“I’d always wanted to work in finance,” says Amy Marsden. “It’s quite difficult to get work in finance as a PA; these are the jobs that people always want because they are well paid, demanding, varied and there is seemingly prestige with legal and finance PAs. As corporate goes, they are the type of roles that you know you have good candidates for – the PAs that look after the CEOs of these kind of businesses are generally very well regarded.
“I’ve had a really varied career.” Prior to Earthport, Amy looked after Seth Berman, the Executive Managing Director of cyber security and investigations firm Stroz Friedberg who are headquartered in New York, and was also EA to Professor Lord Stern of Brentford; “He had two assistants as he was just so busy”.
“I moved to London five years ago from Manchester and prior to this, worked in Wigan for three years as an administrator for an educational charity, before taking on PA support for the director. There, I looked after events management, website development, absolutely everything. It was a very small office. All of this put me in good stead to move into a more involved PA/EA role.
“Being a PA/EA was something I fell into. I did a degree in Philosophy and Religion because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and I loved the subject, but what you do after that career-wise is quite tricky. I always had the idea that I wanted to try Law, so after that I studied for a postgraduate conversion but hated it, it was really tough – it was three years condensed into a year. I knew I didn’t want to pursue Law further and still had no idea what I wanted to do, so in fear of student debts, I just fell into an office job. But I quickly realised that it was perfect for me.”
How so? “I’m really organised, I’m really social, I like to self manage my day, I don’t really like to be managed, at all. I learned a lot in that first role. I did have a say in what we did there, it was a huge learning curve. Traditionally, pay in the North West isn’t great, and I needed to take the next step, so I decided to move to London.”
As Earthport is a global company with offices around the world, and Amy works for the CEO, I’m not surprised to hear that she has to be hot on her organisation. “My boss is very busy so I deal with multiple diaries and an ever-changing calendar of business and personal appointments. I check emails around the clock. I get in at a decent time in the morning to be able to get a head start on everything and often stay late. Sometimes he is on Eastern Time as he splits himself between London and New York.”
She describes her job as extremely diverse and “a mix of traditional PA/EA duties with a little bit of personal support. I take all of the minutes for every executive committee meeting, make sure my boss’s expenses are done – as he travels so much this can be hugely complex. I help him plan for business meetings, help edit and design the collateral, help with presentations, research the people he is going to meet, etc.”
I ask her to describe her boss. “He is solutions driven, very positive and very kind – but also quite a tough character. He spent 14 years at Goldman Sachs as the Head of Global Technology Systems. He has had a massive career in finance, technology and investment. He is the silent-service type of character, he wants everything to happen and he doesn’t want to have to ask me for things. If he has to ask me for things, in my opinion, then it’s already too late. My role is to be proactive and to make sure he doesn’t have to chase me, otherwise what is the point of having me there?”
She describes their working relationship as “good, as we have a mutual understanding of what’s expected. We have similarly high standards. I never go back to him with lots of questions. If I have questions, I ought to have asked him at the time. I come back to him with solutions for everything, always finished to a good standard. It’s not an effective process to ask him to keep checking things. I come with all the options prepared. I would never send anything across to him unless it had been triple checked. He is very much a-belts-and braces person, and so am I – so it works very well.”
Due to the complexity of his day-to-day diary I’m surprised to hear that he hadn’t had a PA for a couple of years before Amy arrived – “because he struggled to find someone who would meet his requirements, I guess.”
As ever I can imagine the stress of such a job is intense, so how does she cope? “I’m pretty resilient which you definitely need to be in finance, because the parameters shift daily. Look at Brexit and how the stock market fluctuates, which in turn, has a massive effect on the finance world. If you’re not good at handling stress then you shouldn’t do this job. We see the good, bad and the ugly. Sometimes that can be quite tough if you have control of an inbox. You see a business, warts and all, in times of crisis, in the good times; sometimes being privy to so much information means the pressure can be intense.
“I try not to let myself take things personally too. To keep calm I always try to take a decent lunch break, or go for a walk. Lots of people workout, or read; you just have to find your coping mechanism. You can always talk to your colleagues too. I have a very good relationship with our office manager and the guys in our sales team have a brilliant sense of humour, which keeps me sane.”
What does she enjoy most about the role? “I love the sense of achievement I get every day. I can normally find something that makes me think ‘yes, that day was worthwhile’. I like the need to be relied upon to have certain standards, be savvy and have business acumen. I enjoy the changing nature of the job.” And the least? “Monotony. If I know I have lots of expenses that have piled up, I hate sitting and doing that. I find data entry boring too.”
I have had the privilege of working with Amy on a few occasions over the last five months and have seen her profile within the industry blossom. Her face and name has become a regular at industry shows such as office* and networking events, creating a platform for her and others alike to build their PA profile and champion the industry forward as individuals and a collective.
I asked her to join me on the PA Life Panel at office* earlier this year alongside other established PAs from around the world to discuss ‘The PA Job Title: What’s in a name?’ in which she proved a popular speaker with the audience. She also contributed the ‘A Memo’ opinion piece in the May/June edition of PA Life about starting up a guide to support Earthport’s assistants globally. Check it out, it may inspire you to follow suit.
“The guide aims to consolidate all of Earthport’s tool guides, processes and procedures, marketing information, style guides in one place so all of the global PAs are working from the same manual. We even have things in there about respecting other cultures. Helpful tips, for example – so if you go to the Middle East, a lot of visitors don’t know that people don’t work on a Friday. Or, if you go to China, you should pick up a card from your hotel with the address on it as a lot of drivers don’t speak English. We had our preferred hotel list in there too and it just meant that in the absence of a manager or a colleague, everything is in place in writing. It is very valuable as you can show it to your bosses and they can see exactly how much we, as PAs/EAs have to do. When it comes to reviews, I’d say that it’s more valuable than a job description checklist – as it’s a growing, living document.”
Networking in the PA industry is crucial and booming in popularity courtesy of the magnitude of events taking place every night of the week, be it in London, Manchester, Sussex to name a few, as well as internationally. “I have only really become involved in networking seriously in the past 12 months and that was as a result of joining Twitter. Prior to that I just didn’t see the value in networking and using social media, but now I couldn’t be without it. So many speaking opportunities have come my way because of it, obviously working with PA Life, being on the panel at office*, being shortlisted for the networking awards at the London PA Awards – is amazing. You create opportunities for yourself, for your business, for your boss – it opens doors; it is such a supportive industry. Being a PA/EA you have to leave your ego at the door. Maybe that is why it is such a selective industry?”
I’m intrigued to hear her thoughts on how she sees the industry developing in the future? “More and more PAs/EAs are graduates, so the expectations and parameters are going to shift. What I have personally seen is a lot of people taking on these roles with no intention of staying in them. They use them as a stepping stone as they ultimately want to get into business development. MBA-level candidates are taking these jobs thinking ‘I’ll do it for 12 months and move around within the business’, essentially they have their eye on the boss’s job and it’s not fair to a business, or other candidates who are career assistants.”
So what’s next on the cards? “I’d like to start a website and a blog to give something back to the community, help other people raise their profile and gain exposure. I’d love to take on more speaking opportunities and have considered starting a FinTech PA network because there is an absence of such a network. We are the assistants who have the least time, the pressures of our job are unique, and I think the community would really value some form of network specifically tailored to PAs in this sector.”
Watch this space.
Words: Amelia Walker
Photography: Dave Willis
Location: Special thanks to Belgraves, soon to be rebranded as an independent hotel known as The Hari, supported by Preferred Hotels & Resorts