I Need a PA
About four years ago I wrote an article of appreciation to my Personal Assistant (PA), “H-san,” about what a great job she was doing. As I wrote, she was one of the best schedulers, salesman deflectors, and mind readers in the business. We developed a business relationship where she felt confident to comment on various business decisions and I felt confident in listening to them despite her non-managerial status.
So why am I writing in the past tense? Well, happily H-san has become a Mom, and she now has her hands full with an even more demanding baby than me… :-)
But that leaves me with a situation. I now need to find a replacement PA who has the ability to grow the same talents as H-san. I run 4 companies, and trying to do a decent job with each means that I lead a fairly intense life. Sometimes I have 8-10 meetings in a day, dashing from location to location, attending a board meeting in one time slot, giving a speech or seminar in another, then a sales presentation, a consulting meeting, customer troubleshooting, and candidate interviews.
Aha! I hear you thinking, and then what Terrie needs is a scheduling wiz. Oh, if only it was so easy. Fact is that I also need someone who can do sales support, pinch-hitting for me when an important customer calls, who can put irate vendors at ease, execute company secretarial work such as calling directors and annual general meetings, and generally be a valued resource around the administration side of the office. And did I mention that she (Ok, it could be a “he”) would also need to be thoroughly bilingual and practiced in humble speech so as to get past the gate-keeping secretaries of other CEOs?
So am I asking for too much? Does this superwoman exist? Yes, but she has retired, at least temporarily. So right now I would be happy with someone who hasn’t yet done all these things yet, but who has the confidence that they could if given the chance. The key virtues that my perfect PA candidate needs to demonstrate are that they are someone who can learn, think ahead, and communicate.
While this may sound more like a job description for a Project Manager (PM) than a PA, it’s a great experience for someone who sees being a PA as the stopping off point to a higher-level managerial position later. Strangely enough, I have had two excellent PAs in the last 12 years who have previously been teachers of Japanese to foreign managers. So I guess that the career ladder progression is teacher-PA-admin manager. Certainly I can see how teaching a bunch of foreign executives would be an excellent builder of patience and competence! So this is probably an ideal background for my PA position.
When I did the job orientation for H-san, back in 2000, I asked that she consider her job description as being whatever it took to make me more effective. It has been interesting to see how this turned out. Of course she made sure that when I had two appointments on the other side of town, that they would happen on the same morning and thus save extra travel time. But, as I mentioned earlier, she also gave me great feedback on the office gossip and which of our Japanese staff was unhappy but not ready to talk about it. She provided me with that all-important antenna that allowed me to find out about issues before they became problems. As a foreign manager, even if you speak the language, you need these short cuts.
So, yes, I am looking for a special person. I want them to be endowed with both a sense of enthusiasm and optimism, and yet also possess a sharp mind and a high level of personal self-discipline. Ironically, what I don’t need them to have is experience as a PA – because frankly I need them to learn the Terrie Lloyd way of doing things. If they are already experienced as a PA, then most likely they know “best practices” in larger foreign firms – a level of knowledge that might prove terminal (fatal) to a small business like mine!