Dee Farrell, Personal Assistant, was born and raised in Sarajevo where she was a small business owner. Several years of living in multiple countries followed before she arrived in the UK with her family in 2010. She has worked as an administrative professional in several countries and industries including education, retail, and the past eight years at The Walt Disney Company. Her current PA role is at the office of the two Vice Presidents, and she also works as a Project Coordinator with the Global Business Projects and Programmes teams. She is a Fellow Member of The Institute of Administrative Management (FInstAM), and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Education.
Which important life and career choices and milestones have led to your current role?
I got my first PA role when I lived in Alexandria, Egypt. It was a part-time role working for a C-level executive at an online retailer. That gave me a flavour of the importance of the role in terms of communication, developing trust, and working closely with senior executives. I have absolutely loved my career ever since and have not looked back.
What’s it like working at Disney and what do you enjoy most about your current role?
Disney is a great company to work for. The best part has been visiting the parks and resorts and to go on a Disney Cruise around the Caribbean. The most rewarding aspect about my role is working closely with two Vice Presidents with whom I have a great relationship, as I do with the other cast members too – as Disney employees are referred to. It is also important to have varied and engaging day-to-day responsibilities. After completing PRINCE2 course in Project Management, I was asked to join the Global Business Projects and Programmes Teams. It’s given me an opportunity to engage with cast members from other departments and collaborate on different projects.
What tech and tools are most invaluable in your job?
Video conferencing platforms Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams for virtual meetings and collaboration are now indispensable. As a team, we use many messaging apps like Slack and Teams for quick and efficient communication, and SharePoint for document sharing. I also find Last Pass for secure password management and AI tools such as Rytr and ChatGPT, very useful as writing assistant tools.
What in your opinion makes a great Assistant today and how can the role be futureproofed?
The role of an Assistant has evolved hugely. Today’s Assistants are proactive problem solvers who anticipate the needs of their Execs before they even arise. Depending on the Executive’s needs and the industry they operate in, the Assistant role can take on different career paths, e.g. change management that oversees operational aspects of business transformation, compliance-focused Assistants – relevant in highly regulated industries, or start-up Assistants – with many responsibilities including HR, marketing, fundraising, and a need to adapt to the startup’s rapidly evolving needs.
We must embrace technology and stay up-to-date with the latest tools and trends. This includes mastering digital collaboration platforms, learning about AI-powered assistants, and leveraging automation to streamline tasks. By embracing technology as an ally rather than a threat, Assistants can elevate their value by focusing on higher-level strategic initiatives.
One way to demonstrate your expertise in tech and AI is through certifications and qualifications. These credentials not only validate your knowledge but also showcase your commitment to continuous learning and professional growth. Furthermore, certifications provide tangible proof of your capabilities, giving employers confidence in your abilities. As technology is constantly advancing, staying up-to-date with the latest trends is crucial for career success. Emotional intelligence is also important for a great Assistant. Building strong relationships with executives and colleagues alike fosters trust and enables effective collaboration.
What do you find most challenging in working as a Personal Assistant?
The role of the Assistant is, by its very nature, a lonely one; sandwiched between staff and management and not quite belonging in either camp. Entrusted with board secrets and seen as the eyes and ears of the management team, you often have nobody else in the same position within an organisation with whom you can develop a close affinity. It’s no wonder the position can engender isolation, which has been exacerbated over the past few years by remote working, and the challenge of rarely having the whole team in the office at the same time. It is vital that we all have an outlet for our day-to-day concerns, no matter how inconsequential they may seem.
Communication, connection and support of other Assistants within the Disney network are vital to our wellbeing at work, and applies to all whether you identify as an introvert or extrovert. One of the best ways of joining in is through professional organisations such as the PA Life Club network, or shared activities such as workshops, buddy programmes, and social events.
What would be your top advice for a newbie wanting to enter the Assistant profession?
Being an Assistant is an extraordinary career and increasingly we are becoming important key players in organisations. Becoming an Assistant requires a blend of education, hands-on experience, and strategic thinking. The Assistant role is evolving with the integration of technology, data analytics, and globalised economies. For those with the ambition and the right skill set, it can be a fulfilling and influential career.
Who do you admire and why?
If I had to choose one person, I’d go with Novak Djokovic. I admire his work ethic and the work he does with his foundation aiming to give every child in Serbia a quality preschool education. He stands by his principles no matter what he faces, and he uses obstacles as fuel and motivation.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Embrace change, stay curious, and never stop learning – this is how you futureproof your role as a truly exceptional Assistant! Are you involved in any special projects, either at work or during your free time, that you are particularly passionate about? I volunteer in various community projects, one is the Rise Against Hunger event where we pack meals for children living in poverty.
Volunteerism is a central part of the culture at Disney and at the heart of our community engagement efforts. We support seriously ill children and those closest to them.
What are your favourite things to do and places to visit in London?
I enjoy ballroom dancing and attend regular weekly lessons with my husband. We also enjoy fine dining and theatre shows and we are frequent visitors to the Royal Albert Hall.
What are your go-to places when booking your executives for a business lunch or dinner in London?
For business lunches and dinners, we mostly book restaurants in West London such as Sam’s Riverside or The Gate, for more central location, it’s often one of the The Ivy restaurants.
And to finish with a very important question: What are your favourite Disney movies and who’s your favourite Disney character?
My favourite character is Cinderella – known for her kindness. I enjoy so many Disney movies – Maleficent and Beauty and the Beast are some of my favourites, but I am also looking forward to the new film releases exclusive to Disney+.
The views and opinions expressed here are Dee’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Walt Disney Company.