Episode Fourteen: Fiona Hirst, Executive Assistant to the CLO at SThree
On this episode of The EA Campus Podcast, we have Fiona Hurst, Executive Assistant to the Chief Legal Officer at SThree. Before her current role, Fiona worked at Airbnb in their Paris office. It was truly a rollercoaster ride, and we spent a lot of time talking about her experiences working at a unicorn start-up right at the beginning of its rise.
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. Tune in, get inspired and learn how to create an assistant 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 prepare to move to the next level. Building a successful assistant for it just got a little easier with the EA campus podcast. This week we have Fiona Hearst executive assistant to the Chief Legal Officer at s3. Prior to her current role, Fiona worked at Airbnb in their Paris office. It was truly a roller coaster ride. And we spent a lot of time in this episode talking about her experiences working at a unicorn startup right at the beginning of its rise. I really enjoyed listening to Fiona and hearing all about her time at Airbnb, and I hope that you enjoy it too. Hi, Fiona. Welcome. Hi, Nicky, thanks so much for the invitation. Oh, it's a pleasure. We've got a good just around about an hour to cover everything that you've done in your assistant career. And I know that you've worked for some really interesting brands and experienced quite a lot along the way. So why don't we start with you sharing a little bit about your career to date?
Fiona Hurst 01:37
Sure. So I think, like a lot of assistants that I meet and No, I never intended to be an assistant, I didn't know what it was. And I actually did a French degree. So absolutely nothing related to being in this system. Or so I thought and I, during my final year at university got the opportunity to move out after I'd graduated to France, and I was teaching English at university and that contract came to an end and I was like, What am I going to do, and I ended up moving to Paris.
And I was working in kind of customer service customer relations for a few months. And I just, it was not me didn't enjoy it at all. And when I was thinking, oh, what can I do? I found a agency that specialised in recruiting bilingual English, French assistants, office managers, etc. And I got in touch with them. And that's where I got my first kind of PA slash admin slash office manager role for a company called Cantor Fitzgerald. So in finance well, and I was the only person only admin person in the office.
And anyone who's had a role like that knows what that means you do everything do you wear like 10 million hats, and you get to get involved in so many different projects, from facilities to payroll, HR, you're working reception, so you learn how to multitask. And this was a an office that had no filing the filing system, when I walked in was literally like five piles of paper that was the filing system. So I kind of built everything from scratch. And it really was like my training ground as an assistant. Because as I say, I got to touch on so many different things. And so I was young, I was 2324. And I was negotiating contracts and managing Office moves and all sorts of things. And I thought, Gosh, this is like quite impressive. In French, by the way, because I was working in Paris I was it definitely was a learning curve. It was not easy. The environment was not easy. What if anyone who's worked on a trading floor will tell you it's very masculine, it's can be quite aggressive.
So you have to you learn a lot, let's put it that way. Unfortunately, it was the other night 2009 financial crisis. And I was made redundant from that role moved back to the UK. At that point, I'd been in France, I think, four years, three, four years at that time, moved back to the UK, decided to go travelling and then move back to the UK and got my first role in London working at Barclays. So I was pa two in the European retail banking team and that was a French boss and a French team that was working with and so obviously my language skills were very much valued there. So work there and then I transferred to the UK retail banking team. So I was working on the with the executives there. And at that point, I was like this is a huge organisation and I felt a little bit like a cog in a wheel. I felt it was your role and there isn't much room scope to move out of that and do other things. And I left there went to work for a kind McKenzie alofa again with a French team and my language skills, obviously really helping me I remember actually at the time I was working with recruitment agencies
They said to me, you kind of like gold dust in London, because you are English, but you have fluent French skills. And often, you know that they'd be French assistance, you native French assistance, but then the English skills weren't up to native standards and what what they wanted was someone native English with the French. And I was like, oh, gosh, it made me feel quite special. Actually. I never thought that having done a French degree, that would be what was valued the most. So it was quite interesting. So yeah, I went to the law firm.
And it just wasn't me. It wasn't a and I think sometimes we do.
And I've made a couple of them in my career, make a move, and you almost instantly know that it's not the right one.
And so I very quickly thought, this isn't going to work out what can I do? And at that point, I decided, I think I just I just turned 30. And I was having a bit of a little What am I doing with my life kind of moment. And I actually decided to move back to Paris. And at that point, I so I resigned. And then literally, I think two weeks later, I had a call from one of the assistants in the Paris office. And she was like, Oh, I hear you're leaving. Do you need a job in Paris? And I was like, yeah, she was like, we've got one here. So I ended up staying with the company and moving to the Paris office and working in a completely different department department, which was completely fascinating. I was working, I moved into working in litigation. And it's really interesting. And I was working for the partner. And yeah, it was
much more it stretched me a lot more than the role in London had. But it still wasn't what I was looking for. And I wanted more I wanted to be able to do more I wanted to, I didn't feel I was being utilised to the best of my abilities. And I was looking around and had posted my CV and a couple of sites. And I got a phone call. I got several phone calls from recruitment agencies. And they were saying, Oh, we've got this role. And I was listening to the roles. And that's exactly what I'm doing now. It's not what I want, I want more. And then one day, I got the email by the court, a missed call, and then an email from this agency who were recruiting for a company called Airbnb. And this was 2014. And I had only heard of Airbnb a few months earlier for the first time, because a colleague had mentioned it to me.
And I opened up the job description. And I was just like, wow, like, this is like what I want to be doing. And then I looked at the company website, and I was like, Okay, this is definitely where I want to be. It was so exciting. Obviously Airbnb 2014. No one had really heard a bit like it was such thing. And I went to the intro, I think I had six interviews for Airbnb with various different people. Yeah, they had a very, and they still do have a very robust interview process. With each interview. I just was like, I want this job even more. And then I think I was waiting for a reply. And it was a bank holiday weekend in France. And I was just like, I had a friend visiting. And I was like, so I was so anxious about this job. I was like, I really want this job. And then I went back to work on the Tuesday and had a phone call on the Tuesday data offered me the job. And I was just over the moon because I could tell that this was the company that I'd kind of been dreaming of that the one that actually existed. And I started a few weeks later. But in the meantime, I had a phone call from my new boss and he was like, Fiona, would you mind ever so much if you did your onboarding in San Francisco? And I was saying Not at all? No, that would be amazing. So I actually flew to San Francisco, which was unusual at the time. But I flew to San Francisco for my onboarding. And I just remember pinching myself thinking, wow, this is incredible. The officers were incredible, are incredible. And I had a whole week of onboarding, meeting every single department in the company, finding out what they did the history of the company. And it was just I just, it was so inspiring. And everyone was so on board with the company, the mission, what they were doing.
You couldn't help but be inspired and be energised by it and versus brilliant. Yeah. And yeah. And I worked for there. I was working for two execs. I worked for the managing director for Emir and General Counsel for both based in the Paris office and their teams, obviously, who were spread across across EMEA. And I stayed in that role for about six years. In that time. My boss has changed. People come and go as they do. I moved back to London, and I ended up supporting the general counsel on a one to one role and her team and the role evolved and it grew as you would expect with a startup things start small and then
ended up being huge or they did Airbnb anyway, it was insane. What can I say?
Live at Airbnb was insane, especially the first kind of two years 2014 2016 I have never worked so hard in my life long hours travelling, travelling was amazing. We got to travel got to work with the smartest people, really bright, intelligent people. But all focused on this one goal, making things better for our hosts and our community and our travellers. It was really inspiring. I think. I learned more Airbnb than probably the rest of my career put together. It was just incredible. I can't and then yes, I realised I'm looking back a little bit with rose tinted glasses, because it was right. Every six months, there'd be a new structure, there'd be a new set of goals. There'd be Brian, the CEO Brian Chesky. CEO used to say, if you've if you're still here in six months time, you've had a promotion. Because the company isn't the same as it was six months ago. It was very intense, but fun, really fun. It was a really young workforce. Most people were in the kind of 20 to 30 bracket. I think I joined I was sort of mid 30s. I was probably one of the older older. Yeah, just in my early 30s. I was probably one of the older ones at the time, but it was so much energy and enthusiasm. I'd never experienced that before in any company I've worked in it was really inspiring. Yeah. So I ended up doing I ended up transferring into a bit of a HR role actually Airbnb, and and then I left at the end of last year. It was time that I had been with the company through such a huge period of growth of so intense exhort, completely exhausting gone through the pandemic, they're returned from maternity leave gone through the pandemic, they're like, we lost 80% of our business in eight weeks, I think. And then that was obviously in the beginning of the pandemic, march 2020. And by December 2020, we were doing one of the most successful IPOs ever. So that year, it was like just completely intense, like ridiculous. I've never experienced anything like it probably never will again. But yeah, after that I did a moved into covering a maternity role in the HR team, because I had the opportunity to work on the collective consultation for redundancies during COVID. And had really enjoyed that even though it was obviously a really difficult time, I'd love to work but ended up as I say, moving into covering a role in the HR team and then for maternity leave. And then she came back and the role was no more and I decided that my EA role had taken it everywhere I wanted to and felt I couldn't be me. And also I just want her to rest. Honestly, quite honestly after everything that had happened. So I just took six months out and it was brilliant. So I highly if you can, if you're privileged enough to be able to do it, taking some time out when you've had one of those like high intensity roles is a great thing to do and just kind of resets everything. So yeah, so in April, May time, I started looking for a new role.
And I think I was considering lots of different things and going in a different direction. But ultimately I realised I really missed that EA role I missed that relationship that you have with your exec be a centre of everything, and then one that's kind of holding everything together. And it was really important for me to work for someone who was a month as a kind of relatively new ish mom, myself or a parent who understood that balance that you need to have. And and I actually, someone from s3 reached out to me on LinkedIn, and asked me if I was looking for a role,
I think had two interviews for this role. The second one was with Kate's my my boss now. And I just knew instantly that I would we would work well together. And the rest, they say is history. So I've been at s3 for six months now just pass my probation. And I'm supporting Kate who is the chief legal officer and company secretary and her team. So s3 is a PRC. So it's a whole different kind of ballgame for me. I've never worked at exec level or C suite level in a PLC before. So it's I'm learning but obviously everything I did at Airbnb and everywhere else that I've worked has prepared me for this, I think what an absolute roller coaster.
It was great to my seat there. Oh my goodness, you've done so much. There's so much to unpack there. And I've been writing down a bunch of questions while you've been talking. But I just want to get a sense of what s3 is, like, could you just tell us what the company does so that we can kind of get a sense of what that your work would entail. salutely So s3 is a specialist stem recruiter. So recruiting for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics sectors. And in a sense, s3 is a global company headquartered in London, and in a sense, the kind of sales, the recruitment it is. I don't really have much
Do you do that on a day to day basis. So I'm in kind of the, what we call the core function side. So in the legal on case SEC risk team and I work really closely with the assistance to the CFO and the CEO. And this has been a revelation to me lucky, because I've never worked so closely with a group of assistants before, I've always had more standalone roles, whether that be entirely on my own in the company or in a region or whatever. And moving into this role, it's just been amazing. The two, the two other assistants I work with. So closely on a day to day basis, we're constantly you messaging each other, calling each other, it's honestly it's like a breath of fresh air, I feel like someone's got my back, I feel so supported. And we work so well together, like completely on the same wavelength about how things should be done. And yet, we each have our own strengths, and they're really complimentary. So we're able to work really well as a three and divide things up so that everyone kind of works on the thing. That's their strength, which is amazing. I love it. I love it. I really do. He's so interesting. We're speaking to so many assistants at the moment who are working in groups of assistants or pods have that ability to work really closely with other the other C suite, executive assistants. And everyone is really positive about it. I haven't heard anybody say it's really difficult, or there's some tension or anything like that everybody that I've spoken to said, this is such a great way to work. It is honestly I, I've never had this experience before. And I was a bit wary, I was like, Well, how's this gonna work, but it just does. It was just we all, as I say, we just all think about how to do things, we seem to agree on it on how to do things, or how things should be this s3 is going through a period of quite a lot of transformation. And so we have the privilege, I suppose, and maybe the pressure to be able to set how things should run. And so that's kind of what we've been working on the certainly I've been working on the last few months kind of forward planning and like setting the agenda for the next couple of years about when we're going to do things basically. And it's
I feel as I say, I feel really supported. I know that they've got my back, I've got their back. If someone needs help with something, someone's there, like offer advice, or me being the newbie, like how, who's who do I go to Who do I go to get this done? Or whatever it might be? As I say, I've never had that before, I've always had to figure things out for myself. And so it's just lovely knowing someone's there, someone knows the answer, or will know someone who knows the answer. And yeah, I couldn't I can't praise them enough. They're just wonderful people. So that's lovely to hear. So as I said, when you were talking about your career today, there was a tonne of stuff I want to ask you. But I just want to, before we go take a step back, I just want to get a kind of general sense of what your are the main aspects of your role are s3. So I know you're fairly still fairly new to it. I haven't just passed probation. But have you got a sense of what the aspects of the role will entail?
Yeah, this is our sport, the chief legal officer and company secretary. I, as with most execs these days, the calendar. It's a constant game of Tetris, isn't it, and she wished there were 30 hours in the day. There's a lot of calendar fitting things in moving things, Kate, I think in the last since I've been there, Kate's been on several kind of long overseas trip Japan, Singapore, South Africa, and then some European ones as well, travel expenses, the usual stuff, but then there's the agenda planning for the team meetings, and I'm taking on the culture side of out for our team. So thinking of ways of improving the culture in the team, I'm developing a SharePoint site, which is something the team have been asking for a while, which is, if anyone has ever done it, like hats off to you, it's a lot of work. And just generally keeping the team up to date with the actions and what's going on. And the list is endless, really, isn't it, but they're probably the main things.
I used to work for a company secretary and along with a couple of other executives and then he was actually one of the busiest people that I supported he they get drawn into so much of the business so many meetings that they have to attend and so much around the corporate governance and everything that comes with that. It's a really, it's a really different sort of challenging role and then to support that across the whole business. It's it ties you up a lot, probably more than you were offered me I was expecting I thought he would be the easier one of the three of us supporting and he was, it was the trickiest.
We're very lucky. We have a deputy Kasich Anna cosec team and they like a brilliant and they take up most of it off Kate's plate. So she was overseeing it and obviously getting involved in things but the cosec team beneath her are really strong and but yes, they get involved in everything, all sorts of things. So share plans and knows where we have which we just launched, you know all sorts of things that you can't even imagine. But then there's the board to manage as well. I'm in contact with the board quite often, that are non executive directors and our term and organising meetings.
So we just had a new non Executive Director start. So helping with her onboarding and making sure she's meeting the right people and things like that. So, yeah, it's very varied, which I love and yet to do, you get to see a lot of things that you're privileged to a lot of information, obviously. And
that's a privilege, but also sometimes a hindrance. So you, you
have to be very careful, I think for as assistants, we know that we're seeing confidential information all the time. But I think that kind of chief legal officer, or general counsel, or whatever it might be called in your company, is a very lonely role. Because you often have information, you can't share with your direct reports, for obvious reasons. But also, you can't share it with your peers, you might not be able to share it with the CEO or the CFO. And so you, and so my role in that because I have access to the same information, obviously, through emails,
I have a very privileged position, I think, as a kind of sounding board, because then that they know they can't share this information with other people. And so you become that privileged person that they can talk to. So yeah, I think recognising that and also, being at situation, you have to be very careful about your relationships within the business. And even with other assistants, I trust the two my two colleagues like completely, that I know there's certain things that I can't tell them either. And so it can be a bit lonely, the assistant role sometimes as well. And you do have to be careful, you can't, especially when I think back to my role at Airbnb, it was a very kind of many people had became friends, basically, and have relationships outside of the office. And I just couldn't, I had to have that kind of barrier. And I think people
that sometimes I understand that very well, but
confidentiality, yeah, it's so true. It's a real skill, actually, to be able to be personable, and inviting and bridging that gap between the executive team and the rest of the staff, but still maintaining some kind of distance, especially as it must have been the case, I would assume at Airbnb, Airbnb, things are changing so rapidly. And as you said, your executive had said, if people are still here in six months, and there must have been a high turnover of staff, and you're privy to all of that information, it is a real skill, keeping that and not sharing it, especially when it's information that everybody would want to know. It must
be, I had to be very careful at social events, not to drink too much, because people were always trying to get information out. And so I had to kind of have to be very careful. And I think sometimes that meant that people thought you're a bit a bit boring, a bit of a stick in the mud kind of thing. But you're always on the clock, you're always on the clock. So you have to be professional is being professional, isn't it? Yeah, I remember one time I was working at a place and they we were just in the process of refitting the office and moving all the desks and everything around. And there was definitely a hierarchy there of whoever said, quote, sat closest to the executive was considered to be a bit more important. And I went for a drink after work and discovered the next day that somebody had rummaged through drawers to try and find the office plans. And I remember thinking, Oh, my goodness, if people are doing this with Office plans,
what other information do they want? So it really taught me a lesson very early on in my career. Don't advertise you're going for a drink after?
A lucky draw. Yeah, it's crazy. But yeah, like people don't give the assistants a break to that they don't think oh, just won't ask, they will ask that. As I said, there was so much that I wanted to touch on and I'm going to pull back first of all to some of your Airbnb days, because normally, I asked what an average day looks like in your current role. And I think you've already given us a good sense of what that is. So I wonder if you could go cast your mind back to what an average day must have been like for you at Airbnb? Because from what you said it starting at such an early point in their journey, the journey of the business, seven years on through the pandemic, it as I said, it sounds like a real roller coaster. So just to give a sense of what an average day that like when you were Airbnb, that would be super interesting. Yeah, I when I joined, I think there were just over 1000 employees globally. So it was a small by the time I left, so six, seven years later, there were I think before, I would say before COVID think they were up to six 7000. So within the space of five years, they've gone from about 1000 to six 7000.
The hiring that to give you an idea of the scale, I think they used to say and this figures probably gone up in the years since but when I first started on those early years, they used to say they had 400 applicants for every one role. Wow. Yeah, it was just one
This rocket ship. And I don't mean that it was insane. I think Brian Chesky. And I don't remember who was quoting. But he used to say that it was like jumping off a cliff and building the plane as you were like falling off it. That's honestly what it felt like sometimes there were no processes. I'm talking about the early days, obviously now, like it's completely different. It's completely transformed. But the early days, there were no processes. It was, who do you know? And they'll have the information. There was no, there was no such there was no place to find information. I turned up, they were working on Macs and working with Google Suite. And I hadn't got a clue. I was like, I've never used a Mac before. What's this Google Suite? Where's that outlook, carrying on it was just like, everyone was just so enthusiastic, and you just got carried away. But an average day was
calendar counting, as with everywhere calendar, but it wasn't just oh, I'll set up a meeting. And that'll be fine. No, it was set up a meeting and 10 minutes later, the whole plans have changed, or you've booked the whole trip. And 10 minutes later, the whole plans have changed, or I need to go tomorrow to so and it was really it was ever changing. And that takes some getting used to when you're when you come from like those kind of more conservative traditional banking. Especially law. Yeah, everything's so structured and quiet.
This was not, it was just just to give you a sense of what it was, how different it was, when I went from my life. It was when I went to my interview, it was July, it was very hot.
I went to the office, and the office manager opened the door. And she was wearing shorts and flip flops.
And I was there in my whole like rock and heels coming from a law firm.
I was like, gosh, this is a bit different, isn't it? I loved it. I was like, yes, you can actually be yourself here. I think you can. It's definitely one of those kind of cliche expressions, but you can bring your whole self to work. And it definitely was like that. But ya know, the days were just couldn't really plan your day I was travelling, in the early days, at least twice a month doing business trips doing off site, it was honestly I can't even begin to explain the chaos that it was because it was and you have to find some way of making, making order out of that chaos, and I love doing that. But when there's no structure around it, when the company has no structure and you're trying to implement change, it was quite hard. And it taught me a lot. It taught me not to be so rigid. I learnt to roll with the punches. And we're okay. That's my end. And we'll just get together. And I have to ask what skills were you going on when there's just think the first thing is probably say, as you couldn't take anything personally, if you'd put together the most perfect itinerary and it got dropped. It's not nothing to do with you. But I would just wonder what skills you were drawing on just to keep up with it? Oh, yeah, it was, it was I'm not gonna lie. It was tough. And I got very sick. I got I got tonnes of a fever. And I was very sick because it was just insane. It was an intense and there was and it wasn't just during the day, there would be meetups with hosts in the evening that you would go to and you'd be talking to Airbnb hosts or guests. And so it was kind of a 24/7 job. That's how it felt that were their headquarters in San Francisco. So you're dealing with West Coast, are they waking up in you're sort of four o'clock onwards, 4pm onwards, it did very much feel like you were constantly on you have to be resilient. I had to be resilient to a point, obviously. And then I got sick, and I forced myself to rest. But honestly, Nicky, I it was just a case of rattling through. And that sounds ridiculous. And you just think, Gosh, why didn't you just
you were so swept up with the enthusiasm and the mission. And got isn't this exciting? And I was single, I was like, Yeah, let's go for it. And I was up for the challenge. I'd wanted something more. And this was it. And so I wasn't gonna let that opportunity slip me by. But yeah, you're, you know, my colleagues had the most amazing colleagues and they were just that it kept you going. Honestly, if you're working for never work for someone horrible at Airbnb, I never heard anyone shout. It was just
yeah, it just, you got carried away with the American expression drinking the Kool Aid where
and it kind of was a bit like that. But it was it was just brilliant. And you felt I remember our first one of our first ad campaigns in the Paris Metro. And like, you were like, I was like, wow, this is so exciting. And you've put your whole self into your job. And so it felt even more rewarding. But yeah, it was completely all consuming. And certainly now as a mum, there is no way I could do that job. Absolutely not like is just over my life. I couldn't do it now, but at the time it was brilliant, isn't it?
credible story and I think exactly as you said, drinking the Kool Aid. These opportunities are so rare for so many reasons story like Airbnb being the unicorn that it was it went on to be one of the most well known brands in the world, it sees roles. I think for anybody a few and far between for assistance, they are really few and far between, especially as you said, when you're bringing your whole self to work is almost I remember somebody, an assistant I spoke to who was who worked at Salesforce in the early days, and it was a you literally hold on for dear life, and you just go with it. I think it must have been very similar for you. Pretty much. Yeah, pretty much. And I just as I said, I've never worked so hard. I love I did love it. And I felt
really felt like I was making a difference. And that's probably what kept me going. Really, I think if you're working hard and don't see anything, you don't see the fruits of it. That's when you get burnout. And you're like, I was making a difference. I was helping people, I felt I was helping people. And I worked with the loveliest people. And they
I was very lucky, I was extremely lucky Airbnb, not only for the opportunity, but for the managers I had, they pushed me and believed in me sometimes when I didn't even believe in myself. And they let me work on projects that were completely outside my EA remit and encourage that even actively encouraged it. And as well as feeling I was helping people, I was doing good work. I was learning, constantly learning new skills and learning new things and working with different people and teams.
Ultimately, that culminated in me working in the HR role. And I would never have had that experience if it hadn't have been for those managers. And I am truly grateful to them. And still in touch with them now helping them recruit their new assistants, for example, and things like that. They're really strong relationships that were formed, because it was just an insane.
Yeah, you've almost fought yeah, as you said, you forming a relationship, because it's such a shared experience that nobody else is gonna have. I wonder if you can give some advice to assistants who are listening that are really inspired hearing that you talk about your experience at Airbnb, for really any assistance that want to work at a start up, if there's any advice you could offer, I think you have to know what you're getting yourself into. First of all, this is not going to be easy.
If you are not prepared to kind of.
And I'm not saying this is all startups, but my experience and my knowledge of other startups, if you're not prepared to go above and beyond on a daily basis, in terms of effort, the amount of time you spend at work or thinking about work,
this is not going to be for you, you have to be able to dedicate yourself to it and be flexible. As I say, as a mum, I could not do that job now that I wouldn't choose to do it because I know what it takes. You have to be resilient. If you don't like change, don't go to a startup because they are constantly changing. As I say, I'd have had whole part of sit down with my exec in the morning and we've gone through things and we've planned everything out. And then literally 10 minutes later, they would message me going, yeah, no scrap all that.
Again, so you have to be resilient, you have to be open to change. But you have to be willing and able also to see where you can make improvements. I think that's where can you help? Where can you streamline a process or create a process? Even if there isn't one? How can you create resources that will help other people? How can you say this is one of my favourite things when people especially at a startup, if you're the only admin people will come to you all the time and ask you to do things for them. And one of the things Airbnb taught me or the legal team taught me was we don't say no, we say yes, but
So rather than saying no, you can't do that it's against the law or whatever. We'll say yes, you can do it but you've got to do this.
So I use that in my kind of assistant role and go yes, I will help you but it'll be next week or if it'll be tomorrow, or I'm not going to get to it today. Yes, I will and also educating people so someone comes to you and says I don't know how to do this or can you help me so I tell you what, I'll show you how to do it so that next time and taking that time to train people to educate people will save you time in the long run completely yeah that's such good advice. I love that yes but with a with a but
I must have touch on the fact that this would have all been happening in your in French I'm assuming I might be wrong in the Airbnb wasn't English in the office, but I'm assuming it's all in French. So you're doing this all in a language that's not your native language, which is even more impressive. So again, I just want to touch I just
Want to touch on that? Because having struggling with Spanish for the amount of years that I have I know that is hard it is to learn another language. So I just wonder what that experience is like, because I think it's 100% true what you said earlier, that it's gold dust, particularly in the London market for somebody to speak fluent and have native English. So could you touch on that? And just and just tell us a little bit about what that was like for you? Yeah, so Airbnb was slightly different. I was the only non native French speaker in the office. So the office language was French. However, all business was conducted in English. And my exact I had two execs, one of whom was Irish. So we obviously spoke in English, the other was French. But his English was just so amazing that we actually spoke in English, most of the time we spoke in French, obviously, if we were with everyone else who would speak in French, or if we didn't want anyone to know what we were talking about, if we were with English speaking.
We weren't sometimes but you do have to be careful because you never know who can speak another language. Now, I think there's absolutely, you should be allowed to do that on every occasion, you've learned another language, you should be allowed to have it. It's usually
the kind of the business language was English. So that was fine. But the the spoken language of that office was French, but it does there's a skill to speaking French, conversational French, but slang and kind of work working in French business, French is much easier than talking about, Oh, what did you watch on TV last night or whatever that and you and you miss a lot of the cultural references that people are talking about. And that's quite difficult, because you're just you miss things, you miss things. And even though I don't mean to brag, but my French is very good. There's still things that I just don't understand, or I didn't get and having a chitchat having a tiptoe in in French is not the same as having a gossip in English, it's
my language is probably quite formal, potentially. But I just don't have those same
kind of cultural references, like I said, or the nuances or the slang or whatever it might be. So yes, I'm able to communicate perfectly well and everything, but you always feel slightly other, you always feel slightly on the outside. And I don't think that will ever go away. For me, no matter how much time I lived in France, nine years, but I don't think it'll ever go away. And it'll always be there. So just to reassure you a little bit, maybe, or however much you study and try, you'll never be completely fluent. Yeah, I completely understand that living in a foreign country gives you so many huge benefits. And I think I've said this before, one of them is that you are ultimately stepping out your side outside your comfort zone every time you leave your front door. And it really helps build resilient resilience, it really helps your confidence because you're just putting yourself out there every day. So I think it's incredible that you did that in such a fast pace environment. And on top of the fact that you're an assistant and you as you as we were speaking earlier, you feel slightly removed. Anyway, I think that's really a testament to you.
Yeah, it's difficult. But remember, this was an anecdote. Once we were at an office, I think it was the year that I moved. So 2017. So I'd been there three years at that point. And one of the I was talking to one of the guys and he was like, I don't really understand what you do. And I was like, Oh, I didn't know what to say to him. And I thought about it. And I was like MD for Francis, like can I do a presentation at the team meeting next week? Yeah, what about I was like parently. No one knows what I do. So I'd like to know to tell them.
This whole presentation I had, I remember the first slide was like, photos of assistance from like TV, or like films and stuff like, and then one of the slides was this is how many emails I received the day. This is how many emails my exec received today, and how many he sent. And I read all of those. And the look of horror on their face that I read all of his emails. I had no idea. I had no idea that I read all his emails, and they were like, what? So free send an email to him. It's not private, like
Mess up. And it's actually quite a small part of my role. That's not all I do all day, the most basic part of what I do and I was like, Well, how if I don't read them, how am I supposed to know what's going on? And you could see that thinking.
But I think in a startup, going back to your question earlier about working in startup.
It is a lot of young people who maybe haven't maybe this is their first job. And so they don't, they don't know they haven't got a clue. And so the
There is a lot of education that needs to go on not only obviously you about what your job is, but just in general how to put documents together like how to use the photocopier in sounds stupid. It really does. Some is sometimes quite basic like that. So yeah, because they're recruiting straight out of colleges and universities aren't nice. So yeah, you're, they are taking the brightest and the best, but not necessarily with the life skills. She MacShane, other people in the workplace have.
Goodness me, I just got a flashback to what I was like when I left uni. Yeah, I have to do a lot of educating. Well, we all go through it, don't worry. But it's those basic things in there'll be intern coming who paid or unpaid, and they're very young, and they've got no experience. And so there is sometimes quite a lot of hand holding hand holding. What's one thing in the assistant role that you're grateful for? Oh, two things. Actually, if I may, the first one, my language skills, we've already touched on that. But without them, I wouldn't have gotten to live in France, I wouldn't have worked in France, I wouldn't have got the role at Airbnb, I certainly wouldn't be where I am today. So having not had a clue what I wanted to do, my degree has actually taken me really far. So yeah, my language skills for sure. And then the other one, again, we touched on it is having had managers who believed in me and pushed me and let me do things that were not strictly within my remit, and they could have quite easily gone. No, Fiona, I don't want you to do that. But I need to concentrate on this. But they let me and it's kind of really opened up my mind. And my, and I've gained so much experience from it. So yeah, really grateful for them. It's really interesting, something you said, again, right at the beginning of our conversation, when you described your experience at Barclays and that you didn't want to be a cog in the machine. And I think the so many assistants that work in those huge organisations can quite often feel like that I know I did. When I worked at Deloitte, it felt my work wasn't I don't know what my work was actually doing in the grand scheme of things. So just to go back to what you were saying there about working for a startup, I think for assistants who feel like that, in large organisations, going into somewhere like a startup or a smaller organisation, even like s3, where you are now you do see the difference that your work is making. So again, I think that's wonderful advice for assistants that maybe aren't sure what they're doing in a big organisation. Absolutely, you have, you have much more freedom in a smaller organisation, yes, the workload is going to be different, but you have much more freedom. And depending on the type of organisation, you're allowed to get in involved with things that you know, will push you will stretch you, which is fabulous for your career and deciding also what you might want to do later on, if maybe you want to go and be an office manager or whatever it might be. But getting those skills would obviously open up ideas for you. And you mentioned one of the challenges that comes with the assistant role in that there's quite a lot of people in the organisation who are ignorant to what we do. And you challenge that, but I wondered if there's any other areas of the, I guess, the stereotype around the system assistant role that you've challenged?
Yeah, I think pushing the boundaries in terms of what is in my remit. And what I decide, along with my Exec is going to be in my remit. I think, as I say, I've been really lucky at Airbnb I was, we didn't have a an employment lawyer on our team and their legal team. And there was so much HR stuff that was coming up that we just didn't get time to do. And I had an interest in HR and I worked on an initiative in France when I was there. And when I moved to London, I was like, I'd really like to do a more formal qualification. And so Airbnb sponsored me to do my CRPD training. And because of that, I was able then to help with more things on the HR side, take those off my execs plate. And ultimately then was seconded to the HR team when I came back from maternity leave, to help with the collective consultation or redundancies in the UK. So I think you can identify areas like what's missing on your team? What do you need more expertise, expertise? And do you need someone who's like an expert at doing PowerPoint? Is that something you can go and get trained on? I think there's always something that you can.
There's always an area where you can add value. And it might not seemingly traditionally within the end goal. But I think you can observe and identify those areas and ask for the training and go and because you've observed and you've got this, there's a gap. Therefore going to your exec and saying, This is what I've observed. This is what I've shipped, have a plan and say this is what I want to do. This is how it will help
you should any exec worth their salt will then say okay, yes, go and do the training that will really help us and is there any changes that you'd like to see in the
you persist in industry going forward? I think there's still a lot of stigma around a lot of kind of mystery around what we do need to get me doing a presentation to that group of people it proves that divest in their system world is terrible. It's really terrible. We're still
is Did you notice that Airbnb as well was that was because that's a diverse organisation. But within the assistant while was their diversity there, you had with, it was slightly more diverse. But still very female. We did have a couple of men actually. But they quickly moved on into other roles, which I often see happening with men assistants, they seem to move on into other roles quite quickly. And we stay where we are as interested. Yeah, we didn't. So I think more diversity, more diversity. And I think but also just kind of
making people aware of being an assistant as a career. Like, I know, I didn't ever had the kind of, Oh, you don't want to be a secretary. You don't want to be someone, Secretary. But the role is so much more than that, as we both know. And it's also and this is often surprises people is can also be very lucrative. And I think there's not enough transparency around that. And as a career, how you can progress and how that can work. So yeah, I think obviously, the work you're doing, Nick is kind of helping to kind of demystify that all a little bit, but I think there's still room for more.
Yeah, yeah, I couldn't agree more. It's certainly a work in progress. It'd be nice. Yeah, it'd be nice to not have to ask this question. But I know that we've got to, we've got a long way to go. And I think we could all see changes, particularly around diversity in all areas of the role. So I appreciate you mentioning that. There was one other thing I wanted to touch on with your Airbnb story. And that's around dealing with kind of crisis in the role, because you were Airbnb at the start of the pandemic. And obviously, pandemic affected us all, but the travel industry, obviously goes without saying it impacted hugely. So I wondered, again, if you could just give us kind of an overview of around really around the skills that you again, you use to draw on to help your organisation at that point.
Yeah, I'll caveat all that by saying I literally had by returned from maternity leave a week after the first lockdown was announced in the UK. So I had a nine month old baby. And I mean that in itself,
thrown back into into the working world. And obviously, like I knew what was going on. And very quick, I had a very, my boss was amazing. She gave me a very gentle ease back into work, we had a we had a four day week policy for the first 12 weeks. So it was kind of like a nice ease back in. But I think about three weeks, three, four weeks after I went back when my boss said to me Look, and you know,
this is going on, like, my access to emails was cut. So I knew something was going on. And it happens with all assistants, I knew something was going on. And then
I got asked if I the process, the whole kind of process of what was going on with obviously, with losing our business, like it was just devastating. And I wasn't obviously privy to what was going on in the US and the discussions that were going on.
But then I got asked to transfer to the HR team, because there were redundancies coming and everything. And my immediate reaction was, Oh, my goodness, I'm not going to be made redundant. And like I've literally just come back from maternity leave, like, I'm a solo parent, like I can't, I can't lose my job. And when I'm asking you to work on a project, I wouldn't be asking that if you're gonna lose your job kind of thing. But it was,
the strength of Airbnb was the fact that it was so collaborative. And the I was pulled in to work on the HR project, and it was like,
everyone was just, you could feel
everyone was trying to do their best and make out of this horrible situation the best that they could. It was devastating. You'd obviously been there for what six years at that point. And having to be in on calls where you're making people redundant so you are going to lose your job and I remember whether the cause me the manager and the person we were all in floods of tears. It was so emotional. It was such an an uneasy time for everyone. No one knew what was going to happen. It was it was such an odd situation. And everyone was like very scared, genuinely scared. And then on top of that you're losing your job and you don't know if you're gonna get another one. You don't know how long this thing is gonna laugh but I've never I remember being like working on documents into one 130 in the morning. And but my colleagues were there as well and they were like messaging me
I like there was such a solidarity and everyone pulled together. And that could only have happened because of the culture within the company. If it had been any other culture, I think it would have been a complete disaster. But it was done. Things were done in such a humane and very generous way. That although people were obviously devastated losing their job, I've since know that quite a few people have gone back. And they've been rehired. And that's lovely, because they left with such good feelings about towards the company, but it was so much work. And so that was it was like going back to the first two years. And it was just so intense. And yeah, it was it was insane. But as I say that the culture, the collaboration, making the right decisions for our people, that was what made it a success. In the end, even though it's a horrible thing to do, it went really well, because of all that. Yeah, it's a story that has played out across so many organisations at that point in time. So I think a lot of assistants will be able to relate with you. But if the culture is not there in the first place, then that whole experience would have been, as you said, would have played out very differently. And last question before, before we wrap up, and I like to finish on a sort of a love bombing note, so to speak. So if there are any recommendations for any events, or books or publications or websites or training programmes or anything like that you can recommend for our listeners. Yeah. So it's really funny Nicky, because this is something I've only been recently, I think when I back when I started, what, 17 years ago, being an assistant, there was nothing I didn't even I just learned on the job. I didn't there was nowhere to go, there were no templates, there was just nothing. So I feel like, gosh, look at all these resources that these assistants have now and then maybe I should submit to what can I learn but I think one of the things so just for like London based people, there's a Facebook group called the London EA network. And that's a great one for like recommendations or asking quick questions. If you don't have that if you don't have a network within your company, or if you're like in a standalone role like I used to be, that's a great one poor pennant on LinkedIn, he a trainer, a assistant trainer, and he like specialises in like Microsoft trainings. And he's always like posting tips and things like that. And sometimes he does a free events. So definitely a follow up, give him a follow. And then Lucy brazier executive support magazine, I think it's called. That's another good one to find. I mean, I have pinched to go on up pinch, but they're free. I've been to quite a few things off your website recently and shared them
with the assistants work because there's some great tips on there. And the thing is, it's things that you probably know and do without realising it a lot of the time, but there's some really helpful things like stuff, things that I'd never even knew you could do. I was like, well, that's a good one. And I think it's sometimes when you've been doing this stuff for quite a while you get you can get a little bit complacent and think Oh, I know, I know how to do things. But it's always good to refresh I think and read things and try try new things. Sometimes we can become a bit resistant to change, but try new things. Because after they work. So anything to make your life easier. That's what I'm for.
Fiona, I know that there is a whole load of stuff that I haven't got around to asking you. But I just feel like the stories that you've shared with us today and the experiences that you've had over your career have been so valuable and so interesting to listen to. So I don't feel bad about not asking you some of the questions. But thank you so much for sharing everything with us today. I know that so many of our listeners will take so much advice away and implement it into their day job. So thank you so much. Thanks ticket, it's been an absolute pleasure. 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 too. If you want to check out the show notes. You can do that by going over to the AI canvas.com forward slash podcast and take a look at everything we discussed. You can also find all the links the resources, articles and tech that we mentioned during the show. If you want to join the conversation inside the EA campus community, you will also find all of the information on the EA Campus website. The community continues to grow and we have an amazing group of assistants sharing their careers. We have ongoing events and training from members and we would love to see ambitious and career driven assistance join us. Thanks for your time and I hope you tune in again to the next episode of the EA campus podcast.