family. When not catching up with loved ones, I am a big boxset fan, an avid reader and also enjoy walking, dancing and exploring new places.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? I have very eclectic music tastes and can be found singing along with pretty much anything!
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? A pizza and a glass of wine with my husband is usually my favourite way to unwind. I can also lose myself very easily in a good boxset, and as a special treat I might book a massage at one of my favourite local treatment spas.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I’ve been lucky to have already ticked off a lot of my travel dreams, and have a particular passion for Asia. I have spent extended periods backpacking across and exploring incredible places such as India, Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia, and driving across Australia. My husband works in the travel industry and so we also have access to some incredible holidays – the Maldives last year was a real highlight and we have a safari in South Africa coming up in November, which I’m really excited about.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I do have a degree but I remain unconvinced as to the necessity of it for a PA. I do, however, believe strongly in the importance of professional development, and I look for training and development opportunities wherever possible. I regularly attend networking and developmental events in my own time, and I also attend conferences such as office* Show, a fantastic way to learn new skills and meet fellow PAs to share knowledge, skills and support.
Volunteer to take on additional responsibilities
Peer and Professional Associations: I am a member of the Yorkshire-based PA Hub, run by Marion and Jon Lowrence, and find it a wonderful place in which to make friends, share ideas and offer support, as well as learning from the developmental sessions.
I’m very excited about the upcoming launch of the Executive and Personal Assistants Association (EPAA) later this year and am delighted that I will be sitting on the Board of Directors.
Preferred form(s) of social media? Facebook for personal, LinkedIn for professional and Twitter for both
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? A magic app that would allow me to read minds would be most helpful!
Awards and Recognition
- Finalist for SecsintheCity national PA of the Year 2014
- Nominated for Leeds Best PA in 2013 and Deloitte PA of the Year in 2013 and 2014
- Nominated for WATC (We Are The City) Rising Stars 2015
- Numerous internal Limelight awards, designed to recognise outstanding contributions to the Firm
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? I don’t really have one go-to outfit; I like to be comfortable as well as smart. I tend to wear suit trousers with a white shirt or a short sleeved soft jumper, or sometimes a wrap dress. Our office temperature is a little cool for me, so I tend to need layers!
Heels or flats in the office? Mostly flats; sometimes heels. For your commute? Definitely flats; often trainers. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? I’m not really a shoe girl, to be honest; scarves and bags are my accessories of choice!
Preferred scent: I love Jo Malone and Clarins scents, as well as Cool Water.
What might we find in your desk drawer? Too much! A supply of stationery, expense bags, a selection of Post-its and pens, painkillers and snacks.
Travel or travel planning advice? We have a central travel booking system that we use for hotel bookings and train journeys / flights, which is helpful when making the initial arrangements. I find printed itineraries to give to your Director are a good way to ensure nothing is missed, with any train tickets or hotel bookings clipped and attached.
Inspirational reads? I have always been an avid reader and have frequently found inspiration and solace in Paulo Coelho and Salman Rushdie.I read a lot and will always have a book in my bag, and am currently enjoying some great female authors.
I also read industry blogs such as Executive Secretary (Lucy Brazier), Hays, EPAA and PAPOWER (Victoria Darragh) and Practically Perfect PA (Nicky Christmas), and I subscribe to PA Life magazine.
The role can be isolating, and support and friendship from networks is invaluable
Role models or mentors? Where to start? There are so many role models now in our industry it’s fantastic, and many are my unofficial mentors. Lucy Brazier and Victoria Darragh have both had a big impact on me and how I view my career, and I hold their advice dearly. I remember how inspired I was the first time I saw Leeanne Graham speak, and Marion Lowrence has been instrumental in my networking activities. All these women have changed and shaped the way I view the role of a PA.
There are so many PAs whose advice and friendship I value deeply – it can be an isolating role, and I am grateful for the support and friendship we offer each other.
Upskill yourself by attending training, development and networking events wherever possible
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I never want to stop learning and adding skills and experience to benefit me and my Executives. I feel strongly about raising the profile of the PA/EA industry and giving it the recognition it deserves, and am always looking for new ways to do this and champion our role. I am particularly looking forward to being closely involved with the Executive and Personal Assistants Association (EPAA) when it launches shortly – a new professional body for EAs and PAs across the UK.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? The power of networking. It has proven itself invaluable to me over the past couple of years and I only wish I’d discovered it sooner.
There are now many role models in our industry
Your most effective time management strategy? I personally find my to-do lists, and clearly marked priorities within those lists, are the easiest way for me to keep a clear track of what has been completed and what is still outstanding. I am an experienced multi-tasker and can be working on many things at the same time, and I find this is the most effective way for me personally to know I’m not missing anything. It’s also satisfying to tick things off and realise you are getting somewhere, even at the times when it feels overwhelming.
Advice for a new mother returning to the workplace? Not having been in this position myself. I wouldn’t presume to offer any advice to a new mother but I understand from friends and colleagues how challenging it can be. What I have observed in the women I know who have returned to their workplace is that they are often far too hard on themselves and sometimes really need to give themselves a break.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Be open, communicate and share. The more you share with us, the more we are able to help you. Build that bond – the closer your professional relationship is with your PA, the more s/he can support you and make your life easier.
Seeking promotion? Put yourself forward, grab every opportunity you can, and take some risks
For those interested in promotion: You really need to grab every opportunity you can, as PAs are not always considered in company training plans, although I do believe that is changing. Ask for extra training as and when required, upskill yourself by attending training, development and networking events such as the excellent office* Show that runs in London each year. Volunteer to take on additional responsibilities where available, put yourself forward and take some risks. You need to take charge of your own career and take positive steps yourself to drive it forward.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Louise 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.