I consider myself fortunate. In the space of the almost six months since I launched Exceptional EA’s Real Careers series, I’ve shared with readers my virtual trips to seventeen countries – and the wisdom of dozens of admin. professionals who have generously shared insights about career challenges, successes and strategies. More will follow in the new year, but the close of this year seems an ideal time to also explore the other part of the equation. Why not, I thought, turn to pairs of professionals who are getting this business partnership piece right?
Even if you’ve not met Lucy Brazier, you’re likely to know of her as the highly regarded CEO of Marcham Publishing, specialist publishers of Executive Secretary Magazine. She is a person who inspires admiration and loyalty, whether you know her in person or solely through her brand. Hers is a global training magazine, and she is a powerhouse dedicated to addressing the professional development needs of senior and aspiring administrative professionals.
Matthew Want, who is also highly regarded and appeared in one of the earliest Real Careers interviews, is Personal Assistant to Lucy. When you ask something of Matthew, you know you’re dealing with another true professional who understands our world, and performs at a high level. What I love about dealing with Matthew is the absolute certainty that, if he commits to something, he will deliver – in full, on time and at a high level. Oh, and he always finishes off on a positive, collaborative note.
Here’s a look at the partnership between this widely respected team, who joined forces at Executive Secretary Magazine in February 2012.
Qualities and Characteristics
What are the qualities or characteristics you most respect in your executive/principal? What really stand out for me are Lucy’s energy and drive to keep going no matter what. Lucy has a high work ethic which keeps her mind focused and determined no matter what else may be going on.
What really stand out for me are Lucy’s energy and drive
What are some of the most important qualities or characteristics you seek in an assistant? Trust is the most important, and emotional intelligence, but obviously it helps that Matt is highly efficient. I never have to ask him to do something twice. I know if I have asked, it will not only be done but that he will continue to follow up the same task moving forwards. Matt is an expert at all the bits of the business that I am not and when I am away travelling, I can rest assured that the business will continue to operate in the way that it would if I was there. He will deal with people, issues and problems exactly as I would.
Matt leads as our brand ambassador
Customer service is at the heart of everything we do and, as a small team, Matt leads as our brand ambassador – I could hardly have a magazine that trains Assistants to be excellent if my own Assistant was anything less than exceptional.
Recruitment and Building the Partnership
What most impressed you about Matthew during the recruitment/interview process? I didn’t interview Matt. I had started the business in December 2010 and in December 2011, Matt and I both worked on the Committee for the local Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas event. I Project Managed and Matt was Secretary. He really impressed me with his organization and work ethic and I was drowning in work for the magazine, as it was just me doing everything. He initially worked on basic admin. for a couple of days a week, but soon became full time as the business partnership evolved.
I worked with Lucy on our local Chamber of Commerce for about a year before I started working for her at Executive Secretary Magazine. I think that, during our time working together on the Chamber of Commerce, we built a close bond which helped build trust and confidence when it came time for us to work at the magazine together.
As we worked together for around a year before I started work for Lucy at Executive Secretary Magazine, I believe this was my “interview” before I started the job.
What are some of the most critical skills Matthew brings to the role? His people skills are superb. I am forever getting comments from the PAs who subscribe and the trainers we work with about what a good job he does. His travel planning is excellent– which, with the amount of travelling I do, is really important. For every trip he puts together a file for me which has not only all the travel, contact and hotel details but also details of all the key players and speakers who will be at any event where I am speaking, so I can be fully briefed by the time I get there.
His people skills are superb
He does all my diary management – which is a minefield. I haven’t ended up in the wrong place yet, although early on I think he had me speaking in Exeter on one evening and in Newcastle the next morning, which was a learning curve. And this is before he manages my emails, organises #adminchat (our weekly Twitter chat), manages all the admin. on Executive Secretary LIVE London & Dubai or keeps the website up to date. The role is very busy and challenging but I hope he would agree that it is interesting and diverse.
Setting the Groundwork for A Successful Business Partnership
What early conversations do you remember as setting the tone for a successful business partnership? At the start of working together we knew each other quite well already, so we knew what tone worked best for both of us. We have managed to keep this going all throughout our time working together and keep upping the game at every chance we can.
Please tell us about any key questions you raised early on in your partnership to help establish a solid understanding of needs, preferences and expectations. When I first started, I used to ask a lot of questions about the smallest things. As time has gone on, I have learnt how Lucy would answer questions and how she deals with most scenarios. This makes my job a lot easier when dealing with certain tasks and also helps to free up Lucy’s time as I’m not asking as many questions.
I am a leader, but people work “with” me and not “for” me
What key conversations early on in your partnership set the tone for success? I am a leader, but in a work environment people work “with” me and not “for” me. It allows all my staff to be empowered and to manage their part of the business. It seems to me instinctively that this is a great model as it allows each of them to take the initiative and responsibility for their area. It also means some fabulous ideas get put into practice.
While some business partnerships are strong from the outset, others are forged through experience. If there was a key turning point in the level of confidence you have in Matthew, or in delegating to him, can you tell us how this unfolded? It was slow and steady and I handed over tasks bit by bit, but I think a real turning point was when Matt finally took on my tone. As a publication, tone in how you write and speak to people is always important. Matt had a very formal tone in everything that he did, whereas I am far more laid back and jokey – especially in emails. He used to send me all his official emails to check and I would rewrite. The first time I didn’t have to, we were both really happy.
Please tell us about a turning point or event in your working partnership that deepened your sense of “team”, and/or loyalty to your executive/principal. Our first Executive Secretary LIVE (back in March 2013) helped us to bond as a team, as this was the first big project we had done since the magazine started. We still use many of the skills from this experience in everyday working life, and at all our conferences we organise.
A Representative of the Executive, and the Organisation
Lucy, does Matthew typically attend business meetings with you, or on your behalf? There are only four of us in the business but Matt joins in all the team meetings on a Monday morning and often comes up with great ideas. Matt occasionally attends meetings on his own. I am hoping that, in 2016, he may take over some of my speaking engagements in the UK. He is really growing in confidence in this area.
We always make sure we are on the same page and always do our utmost to portray the professionalism and brand of our company
Matthew, what steps have you taken to ensure that, when you attend business meetings with or on behalf of Lucy, other colleagues in attendance understand and respect the nature of your participation? When Lucy and I go to meetings, we always make sure we are on the same page and always do our utmost to portray the professionalism and brand of our company to the person we are meeting. We have developed a mutual understanding on this and so, if Lucy can’t attend a meeting, she knows that I will be there representing her in the best way possible.
From Matthew: As the company is still quite small (only four people), we have an office at Lucy’s house. This enables Lucy and me to communicate face to face every day when she is in the country. When Lucy is travelling speaking around the world (which can be quite a lot at times), we tend to keep in contact either by text or by skyping, depending on the urgency of the subject.
From Lucy: We sit opposite each other all day, every day when I am in the office, so it is ongoing. We go through everything outstanding at least once a week though, and if I am away, we touch base every day.
Professional Development and Performance Management
Matthew, how has Lucy supported your professional development? Lucy has given me the opportunity to attend many conferences around the world and listen to many amazing and inspiring speakers. This has given me the opportunity to develop and grow my role, so I am able to help Lucy grow herself and the company as well.
Lucy has given me … the opportunity to develop and grow my role, so I am able to help Lucy grow herself and the company as well
Lucy, do you follow formal performance management protocols with annual/cyclical reviews, or have the two of you adopted a different approach? No, because Matt gets feedback all the time – and gives it! But off the back of the Hays research earlier this year, we will be sitting down in the new year to develop a career development plan for him. Even in a small company like ours, it is a necessity that he understands where he is headed and has a map to get there.
Communicate; be clear on the business’ priorities and your own
Is there a single business/partnership practice the two of you have incorporated that others might benefit from adopting? Communicate. Being clear on the business’ and my priorities on a day to day basis ensures that we can both get on with what is most important at any given time. I meet so many Assistants who are second guessing this, and I don’t understand how you can be an effective Assistant if you don’t have this in place.
Impact on Organisational Success
How has Matthew impacted your capacity for success, or the success of your organisation? Without a doubt, I couldn’t do what I do and I wouldn’t be where I am without Matthew. I come up with ideas and revenue streams. I drive them forward. He makes them work practically, and he IS me when I am out of the country.
Also coming up this week from Lucy and Matthew: Evolution of the Profession, and Building A Successful Career
In part two of my interview with this great team, they offer their insights on a range of topics. From the evolution of the Assistant’s role to education, professional development resources, and on to how an Assistant can best support an executive during times of organisational challenge, you’ll find it here tomorrow.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Lucy and Matthew referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by our readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page.