Way back in 2020 we had the pleasure of speaking with Kieran Ewald, EA to the General Manager of Business Marketing at Commonwealth Bank and winner of Up and Coming EA of the Year. He chatted with us about his work history, his development in the EA role, and the benefits of working with a mentor.
Kieran has a diverse background from completing a Bachelor of Music at the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane, to a role at a real estate agency, then hospitality, then several years at major airlines, both on the ground and cabin crew. But being an EA or a PA was always on his mind, with his natural charisma making it easy to work with people and support an executive. So, when he was offered the chance to work at Commonwealth Bank Australia (CBA) as an EA, Kieran jumped at the opportunity. And while he didn’t have the administrative experience, his diverse work life had given him a skillset that was easily adaptable in this new role.
“I think a lot of the skills I picked up in flight attending and working for airlines actually helped me with being successful. Some of the skills that shone through were definitely the customer service side of things. Having flown all around the world and serving all different types of people with different backgrounds, cultures, walks of life, celebrities, businesspeople, really put me in a great place for stakeholder management and working with people. I think that’s a really important part of my job now.”
The transition from working for an airline to the corporate world was interesting for Kieran. Going from shiftwork to the corporate environment was a stark change. But having worked for a large organisation and a reputable brand like Emirates and then CBA, he did understand how the corporate structure worked.
“But not having that major background in administrative support, I was thrown in the deep end. I really had to learn how to swim quite quickly. It was a steep learning curve but one that I enjoyed. It threw a lot of challenges out there, but it really spoke to my personality, so I didn’t find it too tricky.
“The really interesting transition was going from airlines, where it was quite leisurely, and the lifestyle was quite easy, and the work wasn’t too hard and was more body intensive. Where working in corporate is more straining on the mind so it was switching gears in that sense. I think it takes a lot out of you to be mentally strained. I’m so used to just being physically drained and you can kind of just keep on pushing but when your mind is tired you don’t feel like doing anything. It took a while for me to get that balance right.”
When Kieran started at CBA, the role he stepped into wasn’t quite defined and needed to be rebuilt. Alongside his general manager, he had to help build a workplace culture for the team.
“I came into a really big and busy team within the digital space of CBA, with a really amazing leader. She was a gun and was always really ahead of the game and on top of things, which was a really great challenge for me. That kind of crafted me into the EA I am today. She was coming in as a general manager role and I was coming to help her set up a team, in a way. So just trying to get a lean operating rhythm and make sure everyone was working happily. Getting the culture right.
“There’s a lot of personalities and you want to try and get everybody on the same page. It was just a matter of creating stability and making sure people felt comfortable, but at the time there was a lot of changes happening in the organisation. So, it was just getting that stability quite quickly and getting everyone feeling like they were one team and on the same journey.”
Back when we spoke with Kieran in 2020, he knew the importance of the EA role and how it would remain an integral role in the future of administrative work.
“The EA is the face of the brand and they can change the mood. They can be the extra support when that manager isn’t around because they’re travelling or what not, so you’re really like a business support partner. Not only in a high volume of administrative tasks, but it’s also understanding the business that they’re in, how you can support them in that and make their life easier and having that human element. Because I know we have a lot of new technology coming into our world that can do a lot of our job now but it’s the person behind executing that technology and supporting a person at the end of the day. I don’t think you can ever take that people factor away.”
Kieran is also a big supporter of working with a mentor to develop professionally and personally as an EA. In this environment and to work on your career and develop, it’s important to have somebody to look up to and gain wisdom from. Kieran met his mentor at the time Anthony Carthew through Executive PA and the relationship has only confirmed to Kieran the value in mentorship.
“We’ve met up a few times and he’s given me advice and guidance. I think that’s really important, especially from someone so senior and in a great position. I encourage that for everyone and I’m going to continue doing that. And I try to pass that on, I haven’t got that level of experience like Anthony but I do try to hold sessions with other EAs within my community at CBA to help them become more efficient or pass along the learnings I’ve had in my time here. It’s all about sharing knowledge and lifting everybody up.”
For a relatively new EA, Kieran’s recognition at the 2019 Executive PA Awards made it a night to remember.
“It was such a pleasant surprise. Because I’m new to this corporate world I wasn’t even aware of Executive PA Media until I was nominated for this award. But I did some research and realised how prestigious it was. I definitely didn’t expect to win the award, so that was even better. The whole experience was lovely, everybody there was really nice and the awards night itself was really fun. Ever since then I’ve kept in tune with you guys on LinkedIn and social media, and some other people that I met there. But an overall experience, I found it super engaging and very well run and professional, a great calibre of people involved.”
He also highly recommends self-nominating or nominating your boss or EA at the upcoming awards this year. Not just for the recognition, but for the connections formed with like-minded individuals.
“It’s an amazing experience and a great thing to have under your belt and on your resume. Not only does it reflect well on yourself, but it reflects well on your team and the people that you work with, on your leaders and is great promotion for everyone around you as well as yourself. It’s a great way to network and meet people and get in touch. And find mentors like I did.”
At the time of this interview back in 2020, Kieran was fresh out of winning Up and Coming EA of the year at the Executive PA awards. But since then, he has progressed in his role to working as a Talent Acquisition Partner within CBA’s campus team and is responsible for recruiting their graduates. For Kieran, working his way up the corporate structure was a mix of both support from his seniors and initiative on his part.
“I had supportive leaders who believed in getting me to wherever I wanted to go. I was also extremely proactive in networking, seeking development opportunities and was successful with gaining a secondment prior to my current role. With the experiences I had during this secondment, I was then able to land myself this TAP role.”
Kieran’s experience as an EA was a helpful steppingstone to his new role and he’s since found that a lot of his previous skills were transferrable to the work he is doing now.
“I absolutely believe that 99% of the transferable skills I had learned as an EA helped me get to where I am. There were many skills I needed to focus on to help me in this role, but the foundations were there. Logistics/project management, scheduling, stakeholder management and especially customer service.”
Although he has now progressed onto a new role and is thoroughly enjoying learning and developing further, his experience as an EA will always be close to Kieran’s heart and something that he misses each day.
“I definitely miss the wide range of interactions with people. I miss the feeling of being able to solve problems and easily take away people’s stress or unblock team issues so that they can succeed. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t miss being ‘in the know’ with confidential/exciting plans or projects and being across everything!”
Kieran’s success as an EA helped him build the foundations of a long, fruitful career and paired with his ambition to succeed there is nothing stopping him from taking on the world. His experience is a lesson for all EAs out there looking to pursue their dreams: trust yourself and your skills and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.