London's Top PA: Fenella Pinney

Our Top PA this June is Fenella Pinney

How did you get your career started as a PA? 

I always thought I was going to pursue a career in law when I was a paralegal at a top legal practice in my final year of university. It was whilst I was applying for positions to do my GDL and LPC in London firms that I realised that I would much rather be out there working rather than studying for another 4 years. I made the courageous decision to change fields entirely upon graduation. I wanted a role where my experience in the legal world wouldn’t go to waste. I have always been interested in finance but was struggling to get my foot in through the door because I lacked experience in that area. It was on the recommendation of the partner I was assisting as a paralegal that I applied as a PA in a financial institution. In his words: “Anyone sensible enough to take you on will gain where I lose”

What was your experience of finding your first PA role? 

I was exceptionally lucky, I have friends at Bain and Gray and other recruitment agencies. It was merely a question of letting them know that I was in London looking for a new challenge. As a result, I had a week of 20+ back to back interviews and have landed a role in a firm that I love that provides more variety than I could have dreamed of.

Most memorable day in career history and why? 

I have had lots. Meeting and working with celebrities is always very exciting. But I particularly enjoyed going to Italy on a ski trip with my current boss and flew private charter.

How does it differ from previous jobs? 

I set up a bespoke catering company in my late teens as a means to fund my way through university. It was a steep learning curve but logistics, event management, working abroad, client discretion, team management and tight deadlines were just some of the day to day matters at hand. I have also worked in 3 legal firms, 2 marketing companies and for a property developer. The skillset required in every one of those jobs has come together in my current PA role. The only real difference is that I no longer wear an apron or appear court.  

Biggest achievement as a PA? 

Achieving what everyone else believes to be impossible.  I get enormous satisfaction out of it. When Andy Murray first made it through to the Wimbledon finals, an email went round the office on Finals day asking if anyone was able to get some tickets for some VIP clients. Within 2 hours I had managed to obtain 4 Debenture Tickets, collected them and delivered them to the client. I think I made quite the impression within my first week at a new job!  Those tickets were like gold dust, everyone had assumed that the final would have sold out instantaneously after his victory in the semis.

Biggest hurdle you have had to overcome as a PA?

For some reason I used to get really nervous when I had to pick up the phone. I can only put it down to the fact that because I am much younger than most of the people I work with I was worried that they wouldn’t take me seriously. I had to get over that pretty quickly as I spend most of my day on the phone.

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

Yes. I’m very lucky that my boss recognises my work. I am looked after very well and I get a lot of work perks as a result – but I appreciate that my job is not your average PA role and not everyone is quite as fortunate as I am. As a whole, I don’t think PAs get enough recognition because we are in the background ensuring everything runs smoothly and it sometimes gets overlooked.  Arguably, that is the sign of a top PA.  

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

Brush up on your letter writing skills. Make sure you know how to address UHNW individuals, generals, aristocrats and even royalty and both in person and on paper. I think people forget how important this is, especially with emails and texts etc – but it is certainly noticed when done improperly.

What three attributes do you think make a good PA? 

Ultra flexibility – you never know what curve ball is going to be thrown at you next.

The ability to think ahead – try and be 2/3 steps ahead. Prepare for the unexpected.

A smile delivered with those magic words ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’. Good manners still get you a long way in this world.

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

My Smythson diary. It has the answer to everything in it. Although everything for my boss is filed electronically, the really important information is also filed in my diary. So when a crisis occurs, I can be on both phones, in the middle of nowhere and still resolve the issue. It has saved me on more than one occasion!  

What are you most proud of? 

How far I have come and what I have achieved so far. I have a lot of work experience and I gave up a promise of a professional career in a very procedural environment to establishing myself on my own merits and being judged  for my achievements rather than what any professional system will allow.  As a PA, there are no glass ceilings to stop you aspiring and achieving more than you may be entitled to.

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

As a young PA myself, I'd definitely say that “Manners Maketh Man”. It's amazing how much conflict can be prevented and what can be achieved by simply being polite, especially if you’re making requests from others. It is very easy when you are under pressure to forget your Ps and Qs but help is always at hand for those that are respectful and appreciative to those around them.

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

Everything and anything. Fishing in Scotland, polo, seeing my parents on their farm in Dorset, keeping fit, dinner parties at home with friends, the list goes on! I also try and fit in a week of skiing in the winter.

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