At the time of interviewing, Lydia McKay was EA to the co-founder of Pretty Little Thing.
Having worked on the corporate side in previous job roles, McKay was ready to take on some new responsibilities as an EA at Pretty Little Thing when she landed the job a year ago. Jade Burke meets with her to find out how she balances working to different time zones, and why representing the fashion brand has pushed her to take on even more challenges.
Manchester is a hive of up-and-coming businesses, and it’s in this city that you can find the home to the UK-based fashion retailer, Pretty Little Thing. It’s no surprise then to hear that Lydia McKay, the executive assistant to the co-founder of Pretty Little Thing, is so keen to support local companies that are making a name for themselves in this fabulous city.
A Mancunian through and through, McKay has worked for several businesses during her time as an assistant including the Manchester Cancer Improvement Programme, Chiesi Group and The Hut Group. “I’m a Manchester girl born and bred,” she tells me. “I have always worked for companies within Manchester; I love this city and most importantly it feels good to work for companies who have started out here and continue to support the local communities.”
As part of her role, McKay often travels down to London to visit Pretty Little Thing’s London office, and it just so happens on the day of our photoshoot she is visiting this vibrant city again. We meet inside Mayfair’s opulent Park Chinois restaurant. Hidden behind a pair of inconspicuous red doors sits the captivating world of Chinoiserie – it’s the perfect setting for this issue’s shoot.
It’s thrilling to hear that the venue is a popular spot with McKay, having dined here previously with her current boss. I can’t help but think it must be a difficult task to source new venues for a client, which is why having a contact list as a long as your arm is crucial to McKay’s role. She continues: “Always use your diary and build a network of people to support you.
“Travel agents, event and hotel managers, personal shoppers, ticket agents, cleaners, a handful of hairdressers and make-up artists, tour managers, music agents, model agencies, builders, decorators and chauffeurs; the list is endless, but I guarantee you will need them at some point.”
Having worked for such a globally recognised company as Pretty Little Thing for more than a year, I’m curious to know how McKay landed her role within the firm. But, it wasn’t all plain sailing, as she explains: “Honestly, I sent a fair few emails to recruiters, talent teams and LinkedIn connections, then one day after some failed attempts I was contacted for an interview, and here we are today.
“People ask me all the time ‘how do you get a job like this?’ My advice would be to get enough experience under your belt to ensure you have the skills you need. You must show ambition, determination, creativity and you must stand out.”
This couldn’t be more applicable to McKay as she is often seen to be working at a lightning pace in the office, travelling from photoshoots for the company or working to different time zones while her boss travels internationally. “No day is ever the same as an EA. The job is so fast paced and you work at 100 miles an hour,” she shares.
“Working as an EA is so challenging; it keeps me on my toes and gives me the buzz to keep going. You could be sorting travel, accommodation and drivers out one minute, assisting in organising PR events the next, while grabbing lunch, finding a hairdresser and organising a meeting.”
With today’s advancements in tech, it’s no surprise to hear that many assistants struggle to shut off from their responsibilities, and McKay is no exception. Working with a superior who travels around the world and with hundreds of What’s App messages coming through to her phone (she tells me that the Pretty Little Thing team only communicate via this platform rather than email), her job truly does eat into all hours of her day.
“When you become an EA, the first thing you learn is just because the office is closed it doesn’t mean you shut off,” – Lydia McKay
“I’ve worked with people in Australia, America, Berlin and London all in one day in the past and you have to manage it. I pick a lot of work up at home and I’m always on my phone, which is a bugbear of my friends and family, but they get used to it. I wouldn’t do a job like this if I wasn’t prepared for what is expected and I genuinely enjoy it.”
The Pretty Little Thing brand is and has been a huge hit with famous stars, you only need to take a look at the company’s collaborations over the recent years, with Kourtney Kardashian, Ashley Graham and Olivia Culpo to name a few all designing clothing collections. Working with such well-known public figures could seem daunting to many, however, for McKay this is just another part of her role that she is responsible for.
“I think you just need to always remember that these people are humans just like you and I, and you should always treat people as you wish to be treated,” she shares. “Everyone has their own demands, but I can honestly say I have never worked with anyone that has made life difficult. It’s part of the job and a lot of the people I have met have been so grateful of the help and support that you give as an EA.”
Given McKay’s impressive schedule and workload – it’s unsurprising to hear that she has scooped the Private PA of the Year gong at The North West PA of the Year Awards. She enthuses: “My job is my life and I wouldn’t change it; I’m driven to be the best that there is. Winning this award isn’t just recognition for what I do on a day-to-day basis, it’s recognition of the work I have put in to get me here.” Considering the amount of work McKay juggles on a daily basis, she truly is a deserving winner.
McKay’s career has varied greatly having previously worked in the more corporate side of the PA world, managing expenses, facilitating board meetings and rolling out a travel policy and portal to 3,000 staff members – I can see that she thrives in her current role. “When you work so hard to get something right it really pays off when you see it all come together,” she claims. “I’ve worked really hard and for some very demanding people to get to this point in my career, but that hard work has paid off and this is my absolute highlight. I’ve made it to my career goal, but it doesn’t stop there-there is so much more I want to achieve.”
It’s unsurprising to hear that McKay aspires to reach more goals in her career. She is a testament to the EA role, going above and beyond the call of duty in what is required of her – I’m certain we can expect to see great things from her.