Learning as you go
with Suzie Ellams, EA to
Co-CEO & CTO OSTTRA
In the second episode of The EA Campus Podcast, we are thrilled to be joined by Suzie Ellams, EA, to the Co-CEO & CTO of OSTTRA. Suzie has been an Assistant for twenty years working at Elle Magazine, Burberry and now OSTTRA, a start-up Fintech company. In our conversation, Suzie shares tips on starting working in fashion and publishing.
Her decision to take a career break to start her family and how she now handles boundaries and prioritises her time. Suzie and Nicky talk about the importance of transferable skills for Assistants, and Suzie tells us about starting her new role during the pandemic and working in a hybrid environment. And of course, if her experience working at a fashion magazine was anything like the film The Devil Wears Prada!
Nicky Christmas 00:00
Do you want to know what it takes to work as a high-performing Executive Assistant? You'll find out when you listen to the EA campus podcast. Join me, Nicky Christmas, the founder of practically perfect PA, and the EA campus for a weekly interview with successful Assistants, who all have first-hand experience and lessons to share on what it takes to excel in the role of tune-in, get inspired and learn how to create an assistive career where you are valued, motivated and ready to face every challenge head-on whether you are an Assistant just starting in your career, or prepared to move to the next level. Building a successful Assistant career just got a little easier with the EA campus podcast. Hi everyone, and welcome to episode two of the EA campus podcast. It is Nicky Christmas here again, and I am thrilled to be joined by Suzy Ellams. EA to the CEO and CTO of OSTTRA. Suzy has been an Assistant for 20 years, working at Elle Magazine, Burberry and now OSTTRA, a startup FinTech company. In our conversation, Suzy shares tips on starting working in fashion and publishing her decision to take a career break to start her family and how she now handles boundaries and prioritises her time. We talked about the importance of transferable skills for Assistants, and Susie told us about starting her new role during the pandemic and working in a hybrid environment. And of course, if her experience working at a fashion magazine was anything like the film, The Devil Wears Prada, I hope you enjoy the show. Hi, Susie. Thank you so much for joining the EA campus podcast today. It's an absolute delight to have you with this.
Suzie Ellams 01:47
Thank you. Oh, now I'm so happy to be here. I'm so so honoured to have been asked. So it's lovely to chat and then see what we can help people with.
Nicky Christmas 01:59
Well, I know there are many facets to your career and that you've got a lot going on. So I'd love to dive straight in and ask you my first question: can you tell us a little bit about your career so far?
Suzie Ellams 02:12
Of course, yeah, absolutely. So gosh, it is going back a little if I think back to my first sort of Assistant role. This is literally going back to probably like 20 years ago. And I started off actually in the world of magazines and publishing in media. But not so much in a PA role. I actually started out as a receptionist for InStyle magazine, which was my absolute favourite magazine at the time. I absolutely loved it. And my dream was always to work in fashion in some capacity. And this was before I'd even really entertained the thought of being an Assistant of any kind. I just wanted to work in fashion, like that was kind of my, and I'd done the whole retail thing before that. And I knew that was an area I really enjoyed. So I think that I think somebody told me about the job when I was working in retail like you know, on a shop floor. And I had no admin experience, no reception experience, anything, but I just thought on your I'll jump at the chance. And so I remember going on for the interview and, and there was a lot of you know, there was a lot of sort of Assistant roles there, there was you know, all the different editorial departments had an Assistant, and long story short, you know, I got the job. It was a standard reception role back in the day when magazines each had their little reception desk. And I enjoyed it, and I always remember I sat next to like a huge cupboard that had all, you know, all the stationery and for the editorial team. And I just remember one day I randomly started tiding it, and you know, not much else to do. I was not tied in this cupboard. And I from that point onwards, I think someone must have just seen me and thought right, she's my go-to girl for anything like organisation related because I clearly you know, I was doing off my own back I just thought oh, I'm going to start tidying and organising this. I was ordering the stationery, and then I was just a little bit doing more and more admin roles. And then I sort of, I think the editor at the time, her Assistant was going on holiday, and they didn't have any cover. And so I very gradually just started taking on little bits and bobs here and there. And that's what really led me to my first proper PA role, which was actually in a different publishing house. Back then, it was called the national magazine company. It's now been bought out by various different companies. And that was, you know, an official PA role for the director of the classifieds department, so the little ads you get in the back of all the magazines. I remember being quite nervous and thinking I had no real experience. Still, I suppose, like every role. You have to start somewhere, you know. You don't. It's so interesting nowadays that you can do PA degrees and excellent Executive Assistant degrees. But back when I was studying at university, that wasn't a thing. So I had to learn on the job; I had to learn as I go. So yeah, that sort of led me to weave my way through various different magazines. I went, I moved on from the classifieds department to working on a few sort of lifestyle titles, there was a wedding, it was called, it's called Cosmo bride and you and your wedding, although sadly, they're not even around anymore. There was a prima baby that is not around now. Oh my gosh, it's very sad, like the way that it's all gone. But then, I suppose my first dream role was when I went to Elle magazine. So I was the PA to the publishing director of Elle and Elle decoration. And that, I suppose that was the first time I took on a role where I thought, this is really where I want to be, this is what I want to do. It was combining the two things I loved. It was my love of fashion and my love of being an Assistant. And I sort of saw everything up to that point. It's just learning and developing my skills and doing the graft. And then I landed the job at Elle. And that was, yeah, that was amazing. I absolutely loved it there. I think it was three years in the end. But again, with the changes and everything happening in publishing, the publishing house, which owned Elle and Elle Decoration, was bought out, funnily enough, by the National Magazine companies, parent companies. If you excuse the phrase, the publishing world is slightly incestuous because it melds into one. And everybody knows everybody. And you know, people move around a lot within that. So that company was bought. And sadly, because of redundancies and things. My immediate boss actually was. She was made redundant. And so I sort of jumped ship before, I think they were sort of going to place me in another role somewhere, but I thought no, there's nothing, there's nowhere else I want to go. So I jumped ship, and I did a bit of a sort of sideways move into retail against that in fashion. But that was when I ended at Burberry. Very different, very different environment, even though it's still fashion, you know, publishing and retail are very, very different industries. And I was at Burberry for gosh, I think about five or six years, and I absolutely loved it, you know, again, very different, but very, very enjoyable. And then that's when I took my big career break. I had my children. I've got two young children. They are four and six. So still quite young. And yes, I left. I sort of left the corporate world when I went on maternity leave with my first, and then I just returned to it recently, actually back in August last year. And that's where I am now. So I work now for a very, very different again. I work for a financial technology company, a FinTech company called OSTTRA, which is a newly formed startup company. And yes, we've been in existence, I suppose, since September. So that's where I am now. So kind of slightly similar beginning and then a complete change of direction at the end. Wow,
Nicky Christmas 07:56
there are so many questions that are ruminating in my mind. I'm going to make sure I come back to them. So don't worry, we're going to cover a lot of aspects of the career that you've had. But I know you also have a bit of a side hustle as well. So why don't you tell us a little bit about that, too? I can't believe how many plates are spinning along with small children.
Suzie Ellams 08:21
I do like to be busy. I think that's partly one of my aspects of mine. I suppose my, my PA, the side of me is that we like to be quite busy. I can't bear just saying I'm doing nothing. Yes. So I do have another business. And that started when I went on maternity leave. So as much as you know, without boring with all the finer details, I live outside of London, and I was obviously brilliantly working in London. So when it came to that point at the end of my maternity leave, and if there's obviously any mums watching, you hopefully resonate with this as well. But it was a really hard decision about, you know, do I return to work, do I not what, what do I do? And on paper, financially, it absolutely did not make sense to me to return to the corporate world, certainly not the job that I was in at Burberry. It just wasn't financially viable. It didn't make any sense. So I thought at the time, my only option was to completely step away from the working world and just, you know, become a stay-at-home mum. So I did that for about six months. But for us, in our personal situation, that was also not really going to work. Because I think we've just come, you know, accustomed to a certain, I suppose, assessing budget and certain things we wanted to do and things we'd like to have. And you know, it just became really, really difficult. So it was financially quite challenging. And my husband had a lot of pressure on him. So I started looking for other things I could do to incorporate the skills they already have, you know, with the fact that I had children I had, at this point, I was already pregnant with my second I had been quite close in age. And a friend of mine approached me about, you know, a home business that I could run around the kids from home completely flexibly and my own hours, etc. And it was within an industry called the network marketing industry. And I yeah, I jumped into that straightaway, didn't really question it just thought, great sounds great work for her, you know, I was willing to try anything at that point. And so I've now had that business. So I have a business with a company called Arbonne. And I've had that now for five years. So I run that alongside my Assistant role, which is full-time. So obviously, I've done it, you know, around the kids up until sort of September last year, when they both started school. And I still want it now around my full-time job, because it is very flexible, you know, when it's, it's my own business, I'm self-employed, it's not conflicting with my job. And it's something I choose to do, as and when I want to do it. So it's quite, it's quite versatile, shall we say?
Nicky Christmas 10:48
That's amazing. Like I said, having that and having a full-time EA job is impressive. So congratulations, we'll definitely come and talk about that a little bit more because I know there are a lot of people listening who have the Assistant role but also have other interests, other areas. They'd like to explore how that's even possible, especially when you are raising a family. Let's go back to the Assistant role. Why don't you tell us a little bit more about the role that you're in at the moment and what the main aspects of the role are? Okay. And
Suzie Ellams 11:20
so I think I've always, this could be unique to me, I don't know. But I have always had quite what I call traditional Assistant roles. So everything is kind of the same no matter where you work. And you know what you do, and I don't mind saying this because I'm sure many other Assistants will resonate with this. But I always find it really fascinating that as an as an Assistant, you can, you can pretty much do your role, no matter what company you work for. So obviously, I made a huge change from working in fashion to now working in finance. But I kind of do the same stuff. You know, and I don't, if I'm totally honest, and I don't know if any of my bosses will watch this, but I don't mind if they do, but I don't really know what my boss does. Which is so funny because, you know, I know what they do on a day to day basis. But I don't know a huge amount about, you know, FinTech; it's not something that I'm particularly passionate about as an industry and as the finer detail. But it's still the same things that I'm doing. So it's diary management, that is, the vast proportion of it is managing their diaries. I worked for four Executives. One of them is the CEO. And then there's a CTO and the chief of marketing. And then another guy who's kind of jack of all trades, he's got lots of lots of different roles. So donor management is definitely the main part. And then I would say travel. So travel schedules, travel planning, agendas and itineraries, and all that. And then event planning as well. So that's kind of like the other side part as well. There are a lot of off-site, internal external dinners. Yeah, just predominantly team-building internal events that we claim are part of as well.
Nicky Christmas 13:01
interestingly, you say that, because I would imagine there's a lot of Assistants that would love to work in fashion, or magazines or publishing those areas. And it probably seems to a lot of Assistants impossible to break into. It's an industry where, as you said, people know each other; it's very exclusive. But as you said, assistance skills are so transferable, that actually, it is possible to work in those, you know, those, those industries that may be seen, like the doors are closed, for a lot of people,
Suzie Ellams 13:32
I agree. And I think a lot of that just comes down to the confidence of just going for it and not letting that kind of like, you know, perhaps self-limiting beliefs come through because funnily enough, I felt, I mean, I did come into fashion, because I'd worked in retail, you know, I had that on my CV, that I was interested in fashion, and I very good at correcting quite gradually. So that definitely served me; however, I remember when I was looking to go back to work. Back in September, well, no, it's August. And I, I say I chose the finance industry or, you know, as an industry it is, it's very, very different. And I think because of where we were with the family and stuff, you know, I needed that sort of slightly higher salary bracket, shall we say, and I was looking for, you know, a step up from my previous role. But I was worried that I wouldn't have on paper all the skills and the experience from the finance world, you know, and I thought, gosh, you know, they're going to look at my CV and go, No, you know, she's only ever worked in fashion. She's, you know, that's not applicable. But actually, you know, I got the role pretty quickly, if I'm honest. And I remember quite vividly having an interview with one of my bosses on Zoom. And he kind of he admitted that he'd sort of scan my CV but actually just wanted to know. You could see that it was enough. You could see that the level and the experience were there, but he wasn't really interested in the detail. It was much more about my personality and character and what I could offer as an individual rather than my on-paper skills. So I would say to anyone, just don't worry about your background in the industry, or the skills are transferable. Definitely.
Nicky Christmas 15:08
Yeah, it's so true. And like you said, once you get into the interview process, a lot of it is down to whether or not you're a match with the Executive that you're going to be working with. And they've got to see that synergy because the relationship is so close, you spend so much time with that person. Yeah, definitely. So I know I want to move on to what your day looks like in your current role. But I have to ask because I know everybody will be asking. But when you get Elle Magazine, how similar was it to the Devil Wears Prada? We're just getting that question.
Suzie Ellams 15:43
Oh, my goodness. I really hate to say it, but it was. And you know what? People don't realise that that film is genuinely based on fact. It's not made up. It's actually taken out. I'm not going to badmouth anyone or anything, obviously, but it is taken from, you know, a real-life scenario. And it is admittedly a different country and a different culture. And that is a big, big difference. Like, obviously, in the UK, fashion and editorial are not the same as in the US. And, you know, I think any, anyone that's ever worked in the fashion industry would agree that the personalities are just so different. There are many very, very big personalities, and people are in that industry for their passion. And that comes with a certain amount of pressure, am I, you know, I mean, passion is probably the word, and passion can be construed in a positive way or in a negative way. So, you know, it's an industry full of passionate people. And that comes with its challenges. But, I mean, goodness me, I did not have to, you know, find Harry Potter books at three in the morning that weren't in existence. But there were definitely some things that I was asked to do that I just thought about. I mean, are you joking? It was just different. It was a different kind of environment. There were, yeah, a lot of big personalities.
Nicky Christmas 17:16
I think the one thing that comes through in the film that I would imagine is so true to life for many Assistants, but particularly for people who work in fast-paced environments, is the pressure that comes from working in an environment where there are stringent deadlines. Yeah, there's, you know, seasons, things happen across the year that has to be met. I would imagine that working under pressure and working to tight deadlines is a skill you've acquired. Yeah,
Suzie Ellams 17:44
I mean, that is a huge, huge part of the fashion world. It is so fascinating. I mean, compared to where I am now. It's fun compared to the retail side of fashion. It's editorial is, it's like you said, it's there's a deadline, there's a deadline that cannot move, and it cannot be missed, you know, where I'm at now, there's a lot of moving deadlines, which is a lot easier to manage. But no, and the editorial world is so fast-paced, and like you said, people are working on things in the middle of summer that is relevant to the middle of winter. And it's so it's a very, it's a very strange environment to work in. But it's also hugely fun. I mean, I definitely, do have my hilarious stories from that time. Absolutely. But I also have the absolute best memories of my whole career, if I'm honest. And I do I say this a lot of people actually, but if I hadn't been in a position at Elle, where I'd had to move, I wouldn't have, and I may well, you know, still had been there many, many years later. So it's a great world to work in. But I just think if that is of interest. It is a passion, just go for it, it doesn't you know, don't worry about not having that experience on your CV because I would say that most senior level people in that world, they're looking for the skills, they're looking for the ability, rather than the love or the passion or they have passion experience.
Nicky Christmas 19:05
Absolutely. Well, let's bring it back to today and the role that you're in now, I know this is a tough question for Assistants because no two days are ever the same. But if you could give us an understanding of what your day looks like,
Suzie Ellams 19:18
Yeah, sure. So I have two different days because I think many people now work partly at home and partly in London. So I do two days a week in London, and then three days a week from home. And obviously, between the hours of nine and five, that day is relatively the same. But you know, it does vary depending on whether I'm at home, and I do sort of manage my time differently as well in terms of what I actually do, which is quite different to obviously how we've all worked in the past where we've all just been in the office. So the days that I'm at home, I do the school run, so I do my drop off and I do my pickup, and then you know what has it done on my desk at nine o'clock. I work through a similar schedule when I'm in the office. So I'll probably spend the first hour of the day catching up on emails. And a lot of that is because I have actually managed my time to leave at 430 on the day. So I'm in London because I want to get back to the kids. So then, when I log on at nine the next day, I have quite a backlog to get through. So that's, that's the first part of my day. And then I'll check in with my bosses. And as I said, I've got four different bosses. So I usually have meetings scheduled with them, or even just like have a quick five-minute, you know, Zoom catch up, or, you know, just to check in to see if there's anything immediate that's come in since I last saw them. And again, that's different. If I'm in the office, I'll just pop into their office. Two minutes is much. It is quicker. But obviously, if I'm at home, we'll have a scheduled meeting. And then, I typically will go through the diaries for the deck for today. And the day ahead, in case anything's changed, I always like to look at the day ahead; I'm sure every system will agree that that is one of the key things. You have just to stay one step ahead. So I'll check, you know, an external people coming in any meeting rooms, I need to book any restaurant bookings, anything that I perhaps have maybe missed or just checking, I just, I think of it as like, just checking the diary looks neat. No clashes and nothing are overlapping. Everything's in order. And then and then, I'll kind of go to my to-do list. So I'll start working through any, you know, bigger projects and tasks I'm working on. And obviously scattered throughout that you've just got responding to immediate requests, I think that's probably the biggest difference of being. I talked to a lot of my other friends in the corporate world, actually. And since everyone's moved to working from home, they a lot of them who are in a sort of non Assistant roles, they manage their day so that they will plan meetings, and they'll book things around their kids or around, you know, other commitments from home. Whereas I think being an Assistant, you have to be reactive. You see, I always say to my friends, " Well, you know, if my boss calls me, I have to pick up like, I can't, I can't, you know, book a meeting at a certain time. And then I know I'm free at that time; you always have to be available to a point. So yeah, it's that's kind of just throughout the day. And yeah, and that's kind of the same. On the days in London, I finish at half four, so I can get home, and on the days I'm at home, I finish at five and am quite strict with my time. But that has changed since I've had kids. I've got two kids. I would. I would pretty much stay until their work got done. And then, you know, felt much more, I guess, on top of things. Now it's a little bit different. And this will be different for everyone. But I'm, I suppose I'm a little. I suppose my priorities have just changed a little bit. So five o'clock, I log off, assuming I have done what I need to get done, but I don't. I don't tend to work overtime anymore like I used to.
Nicky Christmas 22:45
How have you found that because I know, for some assistance, that's, you know, that's how they've always been, I've always had those strict boundaries in place. It's a nine-to-five role. But it sounds like that's something that's had to be quite different for you. So I wonder if you found that easy or difficult to make that transition, it's definitely different. So
Suzie Ellams 23:03
I, you know, I would never have caught myself sort of. I wasn't that person that only stayed late for the sake of staying late. But maybe the roles I've had, or the interviews or have been fairly busy. I don't know. It's really weird. At the time, before I had children, I would just stay until the work got done. You know, I wasn't. I've never clocked off at a certain time. It was just I would stay in the office. And then when I got done, perhaps you know, I was working in London, I was a lot younger, I would maybe be going out after work or something I don't know. But I definitely had that mentality, and I often went in early. So I would, you know, I've been in the office, sometimes it's sort of half, seven, eight o'clock. And now, I mean, I just wouldn't. I wouldn't even consider that it's so interesting how it's changed. But I definitely, I suppose back then, my job was a big priority. It was up there, and I was still climbing the ladder, you know, I was still trying to progress my career and impress everybody and do my absolute best. And even though I still want to do that, it would never come at the expense of, you know, my children, for example.
Nicky Christmas 24:06
Was the role you've picked now a conscious choice when you were going for the role? Did you think I need or looking for a new role? Do I need something where those boundaries aren't going to be tested?
Suzie Ellams 24:18
No, I don't think I did. I think I just knew in my head that that would be the case. And I guess I just I mean, they knew I had children, they all had, I think as well looking back, the people I work for often didn't have children. And so that was a big difference. And you know, it's a much younger environment, much much younger than the fashion world typically is anyway, and a lot of you know, I don't want to be too obviously generalistic, but a lot of women in the fashion world didn't have children and this you know this is going back quite a while now. So it could be very different now, but it was just a different environment when I started this job. They absolutely knew I had children. The world is a completely different place. There's so there were so many differences because of obviously COVID. And so everyone's working from home anyway to people have become more flexible. Many people had changed their schedules around their kids, and many dads probably did. So you know, I've got four male bosses, and they absolutely on the days they work from home, they do the school run, you know, so that that's different to how it was two years ago. So it's quite hard to say whether it's the industry or the time or my job, or, you know, all three. Yeah, really, it is. But I knew in my head that if it had become a problem, and if there was any resistance, then I would have to look for something else.
Nicky Christmas 25:45
Yeah, it's really interesting because it's exactly what you said. I think everybody's priorities and boundaries have changed over the last two years. And it's interesting that the pressure that you may have had to enter entering the workforce, pre-pandemic with two small children, seems to have gone in many ways, which is really encouraging.
Suzie Ellams 26:05
Yeah. Oh, no, 100%. I mean, I did consider going back to work. When I first had, you know, when I had my eldest, my took my year's maternity, and we were at that point where we were making the decision, and I did put the question forward of, can I work flexibly? Can I work part-time? It was just a big no. Just a big fat? No, that was six years ago. So no, five years ago, so. So obviously, that is completely different. Now anyway, you know, that wouldn't even no one would stand for that. Nowadays.
Nicky Christmas 26:34
It's true as a short period of time, where a lot has changed. But thank goodness it has. Let's continue with what you do for a break over the day. I guess lunchtime isn't a huge thing anymore, so many people work from home. But do you manage to schedule breaks throughout the day so that you can get away from the screen and things? Sure No,
Suzie Ellams 26:56
I actually don't. And I'm not saying that that's the right thing to do or not because someone told me that they actually do have a really good system where and this is a friend of mine who's a virtual Assistant. So she's got her own business. And so she does manage her own time a bit more, but she'll do 5010 Social Work. Fifteen minutes take 10 minutes away from the screen and work 15 minutes. And I think that's great. I think that's a good strategy to have. For me, I'm more of a kind of like, sit down, just plough on through and get as much done as possible, I suppose, where I know, I don't want to work beyond the time that I know, I'm, you know, I'm due to, and I do take an hour to do the school run in the afternoon. That's, that's my lunch break. So the days I'm at home, I will sit and eat lunch at my desk in front of my computer whilst working. And then at 230, I take my break till 330. And that's when I go and pick the kids up from school or bring them home. I make them some dinner. And that's my lunch break. But obviously, that's a choice that I've made. The days that I'm in London, I again, because I've you know, this might not be applicable to a lot of people listening, obviously, but because I've negotiated to leave at 4.30, I actually don't take a lunch break. That's the choice I made, so I could obviously get back a bit earlier. But I do go out. Absolutely. You know, and it's I did make that choice to not take my lunch and work with me because I thought oh, I could save some time, maybe lunch before and take care. But actually, you have to get some fresh air even at the very least you have to get outside at least once your day, especially when you're working in London because I love London. So I don't mean this in a negative way. But it is an oppressive atmosphere. It can be very draining and very tiring. So do you think you need to get some breaks? And it's so interesting because I always was offered to get my bosses their lunch, you know, you know, without fail, I'll be like what, and none of them ever want me to they want to go out and get their lunch because they want the fresh air. So I, you know, I thought, oh, I'm gonna go back to the office, I'll get their lunches. I get their coffees and all of that. They want to go out because they want that that fresh air as well. So yeah, I literally just next door is a lovely, amazing salad place. That's one of the things I love about London is like the food hasn't been, you know, out here in Surrey for six years. I love going back to London for the restaurants. So yeah, I'll just nip out and get a salad.
Nicky Christmas 29:03
That's good. It's great to hear your Executives are doing that as well. It just sounds so different post-pandemic that people want to go out of the office and get fresh air. That's great, really good. Good to hear. So we don't want to be too negative, but the Assistant role can be challenging. And I wondered what the most challenging aspects of your role are.
Suzie Ellams 29:25
So this was quite an easy one. Actually, I was thinking about, you know, the challenges of the role. And I think so this is the most number of people that I've ever worked for. So always, funnily enough, I've always worked for at least two Executives, but never more. So. Yeah, it's always been two, basically. And now I worked for four. And I think the biggest challenge is they obviously all have different levels of seniority. So on paper, I might say, well, obviously the CEO, he is my priority. He is the most senior, and then there's, you know, sort of the next level of management down. And there are two guys that are at that same level. And then there's one guy who's one level down from that. So that, in theory, should be my priority. But it's not because, obviously, the priority is actually against the tasks, not the person that's giving you. So I might have a request from a CEO that's not that urgent. But I might have a request from somebody that's, you know, a little bit lower down. And that's actually more urgent. So what I find most challenging is when it all comes at once, and I have to kind of sort my brain, okay, which is actually, and I think that's a really fascinating subject on the difference between urgent and important. I think it's really. It's a really good skill for Assistants. To learn and to master is to understand the difference between what is urgent and what's important. And also what someone else's perception of urgency and importance versus the reality of the situation. So yeah, it's that slightly, you get that moment of over overwhelm, which I think we all as Assistants, I'm sure everybody has these moments where they're like, Oh, God, I've got so many things to do. There are literally like a million things to do. And you're, you're, you're just sorting, and you're going okay, right, which is urgent, which you know, which can wait a bit more and just getting them into the right order. So that's, that's definitely the biggest challenge, I think.
Nicky Christmas 31:14
So how have you gone about doing that? Are there any particular practices that you put in place? Where are you making those decisions? Is it based on who kind of comes to you saying this is urgent? Is it based on your understanding of the business? How do you make that work? Ultimately, yes,
Suzie Ellams 31:31
Having knowledge and understanding of the business definitely helps. However, I still wouldn't necessarily make my own judgement call on it. Because I obviously don't have as great a deeper understanding as my bosses do. So I think my biggest tip is not to be too reactive. So it's quite easy. You know, when the CEO comes in and says, I want x y Zed doing, it's quite easy to go, like, that's what I need to do now, because he's the big boss, and I need to get his stuff done first. So actually, what I have learned to do is to kind of take a bit of a step back. And I think this is what I've noticed, working from home, really helps with, because when you're in the office, and you're, you're in person with people, it's a lot harder to actually go in your head, okay, I'm not going to do that right now. Because I know that's not the most important tasks on my to-do list, or that's not most urgent tasks on my to-do list was when someone standing there, and they're expecting you to do it right then and there, and they don't know what the other three people have asked you to do. It's quite hard to be like, Oh, I'm just going to actually do this, you know, but again, there's a lot of other there's a lot of things that come into play, and there's confidence, and there's knowing your, you know, knowing your boundaries, and all of that. But I think for me, it's definitely about just stopping taking a step back, you know, obviously, whether you have your to-do lists, or however you have things written down and actually just looking at each individual path and going, is this urgent? Or is this just important? You know, you have a scale of I have like a scale I have, like urgent is obviously needs to be done right now. Important is it's an important thing to do. But it might be able to wait a week, you know, it doesn't mean it has to be done now, just because it's important. And then you've got the person that's asking you, and actually, that's quite often the last, the last level, the lowest level, because that's not really the difference between whether something has to be done now or whether it has to be done in a week. It doesn't matter who's asking. It's more about the task itself.
Nicky Christmas 33:26
Absolutely. And as you said, urgent to somebody else isn't always necessarily important. Or as urgent to you. It might be important, but does it have to be done right now? And you make such a good point. It's really hard in an office when someone has stood over you asking you to do something and for you to say, I'll do it in my time because all of this is happening that you don't know about. And as you said, that's a confidence thing. But oh my goodness, it's so much easier to do that when you're working from home. Because you just make that choice. No one is exactly over you. Yeah, absolutely. What a difference that makes. Yeah,
Suzie Ellams 34:04
no, it definitely does make a difference. And I think as well the other thing about working from home versus working in the office is that you know, when you if you have got multiple bosses and multiple people that you report into, again, when you're in the office, on the flip side, it's easier to actually say, well, so and so's asked me to that because that person is physically there so they can then back you up and validate that was when you're at home, unless you've got a really strong trust and you know, you've been perhaps someone for a while. It's quite hard to then say to someone online. I will actually scientists asked me to do this without it almost sounding like it's an excuse that you're not doing something. So it's interesting. There's two there's definitely two sides to it. And there are pros and cons of that being in the office versus being in in in at home aspect.
Nicky Christmas 34:52
Working for multiple Executives is challenging. Absolutely. It doesn't really matter where you are or where you're sitting. It is a challenge. So when it's full, and there's a hierarchy in place, I've been there, and I know that that there's a lot of communication required to make it work. So on the flip side, what's the most enjoyable part of your role?
Suzie Ellams 35:15
I would say, honestly, just the satisfaction of making somebody else's life easier. I think that had gone for me that is, that is the reason that I started on this path because I remember that feeling, way, way, way, way back, you know, going back 20 years to when I was on a reception desk, and I just, and I've never, you know, I've never really been in a role where I've been helping somebody else achieve anything, or you know, and I think that, that, I don't know, whether it's a self-validation, or whether it genuinely comes from, you know, that feeling of pride and joy and making somebody else's life better. But that, knowing that you're making someone else's life easier, knowing that you're helping them do their job better, knowing that you are adding value to someone else's life slash role. That, for me, is the reason that I do what I do. And I went back into this industry after taking the time out and like, I just love helping other people and making their lives easier or better. And that's yeah, that just makes it all worth it for me. Well, that's
Nicky Christmas 36:20
Such a lovely answer. It's so true. I don't think any of us would work as an Assistant if that was such a kind of key kind of competency, but also, really, what motivates you as a person? Yeah, I think I think there were a lot of people that don't have that. But I think every Assistant I met I've met enjoys helping people and feeling like they're valued and that they're adding value. So I think a lot of Assistants will be nodding along to that answer thing.
Suzie Ellams 36:48
And I think that's why it's nice when you do have multiple bosses because you don't always get it, you know, I can definitely say I've not had that from every single individual boss I've worked for, but I've definitely had it from at least one of the two. So that's I've always found that a real plus of having more than one boss, because you're not always going to get, let's be completely honest. Now, you're not always going to get brilliant bosses. I've been very lucky. I've had some incredible bosses. And I've had lots of incredible bosses. But I've never had a role where both have been just really, really hard.
Nicky Christmas 37:19
Yeah, that's not what you want. That makes the challenge so much more challenging. Sure. So your career has spanned such a wide range of roles and a number of years. I wonder what your career highlights have been.
Suzie Ellams 37:33
So I would say, you know, always stands out. And I think this comes from, you know, my deeper kind of passion for the sort of like the world. I used to work in the fashion industry and everything. But I remember, I love working on projects, you know, and I think most Assistants would say that the day-to-day admin side of the role, you know, once you've been established in the system for quite a while, that's quite easy to kind of just churning out and you get quite almost robotic at it. And that's why I think we do start to look for projects, and we take on other things outside of our immediate role. So for me, definitely working on the Elle Style Awards, which was a huge fashion event within the industry. And then alongside that working on London Fashion Week like that, and I kind of carried that on when I was at Burberry as well, because obviously from the flip side, it was all still related on the battery, those, those are absolutely my highlights, like I just loved getting involved with anything that was a wider and into some extent, even now, you know, I'm working on a couple of off-sites, which are not quite the same level as the old style it was, but they're still, you know, fun, exciting events, and we've got to organise activities. And so I definitely love that side of being an Assistant. I love the event side. I did a bit of event management as well as part of my roles. And we Yeah, I just I think that is a really fun, fun part of being an Assistant. And if you can find a company where they do things like that, and they allow you to get involved. Like, that's, that's brilliant, because those, those memories are really, really special for me. Definitely, I'm sure most industries have their big awards, you know, it doesn't matter if it's the food and drink industry or whatever, they will have some big events and some big awards. And if you're part of that, like they are really exciting.
Nicky Christmas 39:16
And they raise your profile as well. Did you find that within your organisation? Everyone suddenly knows who you are.
Suzie Ellams 39:22
Yeah, and everyone's coming to you for help. And you get to know so many other people that you wouldn't necessarily interact with in your day-to-day job. So yeah, that's a huge benefit of it.
Nicky Christmas 39:33
What's one piece of advice you would give to Assistants who maybe, let's start with, looking to work in the fashion or publication industry? Is there any advice you would offer to Assistants who may be starting out in that area?
Suzie Ellams 39:48
Well, funnily enough, publishing is completely different from how it was when I was there, and unfortunately, I think it's not really an industry that's thriving. So I think just be prepared, you know, if you, I, it makes me really sad because I love a good magazine, I love nothing more than reading an actual physical magazine, but it's not gonna be around in the next ten years like it's quite, it's, it's going, it's all gonna be online. So definitely get involved in digital, like, be savvy and aware that fashion itself is all moving digital, even things like, I remember the, you know, London Fashion Week, they started live streaming it half of the time that I was doing there, and that was like, completely revolutionary. And it just, you know, for a lot of people, it meant they weren't travelling as much to get there. And so again, like, gradually, that will just, you know, there's gonna come a time where everything can just be filmed in a studio and live streamed, and people won't be sat at the end of runways like, you know, having to put together crazy schedules. And so yeah, definitely just become, I think this applies to every industry, but apply, become much more digital savvy. But also, I would say, just get in touch with the people that are in that world. So you know, I think I think the reason I landed my first job in InStyle was that actually when I was at school, I think I sent my CV off to every magazine that was in existence back then, every fashion magazine, to apply for work experience. And when I was working in retail and InStyle called me up, they'd found my CV under a pile of other CVS because they were looking for a fashion intern. And I didn't want to do that because it was unpaid. And I was actually looking for a job. And that's how the receptionist job came up. So definitely, the fashion world is all about contacts. It's all about who you know, so you know, trawl through the mass heads of magazines and just get in touch with people and say, you know, I'm really interested in working in this industry. If anything comes up, could you let me know? And just do that on repeat as many people as possible naughty now we've got LinkedIn, LinkedIn is an amazing platform for connecting with people, you know, find that world that you're interested in, find the people in that world. And just, you know, obviously, anyone's welcome to reach out to me. I've still got lots of contacts in the fashion world and find other PAs that work in the fashion world and just say that, you know if anything comes up in your company, I think it's about just being brave.
Nicky Christmas 41:58
So what do you think you would have done if you weren't an Assistant?
Suzie Ellams 42:02
That's a really interesting question. Because I don't, I haven't really thought. I hadn't really thought about it a lot. I suppose. Because I that's, you know, what I had done pretty much straight from university. But there have been times when I've considered other career paths. I suppose when I was on that six-year break. And I wasn't working. I didn't know that I was necessarily going to get back to being an Assistant. I played with other ideas and stuff. And I was running this other business alongside. And everything I landed on had a similar, a similar sort of background too, I suppose, and the things that I've thought about have been things like becoming a life coach, or becoming a nutritionist, or becoming, you know, like a Holistic Therapist or something like that. I love that whole world of well-being, like health, and looking after other people's mental health there. You know, I think some of that slightly come out of, I had a quite a long health journey to have my children. And then, when I had my children, I then had a bit of a mental health journey, which, again, some moms might go straight to, but I suffered from postpartum anxiety. And so that led me to kind of really want to understand how that happens. And I've developed so many skills and techniques from, you know, dealing with that and managing that, that I still use to this day. And so yeah, that whole world of people's well-being has always fascinated me. And I suppose psychology is part of it as well. So something like that. So but again, it is it's about helping people. So I guess that's another thread that kind of comes through from the Assistant side. But yeah, I think when I move away from the corporate world itself, that's definitely a path that I'll explore a bit more.
Nicky Christmas 43:48
There are a lot of Assistants that I've met over the years that have moved into wellness and well-being and coaching because I think it's, as I said earlier, it's those drivers that so many Assistants have that, you know, wanting to want to help. I think I think that I think it was a common theme that a lot will have.
Nicky Christmas 44:12
As I said, you know, you've done so much in your career. Is there any one thing that you that the career has given you that you're grateful for?
Suzie Ellams 44:21
Oh, my goodness, so many. Yeah, definitely a lot of things. And interestingly, a lot of the skills that I learned as an Assistant just along the way sort of transferred across to the other business that I have. And then equally, the skills I've learned building that business has now served me massively in this in this new role as well. So I think the biggest thing has been working on yourself. So not looking at your job just as a job, but actually looking at it as an opportunity to grow your own personal, your product, your personal skills, because I think as an Assistant, a lot of what we do is a life skill. So I know my husband would agree, but he loves the fact that I'm the organiser of the family, you know, I literally know how to get things done. And I've learned that, again, through both sorts of aspects of my life and part of being a parent as well, I think you learn a lot there. So yeah, definitely learning how to be more productive. Learning how to not procrastinate. I mean, I think you only learn, you only recognise these things when you talk to people that, you know, aren't Assistants or have other roles in life. And then you're like, oh, gosh, do you not do that? And they're like, No, you're like, oh, maybe that's just me. And it is these things. It's, it's the Yeah, being productive, getting things done, not procrastinating, working with a sense of urgency. And also, I think a big thing that you learn as an Assistant is a whole ability to adapt to other people's personalities, which is a massive life skill. I mean, you know, I've read so many books now about how to respond, how to react, how to help, how to lead, how to inspire different persons, different personalities. And again, that comes from, but I suppose, maybe not so much, if you've only ever worked for one individual, but where I've always had more than one boss, I've had to learn really quickly how to flip the way I speak, the way I behave, the way I work, the way I help them, depending on their individual needs and their individual personality. And that's a huge life skill. Definitely.
Nicky Christmas 46:28
It's so true. Because as an Assistant, you work across the entire organisation. So you're working with people that have, you know, for me, anyway, people from a huge amount of privilege, you know, public school backgrounds, you know, you know, top, top university educated, you know, people that in my personal life, I would never have, have met, and then going down through the different levels of the organisation to different areas, that you just have to change and adapt how you get the get what you want out of them, how you influence them. It's the skills that you pick up as an Assistant absolutely around those interpersonal skills and dealing with different types of people from different walks of life. You know, it is something that carries you through your entire life.
Suzie Ellams 47:17
Yeah, yeah, definitely. And then the confidence part as well is a huge thing to do. I think you have to develop confidence and self-worth, you really have to work on yourself work as an Assistant to different degrees, depending on obviously the kind of people you work for in the organisation. You work with them. But that's yeah, that is something I'm massively grateful for having to learn because that definitely serves you in your life anyway.
Nicky Christmas 47:40
Yeah. And being able to have a checklist and remember everything when you've got two small children is an absolute godsend.
Suzie Ellams 47:47
Absolutely. I mean, that is a life skill above everything else.
Nicky Christmas 47:52
comes in very handy, having a list. Well, we've got a little bit of time left. And I wondered if you could let us know if there's anything that you wish you had known about the Assistant role before you started,
Suzie Ellams 48:07
I don't think a lot of people really think about most of the roles they go into. I think most people, you know, you kind of fumble around out of uni, or if you haven't been to uni, you kind of leave school, and no one really knows exactly what they want to do. And no one really knows where they're going to be in, you know, 10,15 or 20 years' time. But the one thing that really I think stands out for me now versus before I kind of embarked on this is the whole, this whole piece around, you know, working not necessarily from home, but working as an Assistant flexibly because I think I remember looking at lots of Assistant roles, and some of them involve a lot of travel. And I always saw myself well I always saw an Assistant role is something where you have to be in an office, you know, in your set outside your boss's office. And you know, maybe part of this came from different ways broader as well. But, you know, lots of Assistants now will travel with their bosses, and a lot of bosses will travel a lot without their assistance. So whereas I think the first part of my career was very much based around this idea that you had to sit next to your boss or outside his office and be very present and there with him. Now, for a lot of different reasons. That's just not the case. And I talk about this a lot of the time with the other Assistants within my own company that I work for now. And we all say that, funnily enough, we are far more productive on the days you work from home, like far more productive, we get a lot more done. So I think had I known that when I was first going into an Assistant role, I might have looked for roles that were perhaps, you know, had a bit more travel really because I remember being quite dismissive and going, Well, no, I can't You can't do that. You can't. You can't do that. Maybe it's been a bit more flexible and looking at roles that perhaps involve travel or even I think, you know, the idea of being a private PA, sort of semi appealed to me, but then I didn't, I didn't, I didn't like the idea that perhaps I didn't feel like I could be as effective. If I wasn't well, Get that person all the time. And obviously, with a private PA, you know, they're all off all over the world a lot of the time. And yes, sometimes we might be with them, but sometimes you're not. So I think it's yeah, it's the fact that as long as you have that method of contact, and obviously nowadays, it's a phone, with your Executive, with your boss, whoever that is, you can pretty much do your role from wherever you are, wherever you are, wherever they are, the role of Assistant doesn't have to be that kind of antiquated, you know, in an office at a desk, they're there, you're there that one to one contact, yes, there are definitely times when that's a bit easier. And that has an advantage. But I think actually, yeah, you can do it from wherever, in, and it's the flexibility of the time and the hours as well like I know people that work in the evenings rather than in the day. And so I think you can be as you can be an effective Assistant, just as well, working flexibly from home, not from home, travelling on holiday, or wherever you want to be, you can do your job. And that's something that I think I would have been a bit more open-minded to when I was looking into the industry.
Nicky Christmas 51:05
When we were first starting out as Assistants, there wasn't that option. It was sitting in front of a screen and sitting in front of the office and being ever-present. So your Executive, I remember for me once my team were all moved into a different floor. But I was moved into a different floor with my Executive, and the thought that she that I wouldn't be outside her office, despite the fact I was removed from the rest of the team, was just wasn't considered it was outside my office. But now those conversate those conversations would be so different because of how much technology has evolved just over the last two years. Yeah, so I think I think yeah, I think Assistants that are coming into the industry now. It's much more flexible. There's much more room for conversations around how you work. And as we said right at the beginning of the conversation, the boundaries that you put in place. I so appreciate you joining us on the podcast today. It's been a real treat having you and hearing about your career and all of the exciting things you've done. So thank you so much.
You're so welcome. It's been lovely to chat with you as well.
Nicky Christmas 52:16
Thank you so much for listening to the EA campus podcast. We would love for you to take a minute to subscribe to the EA campus podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts. If you could give us a review, we would so appreciate that as well. If you want to check out the show notes. You can do that by going over to the AI campus.com forward slash podcast, forward slash EP to Susy Ellams and take a look at everything we discussed. You can also find all the links to the resources, articles and tech that we mentioned during the show. If you want to join the conversation inside the campus community, you will also find all of the information on the AI Campus website. The community continues to grow, and we have an amazing group of Assistants sharing their careers. We have ongoing events and training for our members. And we would love love, love love to see more ambitious and career-driven Assistants join the EA campus. Thanks so much for your time, and I hope you tune in again to the next episode of the EA campus podcast.