London's Top PA: Phylippa Levine

May's Top PA is the wonderful Phylippa Levine

How did you get your career started as a PA? 
Following an early career in the travel industry I fell into my PA career somewhat accidentally! I'd been temping in the logistics department of an American sports league and on a fixed 3month placement and I absolutely loved working there so I approached all the department heads (on more than one occasion!) to make them aware that I was very keen to be considered for any permanent roles that may be available. A few weeks later ,the President asked if I’d consider being his PA. Initially, the idea of being PA to the President was quite daunting, for both of us, since I had no secretarial experience whatsover, but it proved to be an amazing opportunity and a very steep learning curve.

What’s your experience been of finding subsequent PA roles?

Finding my next role proved challenging as I was coming from a top level PA position but with such limited hands-on experience.  I realised the best way to gain knowledge and learn about the different aspects of being a PA was to spend some time working as a temp as a board-level PA in a variety of companies, that ranged from dot.coms to international hotels to beauty and cosmetics manufacturers. I did this for a few years working on medium to long-term assignments and learnt so much along the way.

What has been your most challenging PA role to date and why? 

It was definitely being a PA for a CEO who travelled extensively and chose not to use a mobile phone!   Keeping in touch with him was a challenge and I became very reliant on a network of other people’s PA’s to pass on messages and print out emails.

How does it differ from previous jobs? 

Working as a PA has given me a range of transferable skills that have enabled me to take on logistical challenges, event management duties, office relocations, as well as the opportunity to work overseas for an extended period. 

Who has been your most inspirational boss and why? 

I spent 2 years working as a volunteer for a small disaster relief charity in southern Thailand following the Boxing Day tsumani of 2004.  The founder of the organisation, Bodhi, an American chap who lived in Thailand and had grown up in Nepal, is without a doubt the most inspiring person I have ever met.  In the wake of the tsunami and despite having lost a number of friends as well as all his possessions he founded a charity, raised enormous amounts of funding and led a rag-tag group of volunteers from around the globe to work together to help devastated villages and broken communities to rebuild and become strong again.  His charisma and unwaivering positive attitude in the face of disaster and adversity encouraged everyone around him, however tough the challenges.  Almost 14years on, the organisation continues to fund education scholarships for many local, disadvantaged children who would otherwise not receive any formal education.

Biggest achievement as a PA? 

The biggest achievement in my PA career was organising two international sporting events at German sports stadia.  Each game took almost a year to organise and I had never undertaken a project of this size or scope before so I had no idea what it entailed or how much work would be involved in organising such an event, but to be able to stand inside a full stadium on game day and see everything that my team and I had achieved was very satisfying.

Biggest hurdle you have had to overcome as a PA? 

My biggest hurdle has probably been working as temp PA for a rather nasty bully.  He was personally rude and unpleasant to all his subordinates but since he was the MD of the company no-one felt able to stand up to him.  At the time I was quite young and it was early in my career so to avoid rocking the boat I put up with his behaviour until the end of the assignment.  Now that I’m a bit braver and longer in the tooth I would deal with this type of behaviour in a far more proactive manner should the situation ever arise in the future.

Do you feel valued as a PA? 

Yes and no!  I do feel valued by my boss and immediate team however due to the nature of a PA as a supporting role I sometimes do feel a bit invisible, but I guess that’s the sign of a great PA!

Do you think PAs get enough recognition? 

Due to the enabling and support function they fulfil, I have found that a PA’s work can often be attributed to their boss, rather than their PA! 

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

I would advise anyone looking for their first role to keep an open mind and try new challenges because support roles can differ so widely depending on the industry and type of company you work for.  Having been a temp myself I would recommend temp work in order to gain valuable experience on a CV as well as learning aspects of the role that you do and don’t like which will then help to focus your job search more effectively. 

What three attributes do you think make a good PA? 

Great organisational skills – not only must you be able to organise yourself but also whoever you work for!

Flexibility - be prepared for last minute changes and try to always have a contingency plan up your sleeve!

Stay calm – stress is rarely helpful!

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

Coloured pens and hi-lighters!  I have developed a highly-refined colour-coded organisation system, and I’m lost without a red pen and a yellow hi-lighter!

What are you most proud of? 

I’m most proud of the disaster-relief volunteer work I did in Thailand.  My role within the charity was that of Office and Logistics Manager and my PA and Office Manager background made me ideally suited for the role.  It was a tough role, with long hours and working in very challenging conditions but to have seen the extremes of total devastation and followed by healing and community spirit has given me a good grounding and really helps to put things into perspective.

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

Watch and learn from other PAs.  Everyone has their own particular quirks and favourite ways of doing things and by observing and then cherry-picking the most useful bits I have developed working methods and efficient systems of my own.

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

I’ve been living overseas in Thailand for over 10 years and moved back to London a year ago so I’m still having fun catching up with old friends in and around London, especially now that spring seem to have finally arrived.  Last month I was invited to Bain and Gray’s launch party for The Card was lucky enough to win an amazing prize of gym membership at H2 Fitness in Soho and I am looking forward to my induction next week and getting into shape for the summer!