“It’s all about working out what the authentic ‘you’ is, and how you can bring that authentic ‘you’ to work”

Anthony Carthew, EA to the CEO of Sydney Opera House, and winner of PA of the Year Australasia tells the story of his journey to the top of the profession

It’s the night of the 2018 Executive PA Awards and the room is silent in suspense. The audience waits with baited breath for the MC, Robyn Moore, to announce the winner of the PA of the Year award. “And the of PA of the Year Australasia is Anthony Carthew, EA to the CEO of Sydney Opera House!”

The room bursts into applause as Anthony takes to the stage and delivers an elegant speech. “What an honour it is to be in this profession. It’s nice to be a male and be a minority here-—I’ve learnt so much from that. I really respect everyone that does this job. Working mothers, I take my hat off to you. It is selfless, but it is an absolute privilege to do what we do. Thank you very much.”

Now at the top of his profession, Anthony took the time out of his busy schedule to sit down with us to share the highlights of his career; it was a conversation packed with invaluable advice and fascinating anecdotes. Anthony’s career, like many EAs, had humble beginnings. He began working in the cataloguing department for the South Australian State Public Service and it was here that he had his first taste of an administrative role.

“It was a very basic admin job. In fact I literally catalogued items from warehouses on a green-screened computer,” reflects Anthony.

He then moved to Sydney a few years later and wound up working as an administrative assistant at Bondi Primary School. But shortly after, Anthony’s career took an interesting turn. “It was 1991, and around that time was the peak of the HIV epidemic. On a whim, I applied for a job as a receptionist at the AIDS Council of NSW. I was thrown into this NSW Government funded, but community organisation, of about 150 people. Where I sat on a very busy switchboard with another woman, and the phones were ringing off the hook. People were wanting information, health support. People in trauma.”

Serving at the front line of an epidemic Anthony learnt the art—and the importance—of excellent customer service. “What you actually do on the front line is incredibly important to whoever your client is. In this case it was usually people who had been newly diagnosed and didn’t know anything about the disease. At that point none of the treatments for HIV were working, and it was an amazing learning experience for me, to see how an organisation of professionals can come together to create a response.”

“It was actually in the face of terrible discrimination from politicians and the media, like the grim reaper campaign. So for me, it really taught me about the value of being part of an organisation and a community.”

After rising through the administrative ranks at the AIDS Council, Anthony decided to branch out into other industries as an EA. He spent the following years working for organisations such as Sydney Symphony Orchestra and David Jones before finding his way to the Sydney Opera House.

It was here that Anthony found his true calling as an EA, and spent the next 13 years perfecting his craft.

“Every day I still marvel when walking along East Circular Quay and the sails appear around the corner. I’m so lucky to be working here, it’s a true privilege.”

The Sydney Opera House is one of Australia’s most iconic buildings; it’s a place where arts, business, and government collide. Anthony’s job as EA to the CEO of the Opera House, Louise Herron, is as dynamic as it is satisfying.

“The show must go on. The curtain must go up. You sit in the concert hall and you watch this beautiful performance that can be thrilling and magical. But behind the scenes is a completely different story where it’s all happening. […] EAs working in this area are, in our own way, making this magic happen,” describes Anthony.

Although Anthony has had a successful journey so far, everyone has good and bad moments in their career. I asked him how to deal with the ups and downs of being an EA, and how he navigated the field. “It’s funny because a lot of EAs have had this organic journey to where they are now. So much of it is about learning on the job. I think it’s imperative that you have an open mindset about your role and that you are always keen to learn.”

It’s not the first time that Anthony mentions growth during our talk; it’s a constant theme that underpins his professional life. As he describes his career and his current role, learning and developing is always at his journey’s core.

A ‘typical’ day in Anthony’s job is packed to the brim with different tasks and responsibilities. He tells me how he’s not only responsible for managing Louise’s workday, but he also has a host of other roles that keep him busy. He’s responsible for welcoming royalty, heads of state and other VIP guests as Protocol Officer, he manages a team of EAs, fixes urgent problems around the venue and so much more.

It sounds like an exhausting job to me, but Anthony seems to revel in the chaos of it all. “The EA role is no longer a typing-pool secretary. That’s not what we are about. We are now a strategic partner,” he says. “EAs now have a more strategic position; engaging in a real interactive way with the leader, being proactive and taking initiative, putting your hand up for things, getting ahead of the issues, and understanding the nuance of some of the decisions that are made at the executive level.”

According to Anthony, the secret to performing in such a hectic and important profession is to find your place at an organisation that fits with you. “It’s all about working out what the authentic ‘you’ is, and how you can bring that authentic ‘you’ to work. You need to find an alignment between you and your workplace, your colleagues and your leader,” he continues.

“When you do that, which is where I am at this point, you actually love coming to work. I think that’s the key, that’s all you can ask for, getting excited about coming to work.”

Now Anthony stands at the top of his field, as winner of PA of the Year Australasia 2018. He reflects on the awards night, and how it feels to be recognised as an award-winning professional. “The awards night in Melbourne was such a buzz, made all the more special by my partner Michael, my CEO Louise and some colleagues and friends being there too. When my name was called out at the end of the night, it felt a bit like winning the Gold Logie!”

“Winning the PA of the Year award has undoubtedly been a career highlight—so far! It’s an honour to be a short-term custodian of the PA of the Year title, not only for myself personally and the Opera House, but as a very proud representative of our fantastic EA profession.”

As our conversation draws to a close, and I thank Anthony for his time, he perks up and exclaims, “Oh, I completely forgot to mention my 25-year-long drag career!” Despite my wonder, somehow I wasn’t surprised to learn he is not only an incredible EA and professional, but a world-class performer. It’s not hard to imagine Anthony applying the same energy, passion and gusto that he does in his profession to his shows.

Nominations are now open for the 2019 Executive PA Awards, go to www.executivepa.com.au/executive-pa-awards

Sydney Opera House

Without a doubt one Australia’s most recognisable icons, the Sydney Opera House has been the centre of Australian performing arts for over 50 years. Its many concert halls and intimate spaces have been visited by the world’s finest acts and performers. The venue is also open for corporate bookings and events, with a range of options for visitors.