“A great EA has emotional intelligence, is a strategic thinker, has a natural flair for events and is the confidant that everyone turns to”

Yvette Simpson, EA at GWA Group, was awarded Travel Manager of the Year at the 2019 Executive PA Awards and took time out of her hectic schedule to speak with our editor about her career journey and what makes a great EA travel manager.

In a garage with six computers and a tea-towel over her hands, Yvette spent her school nights practicing her typing. Before she’d even finished school, Yvette was on an administrative career path. With a passion for organising and arranging group outings and parties for her classmates, her transition into a career as an EA was as organic as it comes.

“I just took one step at a time and followed my interests and office administration came naturally. My career started in 1996 as a Junior Group Secretary at what was then known as First State Fund Managers, now Colonial First State.”

Her time at First State Fund Managers set the course for Yvette’s success, but after three years it was time to move on.

“After leaving Colonial First State I found myself at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).  I worked at BCG for almost 12 years and had my three daughters whilst I was there. I would say that the bulk of my experience and knowledge came from BCG. A world renowned company with a stellar reputation, BCG had great internal training, lots of international office locations and an amazing team culture.”

“I learned so much about travel logistics, time zones—and how living in Australia sucks when you have calls with Europe and the US at the same time—as well as time management through teamwork.”

At BCG, Yvette cemented herself as a true professional. Although she admitted that she didn’t quite realise how valuable her skillset was until after she’d left.

“When I left BCG, I didn’t realise how much of that experience I would take with me to my other roles. The biggest thing I learned was you don’t realise the breadth of your knowledge and experience until you move on and you find yourself using it to benefit others in your next role.”

After her time at BCG, Yvette decided to prioritise the needs of her daughters, working at various jobs and sharpening her skills over the next seven years. But, after 20 years of working, she decided to take a break—little did she know that would lead to one of the most exciting roles in her career (so far).

“I got a call from a friend to fill a role temporarily whilst an EA was on extended personal leave. The interview itself was quite strange. I walked in, told the exec that I wasn’t employable as I had just moved into an area where there was no school bus stops and I needed to be able to collect my daughters each day.”

“He looked at me and said ‘Yes you are. I’ve read your resume. We’ll make it work, when can you start?’ So, I started part-time as the EA to the General Manager of Supply Chain.”

Unsurprisingly, Yvette stepped up and went looking for ways to enhance her new role.

“I found myself developing my role as the Travel Manager for GWA Group as well as working with the finance team assisting with monthly reporting and meeting arrangements. In October 2019, the EA to the CEO of GWA Group decided to move on. In recent months my role has changed and evolved substantially.”

“I am now supporting the Group CEO, Group CFO and our CEO in NZ who is also head of Global Supply Chain and my original boss. I’m still the Travel Manager for GWA Group, managing the relationship with our travel management company, implementing our company travel policy, and training staff on our systems both nationally and internationally. It’s an extremely busy role with many moving parts but I love it. GWA Group is a great company to work for with great people and relatable core values.”

Going from ‘taking a break’ to a job description that takes up a whole paragraph seemed extreme to me, but following Yvette’s career story so far I’d suggest this degree of passion is one of her trademarks.

But, I was curious to understand how an EA to three executives manages to excel at a travel manager role as well. Surely there has to be a trade-off? The key—according to Yvette—is building strong relationships with suppliers and your travel management company.

“As I manage multiple executives it can sometimes get quite tough. As many EAs would agree, the needs of your executive always come first.  It’s also important to have great contacts and support around you.”

“Early on, I took the time to develop a good, close relationship with our travel management company. I made myself memorable with my sense of humour and approach on how travel should be conducted within our business and the importance of having a practical, consistent travel policy to adhere to.”

“Nowadays, my travel agent alerts me to anything that appears out of the ordinary. This is a great relationship to have as it allows me to step in if things are questionable and to offer assistance and training when I can see it’s required.  Our travel management company also knows I have a keen interest in the travel industry and have taken the time to include me in industry meetings and updates.”

After nearly four months on the job, Yvette has plenty of insights to share with EAs looking to expand their role into travel like she did.

“One term is the most important: end-to-end travel. When a staff member is asked to travel on behalf of a business, I think it is important that their experience is highly organised from the moment they leave home until the moment they return. This ensures them and their family of where they are located at all times and of their safety.”

“Time management, detailed information and preparation are key. Preparation involves an understanding of the travel destination like time zones, customs, and visa requirements. Detailed information means providing the staff member’s loved ones with travel plans and diary management.”

But alongside the technical aspects of travel management, there is also a requirement for EAs to exercise their emotional and empathetic skills.

“The other important factor is ‘what if it were me?’ By putting yourself in the shoes of the traveller you can create a travel experience that runs as smoothly as you would like it to for yourself. Considerations for transit times between flights, timing of travel and comfort levels where possible should always be part of the process.”

Over the last two decades, Yvette has seen—and been personally responsible for—the development of the EA role. The transition from traditional assistant to what the role is today is, in part, due to Yvette’s incredible work ethic and undying passion. And in November last year, her work was recognised at the 2019 Executive PA Awards when she took home Travel Manager of the Year.

“My experience with the Executive PA Awards has been amazing. I was encouraged by several colleagues in early 2019 to submit an entry for Travel Manager of the Year. Even before the awards night, I found the experience humbling as I became aware of who had entered nominations on my behalf and the time and effort they had put into sharing their experiences that they’ve had working with me.”

“I’m very grateful to Executive PA Media for the award and the acknowledgement and I truly believe that this experience will lead me to even greater things in 2020.”

GWA Group Limited is a leading supplier of building fixtures and fittings to households and commercial premises. The Group has sales and distribution facilities located across its primary markets in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and China and has manufacturing facilities in New Zealand and China. www.gwagroup.com.au