London's Top PA: Csaba Virág

Meet Csaba, our Top PA for February!

How did you get your career started as a PA?

As with most things in life, one needs a healthy balance of ambition and curiosity -  of course spiced up with some courage and luck. In my opinion, a combination of these four attributes is key to success in almost every area of life. Having said that, I started my career in a more technical sector (broadcasting and car manufacturing), and in both of these roles I managed to peak after about two and a half years.

Ambition kicked in, and I started to follow international job advertisements in more prestigious newspapers back in 2000. There was a particularly interesting role from an upcoming leading hedge fund based in Zurich, Switzerland. The company was looking for a business support assistant to support their senior sales officer. I applied and pretty much forgot about the role. Then, out of the blue, I received a phone call asking for a convenient time for an interview. At that time I was living about 650 miles away from Zurich. I’ll admit that ambition, curiosity and courage pushed me to travel to Zurich, and I was pretty much offered the role on the day of the interview. Looking back, I have to say that people in the finance sector tend to make quick decisions. It’s like making a trade; you can’t over think, you have to make a rational decision and listen to your gut feeling. I was also lucky that my previous employer (an international car manufacturer) had agreed to me taking two months unpaid leave, so I could complete a two month trial in Zurich before taking a final decision on the role. The trial went well. So much so that I ended up working for 16 years for that same person.

What was your experience of finding your first PA role? 

I guess the best description here would be to say that I felt reborn. It was as though I’d really found my niche in life. That first PA role lasted over one and a half decades, and my vast experience during that time would, in itself, fill a book.

How does it differ from previous jobs? 

A lot! Whilst it’s hard to even try to compare different sectors, we should also highlight that there is a huge difference between two different PA roles. During my 16 years working for the same person, I had to transition between 3 very different roles. I was originally hired by a hedge fund company in order to support their most senior institutional sales executive. Over the first two years, it was about 95% business support in a more regulated financial industry with focus on institutional investors such as pension funds for example. My boss, however, became very successful and launched his own hedge fund in 2003. I became a 5% partner and  shareholder within this company. Our company was trading in the precious metals sector and at the peak we had 14 full time employees. I was in charge of client communications and acted as Chief of Staff for all business development personnel. This company had a phenomenal 5 years up until the global crisis in 2008. The third transition was after the crisis, when my boss started to invest heavily in real estate in Switzerland, France and South Africa. At that point I became the go to person and gatekeeper for the Principal.

But let me actually answer your question. Whilst my previous jobs required me to follow a set routine and strict internal processes, as a PA I needed to rely heavily on a different personal skill set, which meant thinking out of the box in a strategic way. The learning curve never really ends. You always have to keep up to date with current trends in every aspect of life, from communication, travel, presentation, layout, fashion, lifestyle, technology, you name it.

Who has been your most inspirational boss and why?

Mr Bernard Loriol. Genuinely a fantastic role model; professional, extremely driven, generous, approachable and definitely a father figure – he was my boss for 16 years.

Biggest achievement as a PA?

Having the courage to see the big, future picture by looking at international job advertisements back in March 2000 when I was only in my mid twenties. Fast forward 4 years and I had become a minority partner and shareholder in a successful Swiss hedge fund company. It felt somewhat like a dream, and it was all down to PA roles. Business PA, Private PA, Lifestyle PA…

How do people react when they find out you’re a PA?

I would start here with the definition of a PA. Due to historical stereotyping, the abbreviation on its own is destined to be linked to  ‘traditional’ female secretarial PA roles. It’s like talking about fragrances in the 80s or 90s where there were very clear female and male perfumes. Today, most well known brands’ top sellers are unisex scents.

Similarly today, most PA roles are equally unisex, or rather they should be. I personally know quite a few Private PAs, Chief of Staffs in some of London’s most prominent family offices or households. I don’t really see gender dominance in the Private PA sector, however, I guess in a more ‘office’ or ‘City like’ environment female dominance still prevails.

Biggest hurdle you have had to overcome as a PA?

It’s a good question, and I guess some of my senior colleagues will agree with me. Micromanagement in particular in PA roles is extremely counterproductive and frustrating. A good PA’s best attribute is often a good sense of intuition. Micromanagement however kills this in an instant. There are ways around this, but a good PA must be able to pull the good salesman rabbit out of the hat and prove that his or her way is, in fact, the way to go. It can be difficult, but, what can I say? For London’s Top PAs nothing should be impossible...

Do you feel valued as a PA? Do you think PAs get enough recognition?

I slightly disagree with the question. It’s not the title but the individual behind the title that matters. If the PA is really good, and the match between expectation and delivery is there, it’s just natural that recognition will follow.

What advice would you give to candidates finding their first job in a support role in London? 

We must all understand and accept that London is highly competitive. Get on the ladder and learn the ropes. Widen your horizon within reason. You must be really proactive to achieve. Don’t rely on others, nobody else will help you more than yourself.

What three attributes do you think make a good PA? 

VERSATILITY - that’s the number one ingredient to get to the top of the game. You will have to be familiar with literally every aspect of life. Property management, relationship management, business administration, lifestyle movements, luxury goods acquisition, events, expenses/claims management, managing staff, admin duties, celebrations or funeral arrangements, arts & antiques, HR duties, the list goes on…

PERSONALITY - this can be a big game changer. As a PA, you are a very important link in a chain. You must be a good listener, know how to prioritise, and have a reassuring, authoritative, discreet yet confident presence at all times. But all in a healthy balance.

BE PROACTIVE - not much to add here. Think ahead and project, but not too much and not too little if that makes sense. Control situations rather than only responding to an event or request.

What makes your day easier and what or who couldn’t you live without?

My way of organising things. There’s nothing better than your own way of doing things.

I love a good cup of coffee on a busy day. Rather no coffee than a bad one. As a married family man, I also very much appreciate a supportive family who understand the demands of my role.

What are you most proud of?

That’s a tough question. I’ve really come a long way in this sector and do consider myself as being at the top of the game; having interacted with leaders in several areas of life, whether State Presidents, Royals and numerous Institutional Executives. I’ve travelled in over 70 countries, which is truly one of my most precious life experience as I love interacting with people from different backgrounds and cultures. And all of this whilst being able to create a lovely family life of my own. I really cannot complain.

What advice would you give to a young PA starting their career? 

  1. Be smart and highly observant
  2. Create your own role by becoming irreplaceable
  3. Don’t expect respect, earn it by delivering
  4. Expect unexpected situations, this is where you will grow

When you’re not being one of London’s top PAs, what do you enjoy doing?

My private base is in Oxfordshire, where I love spending time with my wife and 10 year old daughter. I do genuinely enjoy quiet downtime on my own. It hardly ever happens, but I believe we all need time alone.