“I think my role has evolved to become more like the chief of staff; dealing with issues before they’re brought to the Director.”
Meet Jo Jones, our UK PA of the Year 2017 and Executive PA to Mike Stratton (Executive PA Media’s Boss of the Year 2016) at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
You’ve just been crowned the UK PA of the Year at the Executive PA Media Awards –congratulations! How does it feel?
It’s really surreal and I still can’t quite believe it’s happened. I feel very lucky – professional administration is a highly rewarding but challenging career. All the late nights, early starts and weekend demands have led me to this and I’m absolutely delighted.
You went to Australia for the awards – how was the experience?
I’ve never been to Australia before and fell in love with Sydney; its architecture, its people and, of course, the weather. There’s something about having consistent sunshine on your bones – it does something good to the soul! I also was fortunate enough to join the judging panel for Australia’s Up & Coming PA award and that of the Australasian PA of the Year. I met some remarkable individuals and spending an entire day with my peers just further supported my belief that we’re the heart and soul of our organisations.
How will this award benefit your career?
It’s helped me already – I now feel that I know all 1,000+ people in my organisation as I’m being stopped by strangers congratulating me. I feel I’ve put professional administration at the top of our agenda and rallied the administration team; being asked to mentor others and act as an ambassador for our hard-working administrative network. I feel very protective and proud of the profession and will do everything I can to continually champion it.
So, how did you become an assistant?
I fell into the role actually. I’d always wanted to run events so worked for wedding and conference venues; two of which were privately owned. Because of this, part of the job was to be the PA to the owners and run their private household, too. I completely enjoyed this and felt I had the best of both worlds. That ethos continues in my current role as I manage the work (and life) of the Institute’s Director, plus the Institute-wide events programme.
What motivates you?
Pressure! Striving to be at the top of my game, all of the time, and staying there. Everything I tackle is done at full speed and to minute detail – I’m not sure I know how to work any differently.
How has your role evolved?
I think it’s become more and more like the chief of staff; dealing with issues before they’re brought to the director – most of the time he’s unaware of what’s come through the office. EAs are often the person behind the scenes; problem solving, dealing with issues and triaging priorities and requests.
What’s a typical day for you?
This doesn’t actually exist in my world. For example, I can start the day by acknowledging and responding to emails (I manage three inboxes) and within a split second I’m responding to a call, whether it’s from the Government or someone asking to speak to the director about a family member being diagnosed with a certain cancer. Then I’m having to read board papers so I can brief the director or the wider director’s office team members on whatever he wants or needs them to do or be aware of.
How do you find the work/life balance?
Although I’m contracted to Mike 24/7, he’s hugely respectful and will absolutely try not to disturb me on my days off. If he has to, he’ll always start our conversation with an apology. How can you be cross with that?! On a more personal note, about 18 months ago I discovered boot camp and personal training and, although the time of day I do it – between 6 and 7.30am – is torturous, it helps me to sort out work in my mind and get ready for the day ahead.
What are your work goals for the year ahead?
This year, the Institute turns 25 and we’re celebrating by holding a succession of celebratory events; namely a 25th birthday party for the entire campus, which includes 2,000 people plus their partners and families. This will be the largest event I’ve organised to date and I’m so excited about the challenge, and sharing the work of the Institute with a much wider audience.
How do you see your career progressing, and what is your ultimate career goal?
My role is fulfilling and exciting – I’d like to continue working at the cutting edge of science and supporting Mike for a few more years. Then I’d like to take these skills into supporting governments or ultra-high net worth individuals. I’m used to working on the global stage, in multiple time zones with the greatest minds and the most complex requests. But I believe there aren’t many teams or individuals who can improve their productivity and happiness without the support of an excellent assistant.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for assistants in the next few years?
There’s a lot of chatter about technology and whether it will take over from the actual assistant. I truly believe that we’ll continually be required to push our organisations forward with the help of the latest technology, rather than being replaced by it. So, we should absolutely keep up to date with all technologies coming through and take up any training opportunities that relate to this.