The PA Club has a close relationship with EST10, Sydney’s leading boutique recruiter for Executive and Personal Assistants. EST10 runs an annual Assistant of the Year award for the Sydney/Melbourne area and this year we were delighted to welcome winner, Jennifer Sharrock, to London for a few days.
Jennifer joined a group of PA Club members for a gin-tasting and private dinner at Roseate House near Hyde Park and the following day participated in a Club Networking Event hosted by Find London Apartments.
We interviewed Jen to find out what her definition of a good EA is and the ways in which she finds her career so fulfilling.
I think what makes me a good EA is my willingness to do anything. From picking up the dry cleaning to attending meetings. I’ve always made the relationships work. I definitely got the feeling from the [PA Club] dinner that everyone has an amazing relationship and understanding with their boss, which is great. It’s so important and I am very lucky with mine.
I’ve been very fortunate to win two EA/PA awards. I won my first award in 2011 when I was working for Qantas. I started working for the Head of HR, as a contractor. I did absolutely everything, which supported her decision to make me permanent. When our airline was grounded, I went out to the airport and helped with the bags. I once picked up a NZ cabin crew member who had an emergency operation and took her from the hospital to a hotel to rest before she could fly home. That’s the sort of person I am.
With the EST10 award, you had to be nominated by your boss. My boss is very supportive. I also do a lot to help other EAs. I mentor a young EA who is based in Melbourne and this year, I organised a 2-day conference for our internal EAs. I put a plan and budget together, which my boss was very happy to support and fund. As well as attending a Corporate PA Conference we spent a day with HR consultants, where we did work on identifying strengths and areas for development. Everyone was so delighted with it and it brought us closer together as a team.
There are a lot of managers out there who don’t know how to manage their support staff, or how to treat their EA with respect. These days, particularly younger execs, are quite self-sufficient in some ways, using technology to set their own diaries etc. My own boss is a mix of both and can do some tech stuff, using apps etc. Even though he is capable, he still relies on me for his diary, which is a confidence booster as you influence what is important and what is not in his role.
I began my career in hospitality and worked for 5 years in hotel management. Then I came to the UK in the 90’s and worked for Price Waterhouse – at Southwark Towers, which is where the Shard is now. I travelled around Europe before going back to Australia to work for a company organising big corporate conferences. I needed a change and decided to become an EA. I was very lucky because the first job I got required good organisational skills, which of course I’d acquired previously.
I worked in a variety of companies including four years for Kerry and James Packer which was very interesting. They didn’t want me to leave but I got poached by another company. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out – I found myself more or less in a typing pool – and so I moved to Qantas as a temp and ended up staying at Qantas for four years. I worked for the Head of HR. This was the first time I’d worked for a woman boss and it was a wonderful experience. I learnt a lot about business and gained a lot of confidence. I ended up working as EA for the CEO of Qantas Domestic.
Sometimes, when you’re working at a high level, it can be very isolating, and you find yourself keeping very much to yourself. I also have certain rules to ensure complete confidentiality, for example, no Facebook with work colleagues and I drink very little at work events. I tend to stand back and choose not to talk about work. The flip side of that is that I’ve become an informal counsellor to many colleagues and support a number of people.
While I was at Qantas I felt I needed a break from being an EA and so I went into project management for a while, with the support of my boss and HR. It was great that they had that faith in me and I put a number of changes in place. For example, I was the project manager to take newspapers off planes and put free newspapers at the gates for passengers to pick up. This saved the company about AUD$1 million.
When they made a load of people redundant, I could have stayed on as an EA, but instead I took redundancy and had three months travelling and returned to London for a visit and Hawaii to relax.
When I started work in my current company, Coca Cola Amatil, I started with the Director of Sales. Unfortunately, he left not long after I arrived. To stay with the company, I took a lower level role working for a General Manager. It was a great experience as a way of building up my confidence and demonstrating resilience. I learnt such a lot from her. Now I work for the MD of Alcohol & Coffee and we gelled straight away. He’s really supportive and always introduces me as, “Jen, who works with me” – not “for me”. He actually listens to my opinion: I admire that in him.
Sometimes I think the execs/managers don’t really understand everything we do, how we cope with sudden changes in plan, make a Plan B and bring everything round so it all runs as normal. I don’t think they have any idea of the variety of things we have to do. If I had a $1 for every time someone said, “Jen, you’ll know the answer to this….” So, I’m doing a presentation to the Alcohol and Coffee team, about 100 people, about exactly that and hope it’ll make them appreciate us more.
I’ve loved being an EA and I’ve been very fortunate.
It was Roxanne (Managing Director of EST10) who rang to tell me that I’d won the award. They’ve spoilt me rotten since I won: it’s been wonderful and very much appreciated. I now have a great relationship with them and they’d be the first I’d go to if was looking for another role.
If you are an Australian in London looking to return to Sydney, or a Working Holiday Visa candidate seeking temporary employment in Sydney, please contact EST10 on firstname.lastname@example.org