It’s clear that the Coca-Cola brand runs through the veins of Samina Azam, EA to VP at Coca-Cola European Partners – her passion is palpable. With such a varied job role, Jade Burke visits the company’s headquarters in Uxbridge to find out why upskilling is so important to her and how she has overcome stereotypes during her career.
Coca-Cola’s GB head office is as impressive as you can imagine it would be. Fridges stocked with every drink under the Coke brand, from the original Coke to Oasis and Appletiser litter the halls, while vintage branding is plastered across every wall. You’d never forget that you work for Coca-Cola here.
The reason for my visit to the Uxbridge-based HQ is to meet with this issue’s PA Profile star; Samina Azam, the executive assistant to Maria Kokkinou, VP for talent acquisition, management and development at Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP). It’s a Friday morning and it’s a quiet day for the office as the majority of the staff here work from home on a Friday – flexible hours are championed.
“Our offices are an amazing place to work. The feel is warm, cool and contemporary,” Azam tells me. But that doesn’t mean today is any less busy than the rest of the week, where Azam supports the VP, managing both their schedules and arranging team meetings.
“I organise team meetings both in the UK and across Europe, which includes evening events and team-building sessions. My VP travels regularly, so creating and clearly sharing detailed travel plans and itineraries are a fixed
occurrence. I have recently been involved more specifically with supporting the Women in Leadership program here at CCEP,” she shares.
‘I would like to see assistants be given a seat at the team table. They need to be recognised as an integral part‘ – Samina Azam
In the current industry, no assistant role is the same with some being responsible for minute taking, collecting their boss’ drycleaning or booking team-building events. Thanks to the evolvement of this job, more often than not, the assistant is seen as an integral member of the company, leading the way for many teams and departments.
Azam adds: “When I started out as a secretary at SmithKline Beecham, the role was a very traditional one. Fast forward to current day and my role is more of a business manager one.
“I would like to see assistants be given a seat at the team table. They need to be recognised as an integral part. Without the assistant, there would be no team, and they deserve recognition.”
Despite this, Azam has been plagued by stereotypes for much of her career, as well as when she was a young girl. But this hasn’t stopped her, in fact this has only spurred her on to reach more goals. “We are surrounded by stereotypes from a young age and the pressure is on to look and behave in a certain
way,” she adds.
“My experiences have taught me to take control of my own path. I alone have the power to grow and have new experiences. I do not belong to any one category or box. I have earned my place at the podium through my sheer determination, hard work, focus and grit.”
Juggling such a wide range of tasks can be a demanding and overwhelming prospect, making the need to stay motivated even more crucial. Azam believes enjoying your role is fundamental to keeping up a consistent work ethic. “Be passionate, simply love what you do and be where you want to be – life is too short to not be happy at work,” she explains.
Upon meeting Azam, it’s clear she remains true to her advice – she is extremely positive about her role here at CCEP and thrives on its busy nature. Being a mum to two sons, finding a manageable work-life balance has always been at the top of her agenda, and through the option of flexible working and a supporting family, Azam has successfully found that.
While a work-life balance is key to many roles, getting the chance to upskill and expand your qualifications is just as crucial. With the traditional assistant role slowly disappearing, never has it been more valuable to broaden your skillset.
Azam enthuses: “Continuously upskill yourself. We are fortunate there are so many different ways in which we can access learning. So whether it’s on the job, external training or taking that language class for Spanish that you’ve been meaning to pick back up, keep learning.” Certainly, Azam’s advice will ring true with many members of the industry, whether they are a virtual assistant, personal, executive or office administrator.
But what words of wisdom would she offer her fellow peers or aspiring PAs? She says: “Know you have no boundaries or limits unless you yourself set them. Aim high, work hard and make it happen. Oh, and don’t be afraid to take chances; what’s the worst that can happen?”