Emma Powell is a highly respected executive assistant at Chester Zoo, where she strives to always be organised and social. Starting from a divisional secretary, she has worked through the ranks, both at the zoo for 14 years and her local PA networks, to become an inspirational EA for many that are starting out in the industry. Vincenzo Ferrara chats to her to find out more.
You’ve been at the zoo for 14 years, how have you progressed in that time?
My role when I joined the zoo back in 2004 was divisional secretary. Goodness saying “secretary” makes me feel old, that title seems so outdated! I then progressed to finance directorate PA, then senior PA, then into my current role as executive assistant.
What have you found most enjoyable about your job?
I’m really passionate about Chester Zoo and the conservation and education work undertaken in Chester, the UK and across the world as part of regional field programmes to support their mission of ‘preventing extinction’.
Chester Zoo is a registered charity and I feel that by working in the not for profit sector, I am in some way making a difference (even if just a small one).
What have you found most challenging about your job?
Competing priorities is always challenging. I try to ensure that I understand the areas of focus within the business at any particular time so that tasks relating to that are given priority. It’s certainly a challenge, but one that I enjoy.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
I’m really proud to be the EA at Chester Zoo. When the PA to the CEO and COO left the role, it was reviewed and developed it into an EA position. The role was advertised internally and externally with a vast number of applications. I went through the interview process and was delighted to be offered the position. However, I still haven’t forgiven my boss for giving me such a grilling at the interview!
What are your thoughts on the industry? What advice would you give those starting out?
I am a huge ambassador for the ‘Assistant’ profession. Hearing the words “just a PA” drives me crazy. EAs, PAs and VAs are awesome. We get things done, we advise, we support, we contribute and our roles shouldn’t be underestimated.
To anyone just starting out, I would say build your network. Having other PAs you can turn too after a rubbish day or go to for advice is invaluable. I also think a LinkedIn profile is important, just add and accept fellow PAs as connections and you’ll find the articles they share will be super helpful.
Finally, look up your regional PA network and join. The PAs who are part of these networks are all like-minded, engaged PAs with lots of knowledge to share and support to offer.
Who have been the PAs/EAs that have helped you most?
I’m so very grateful to my fellow Chester & North Wales PA Network committee members, Rosie Thompson (our founder), Lisa Wilkins, Louise Mackie and Jennifer McNab. They are all amazing! Running the network is no easy task, but we encourage and support each other and together, with lots of hard work and commitment we make it work.
Have you found networking as a PA important and why?
Absolutely! When I started in my EA role, I quickly realised that although I had lots of admin contacts in the area, I didn’t really have any EA contacts, so I made the effort to attend events to meet local EA and PAs to build my own personal network. I am lucky that the zoo have allowed me to do this and I feel I have benefited both personally and professionally.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Big Brother. I’ve watched every episode of every series, ever. I find it fascinating watching how people deal with certain situations and challenges. I would love to be a housemate if only to meet Emma Willis & Rylan Clark-Neal.
What is your favourite animal?
Oooooh, that’s tough for a zoo employee to answer. I can narrow it down to three, is that allowed? Capybara, Prevost Squirrel and Red Panda.
Three words to describe yourself?
Considerate, resilient and organised (I guess that last one is a given as an EA).
The perfect way to spend a weekend?
Weekends usually revolve around family, dogs and football, but not necessarily in that order!
My dad was a professional footballer, so football is massive in our family and we are all Manchester United supporters. My dad and I are regular visitors to Old Trafford and have been going together since 1991. My husband, my sister and nephews join us from time to time, so it’s very much a family thing.
Has to be a Chinese takeaway, although I am rubbish with spicy foods, I can’t even cope with pepper!
Party tricks tend to make people laugh, and so do my karaoke performances… My Dolly Parton ‘9-5’ rendition is pretty awesome if I do say so myself!