From Girl Friday to strategic partner – Zoë Smith

Zoë Smith "EAs are now expected to take initiative, be proactive and anticipate improvements"

In this series of articles Executive PA Media editor Claire Muir explores the evolution of the high-level assistant with the help of some talented and insightful Executive PA Magazine readers

Zoë Smith, EA to group executive, engineering systems, Australian Rail Track Corporation

With 30 years’ experience as an EA to CEOs and executives in financial, engineering and transport institutions in the UK and Australia, Zoe has worked for diverse and complex companies that employ up to 85,000 people worldwide.

“Changes in infrastructure and the global boom over the last 30 years have seen the EA role develop from simply administrative support to someone key to the wealth and success of any business.  With large companies and small start-ups having to tackle things like innovation, strategic development and multi-channel avenues, plus ‘middle managers’ losing their place in the wake of business restructuring, EAs were first to step up to the plate, taking on crucial tasks which have a direct impact on the running of organisations.

“My skills have dramatically expanded over my 30 years. I love streamlining processes and learning new technology. And the kit has changed hugely, too – I can’t remember the last time I filed papers in a lever arch folder in a filing cabinet!

“In my first role, there were always set tasks that needed to be completed daily and you tended to stick to those tasks rather than want to get involved with anything else. Over the last ten years, no day has been the same in my role. EAs are now expected to take initiative, be proactive and anticipate improvements. The pace of our work is so much faster – as soon as we solve one issue, we’re straight onto the next!  

“I think the contemporary EA role would be incomprehensible to an EA from the 90s in terms of pace, complexity, autonomy and responsibility. Technology has moved so fast and higher demands are being placed on us to expand our skills and develop business acumen, leadership, executive presence, problem solving, and strategic planning.

“And yet, despite these incredible changes, the core of the EA role (to serve, support, facilitate and enable) remains as important today as it ever has been. I love looking after people and making their lives easier and can’t imagine ever doing anything else. I see myself as a great ambassador for the younger generation who may be wanting to branch out into the EA world.”