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 21 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the USA and Wales. Today, we’re off to Kent and London, England to visit with Ollie Minto.
Ollie Minto is PA to Managing Partner, Partner & Consultant, Legal & Professional Services at Odgers Berndtson. Here’s a look at his world.
Reducing the Commute
I aim to get up around 6:00 a.m. (which usually means 6:30!) and tend to leave the house at around 7:00/7:15 a.m. Believe it or not, I absolutely hate hot drinks – I always have and I think I always will! So, no tea or coffee for me in the morning – I just tend to have a freezing cold glass of water or a quick blitzed juice before I head out.
I live in a small village in Kent, so my commute door-to-door is around an hour and 20 minutes. I am moving back to London in the next few weeks and I will be able to walk to the office – so I am looking forward to the change!
At the Office
Morning Routines: The first thing I do is check the three mailboxes. The Partners I work for do not file anything away – it is just one large mass of read and unread emails! I quickly scan over the emails received since leaving the office the previous day, and action/flag any priority emails to them.
My practice tend to go for a coffee (a water for me!) in our breakout area for 15 minutes or so. It is a chance for us all to gather around the newspapers and chat about what we got up to the previous evening, what is going on in the news and just a general natter. We try to keep it as non-work related as possible!
As an assistant, it is vital that we are flexible and constantly switching up our priorities
Primary Responsibilities: Diary management, producing client-facing documentation (candidate briefs, candidate reports, pitch documentation, etc.) and organising events take up the majority of my time.
No two days are the same. One day I could be working on a pitch document and the next a budget review – you never really know what you are walking into! A lot of my time is spent coordinating our practice-specific lunches and events. We hold a weekly lunch every Friday in our boardroom, and the lunches are sector-themed – i.e., General Counsel and Company Secretary, HR Directors in Law Firms, etc. Each lunch involves ascertaining who will be invited, monitoring responses, making menu selections and organising front of house/hospitality, etc. Our main annual event is a sponsorship with the English National Ballet, where we invite 100 clients to a private viewing of three performances in their studios! It is a real treat and a lovely way to kick off the Christmas period.
How long is your work day? I work 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and try to stick within this time frame. I am lucky that the individuals I work for really do believe in a work/life balance.
What might be a typical lunch? This tends to be a sandwich/salad at my desk – boring. I try to get out of the office, even for 30 minutes, to get some fresh air and really to break up the day. It always feels like a long afternoon if you haven’t had a break from the screen, doesn’t it?
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I try not to. I like to get my work done at the end of the day and switch off (as much as I can!). Our organisation holds in-house regular drinks events/dinners where some assistants help out, and so we can end up finishing rather late! I am a slight control freak, so I do like to keep an eye on emails from time to time on my phone.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? The most challenging aspect of being an assistant, in my opinion, is dealing with various personalities. It is all well and good being able to do the “core” job, but it makes a real difference when you do work well with those you support, especially when you role as an assistant is more of a partnership rather than a dictatorship. It was difficult when I first joined Odgers, as the fee-earners I support have been working together for 10+ years – so slotting into the tight-knit team took some time.
At Odgers … I am not seen as just an assistant in the background, but as an integral member of the team
What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy the fact that no two days are the same and that I get to speak and meet with so many different individuals, ranging from assistants all the way to General Counsels. At Odgers, I like the fact that I am not seen as just an assistant in the background, but as an integral member of the team.
On Saying “No”
It has been a real struggle to say “no” to people, especially to members of my practice. I do not like to be seen as someone who cannot manage his workload and, as an assistant, it is vital that we are flexible and constantly switching up our priorities.
Professional Development and Associations
I am part of a PA community at Odgers. It is formed of a small number of us, but we are working huge amounts to try and create the new face of the PA network at Odgers. This involves various meetings with senior management, organising networking breakfasts and events, and holding regular forums to bounce ideas off each other.
It makes a real difference when you do work well with those you support … striking a lasting relationship really does help in this world
I was born in London and spent 20 years in that crazy whirlwind before moving to Kent, where I now reside – although I’m moving back to London in the next few weeks! My reach has not been particularly international, even if I do deal with international offices on a day to day basis. I would love a secondment abroad, however, perhaps to one of Odgers’ international offices.
At heart, are you a city guy or small community person (city mouse/country mouse)? City all the way!
How do you like to spend your time outside the office? I enjoy spending time with my friends. They are all based in London, so I tend to drive down and spend most weekends in the City. I have a real passion for photography and fashion, and I have recently been visiting the theatre more. What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? I can’t think of any specific songs, but anything that is played on Mellow Magic has to be belted like nobody is listening.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? A gin and tonic seems to do the trick!
On time management and prioritising: It is about working smart, not hard
A dream holiday or travel adventure? Ever since I was young I always wanted to travel to Tokyo and I am going in March with two friends. It is somewhere all three of us have wanted to visit, and we can not wait. There will be so much to do and, being the extreme planner that I am, we are already planning every minute of the day!
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I use software called BigHand. It’s essentially software that listens to dictations sent to me by my practice, and it types content out for me using speech recognition. It is a real time saver and the software learns after each dictation. It is a winner in my eyes!
Style and Substance
What are your go-to pieces from your wardrobe to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? It has to be a clean cut suit with a crisp white shirt. Call me old fashioned, but I do not think it gets any better (or easier in the morning!) than pressing a white shirt and finding a good tie to match your suit. Not forgetting throwing on a nicely polished pair of shoes!
Get to know … what is really important/on the priority list for the executive
What might we find in your desk drawer? It was during my first year at Odgers that my loving team members found out my obsession with keeping things clean and tidy. Every year we hold a “Secret Santa” at our Christmas dinner, and my colleague made me a cleaning kit – which included various potions to keep my desk spick and span! I also have an assortment of plastic cutlery for when eating at your desk is unavoidable!
Role models or mentors? I do not have one specific individual who springs to mind. However, I do spend a lot of time on LinkedIn and notice a growing male PA population – which is always nice to see! I enjoy spending my time with hard working, like-minded people who have a good work ethic and drive – it really does push me both professionally and personally.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I have been mentioned a few times on client audits, referencing my performance throughout various projects, which is great to know that my work is recognised. Also, working alongside our Chief Operating Officer and various other assistants in the firm to establish a PA community has been really satisfying.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Get to know the ins and outs of the role and what is really important/on the priority list for the executive. What matters to you may not matter so much to them – so it is about striking a balance between the two, and being able to flex to the demands of your executive and the business.
What matters to you may not matter so much to them – so it is about striking a balance
Your most effective time management strategy? Prioritising – 100%. It is about working smart, not hard, and if you spend hours and hours on tasks that can wait until tomorrow, simply let them go. I am also a fan of lists, so I tend to jot down what needs to be done in order to visually determine what needs my urgent assistance.
If you could offer a new executive advice on how to best capitalise on having an assistant, and working together, what would that be? Get to know them and realise the assistant’s strengths and weaknesses. Although the assistant is seen to be the “all-rounder”, in fact, we are all human and we are better at some things compared to others. Working together as a unit and striving towards a common goal seems to be a winning combination.
Networking with other assistants can really open your eyes to what is out there
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Get to know the assistant. It is easy to forget that we are all human behind the computer screens. As I mentioned previously, it is a partnership and striking a lasting relationship really does help in this world.
For those interested in promotion: I would personally have an open and frank conversation about it with your executive. Honesty is the best policy and the executive should want to expand your career and enrich their team. I would also suggest networking (LinkedIn is a great way to) with other assistants, as it can really open your eyes to what is out there.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with the resource Ollie referenced may be interested in checking the following link.