Caroline Rush, Executive Assistant to Felix Dennis, founder and owner of Dennis Publishing.
?You can?t be a shrinking violet,? she acknowledges. ?You have to be adaptable, able to think on your feet, have good networking skills and excellent contacts.? Getting such a redoubtable personality as Dennis to stand still long enough to make arrangements can?t be an easy task, but Caroline appears to handle it with commendable aplomb. ?You have to stand your ground,? she comments.
Caroline first worked for Dennis back in 1998, when she did a two-year stint in Warwickshire where he lives. She recalls that it was very much a case of peaks and troughs in terms of workload. ?It was full-on for a month and then it would all go quiet for a month, as Felix would be away travelling. It was a real ?all-or-nothing? scenario, plus I was stuck in the countryside in the middle of nowhere.?
Deciding the set-up wasn?t for her, Caroline moved on to head up the temp division of a Midlands-based secretarial agency. She had been there just under a year when she received a call from Dennis?s office, saying the person they?d hired hadn?t worked out. She returned to take up the role of his EA in May 2001 and has been there ever since.
Caroline?s career demonstrates just how far we?ve come from the stereotypical idea of the secretary who simply takes minutes and books appointments. ?You have to be willing to make the tea as well as speak to high-profile contacts; you need to know how to work at both ends of the spectrum. Don?t be too precious; just smile and get on with it,? she advises.
While the job does comprise an element of the ?traditional? PA role, it also encompasses so much more, as Caroline explains, including producing Dennis?s books and organising his poetry tours. She?s currently in the midst of organising a huge poetry reading event at the RSC in Stratford, and is helping him source and commission illustrations for a book.
Her involvement in Dennis?s poetry tour in 2010, taking in 21 UK-wide performances, saw her looking after advertising, working with the PR team on publicity, sourcing suitable locations and liaising with venue managers on every single detail of the event. Based on its success, an even bigger tour is planned for later this year. ?Maybe I should add tour manager to my job description,? she jokes.
She also helps organise Dennis?s philanthropic activities. These involve fundraising for good causes such as the Shakespeare Hospice for those suffering from serious illness as well as another charity for which he has an affinity, the Heart of England Forest, a tree-planting campaign that has to date planted around 2,200 acres of woodland in Warwickshire.
Dennis travels constantly and is away for as much as four to five months of the year, so Caroline has to be the consummate self-starter. She points out that communication is key, as she shares the role with another assistant who focuses on Dennis?s diary management, and they are joined by his team of personal staff in Warwickshire.
As well as travelling to his home in Dorsington as and when required, Caroline also occasionally has the opportunity to work out of a far more glamorous location ? the stunning and secluded private Caribbean island of Mustique, where Felix owns another home. ?It?s still an office set-up, but I do have the option of going for a swim before work!? she laughs.
Keeping up with the pace of Dennis?s hectic lifestyle must be daunting, but Caroline has no hankering for a more leisurely environment. ?I used to have a more laidback job before, but I thrive on the buzz of it all now,? she says. In fact, Caroline started out her professional career in the rather more sedate world of insurance, as secretary to the Personnel Manager.
A keen horse-rider who often participated in eventing, the job?s flexible hours suited her to a tee. ?I could work flexi-time, which was great because it allowed me to fit my horse-riding around the office.? Time ticked by though and, three years later, she found the routine nature of the role was getting to her. She recollects thinking it was quite banal, so she decided to up her game and learn shorthand and business French.
She then took up a position with accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand before ending up in a job, around four years later, that perfectly married her personal interests with her professional skills, when she became International Secretary at the Horse Trials Group.
But she seems to have found her niche at Dennis Publishing, and it is the creative aspect of the role that she really relishes. The job gives her the opportunity to use skills such as proof-reading, which nowadays is more essential than ever, as she points out: ?Having a good knowledge of grammar is very important, as sometimes even managers make mistakes ? it?s a sign of the times.?
While the job certainly has its challenges, there?s also a lighter side, as you would expect when working with someone as charismatic as Felix Dennis. As Caroline puts it: ?Dennis Publishing is such a fun company to work for ? there?s never a dull moment.?
Words: Colette Doyle Picture: James Ward
May 2001 to date Executive Assistant to Felix Dennis, based in London and Warwickshire
June 2000 ? May 2001 Recruitment Consultant, Kate & Co
June 1998 ? June 2000 Executive Assistant to Felix Dennis
Nov 1992 ? Jan 1996 International Secretary, Horse Trials Group
Nov 1991 ? July 1992 PA to Managing Director, Collins & Brown
June 1990 ? Nov 1991 PA to Managing Director, Taylor Gembridge
Aug 1988 ? Dec 1988 Secretary to Associate Director, Coopers & Lybrand
Aug 1984 ? July 1987 Secretary to Personnel & Training Manager, NFU Mutual & Avon Insurance Group