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PA Profile: Hannah Houston-Banks, EA at Associated British Foods

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Our Editor had the pleasure of sitting down with Hannah Houston-Banks, an Executive Assistant at Associated British Foods, to discuss her role at a company behind many beloved British food and retail brands. We invite Senior EAs and PAs such as Hannah to feature in our PA Profile.

What life and career choices and milestones have led to your current role?

I have worked as a corporate and private EA for over 30 years in both America and the UK. Mostly the latter whilst raising my daughter and dog Watson. I have always had a strong ‘sleeves up, can do’ attitude which has fortunately opened up many opportunities for career progression and longevity within companies that I have worked for. Before ABF, great global brands such as Unibail Rodamco Westfield and Jones Lang LaSalle.

My parents were ‘roadies’ so I spent a lot of time hanging around backstage at concerts and festivals with bands growing up. That along with my first job working in a zoo looking after penguins has likely provided some very useful life skills!

The role of an EA is fast paced and forever evolving. What in your opinion makes a great Assistant?

The holy grail elements for me are communication, trust and resilience. And I’d also add that you need to always be reachable as there can be last minute changes and an urgent need for assistance at any time. Remember that you are essentially a ‘fixer’ and a ‘problem solver’.

What do you enjoy most about working at your current role?

There is a huge amount of variety when a role straddles across both corporate and family responsibilities, such as mine. It keeps things very interesting. ABF has such great respect for work/life balance. So important for wellbeing and something that many companies are signing up to but are still only slowly getting better at.

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What do you find most challenging in your role?

You would think that at this stage of my career I might have seen it all but at least once a week there is a request that throws a new learning opportunity. It keeps me laughing at least. A challenge that any PA/EA will sympathise with is the frequent requests for last minute changes to complex travel. ‘Can you fit Barcelona in between Boston and Auckland please on this week’s itinerary?”

Hannah is also one of our Mentors in PA Life’s Mentoring Programme sharing invaluable expertise and advice with a less experienced Assistant.

What would be your top advice for a newbie wanting to enter the profession?

I’d say these five things will get you a long way:

Ask questions – whenever unsure ask so that you are crystal clear on your instructions and all the details. It is also the best way to learn.

Be helpful to others – But also, just because you never know whose help you will need in the future. Be enthusiastic – it shows that you are keen to learn and progress in your role.

Be true to yourself.

Be brave – even when you are in new situations, dealing with very senior people or are outside your comfort zone.

As an EA today, you need to master a lot of different technology and tools. What couldn’t you do without in your job?

A pen and daybook. I use multiple platforms for storing/ accessing information and resources but I have experienced whole business networks going down along with service providers. You can’t beat old school.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given and by whom?

Listen to your parents (if you are lucky enough to have a parent in your life). My parents always give me the best advice. Parents know you best and will be able to give advice that is relevant to you.

Are you involved in any special projects, either at work or during your free time, that you are particularly passionate about?

If there is a Social Committee at work, you will usually find me on it! I really enjoy organising events that bring people together. Not just horizontally across business units but getting the Senior Leadership Team, who sometimes might seem so out of reach for many colleagues, into the heart of an event and engaging with everyone. Be it sport, health and wellness related or just a good old-fashioned party. On a more personal angle, I like volunteering for anything community based that requires more hands-on deck. Lockdown was a busy time for me, just being at the end of the phone for people feeling isolated or afraid or needing a hand collecting supplies or medicines.

What are you favourite things to do and places to visit in London? Plus, what are your go-to-places to book your executives for a business lunch or dinner in London?

Relaxing for me is being in water. I was at a festival recently which was held on a beautiful estate with a river running through it. Getting into the water surrounded by wildlife and live music was wonderful. I live close to an open-air lido too which is unheated, so one for the summer months only these days, otherwise Marshall Street is my pre work swim. South Bank is also one of my favourite places at any time of year!

Business lunches and dinners, well, we don’t like to name drop, but we have a very strong connection to a certain restaurant in St James’s which I book regularly. But anything with history, good light and a great view that only London can provide.

 

You can connect with Hannah on LinkedIn or at one of PA Life Club Meet Ups.