With an EA role that last year evolved to Head of Strategic Projects at nib New Zealand, Zoë Robinson considers winning Executive PA Magazine’s PA of the Year Award in 2016 to have been pivotal in her success. She tells us more…
“Back in 2016, I was chosen as Executive PA Magazine’s PA of the Year. Having my skills verified and endorsed by an external body of international industry experts and being selected as an individual who is at the very top of their field – not only in my city, or country, but across a whole continent – was a huge achievement. Not only that – it opened up some new development opportunities, like speaking engagements, and kickstarted another level in what I wanted as part of my career growth.
“Last year, I moved into a new position at nib as Head of Strategic Projects that not only encompasses my existing EA role but expands my remit. It’s hard work, it’s intense and it’s exciting. And there’s so much opportunity to learn, grow and develop while contributing to the success of our business. Whatever your role, it’s beneficial to everyone for you to be clear about the contribution you think can make to an organisation and the direction you want to move in.”
Back to the beginning…
“I actually grew up in London and studied fine arts at university. I sold my end of year collection to an art gallery and decided I could paint and work at the same time. So, I joined a publishing house in a temporary general admin and reception position. After a few months, I was offered the EA role and ran with it.
“I’ve always been confident in myself and my abilities and I found I really enjoyed having a role with not only a broad, varied scope but with the capacity to help influence the direction of what we did as a business, and how we did things.
“There’s a whole subset of roles and careers under the title EA and the scope of each is very different; broad and fluid and dependent on the needs of the industry, the individual business and the executive within. We work alongside the senior leaders in an organisation. But the bonus is that, instead of focusing on just one aspect of the business like most other employees, we’re in a unique position where we get an overview of the whole.
“My career has developed enormously and I’ve been fortunate to work with executives over the last 20 years who have given me the autonomy to shape the role as I saw fit, to enable effective delivery our strategic and operational objectives. I’ve been able to evolve my career organically to suit my skills as my capabilities have expanded. And as my role has grown, so has what I’ve needed to learn more about – and that’s ongoing.
“Established in 1952, nib is an ASX listed international health partner, empowering over 1.6 million members to improve health outcomes through greater accessibility to affordable health services and information. For the last eight years, I’ve worked with the New Zealand CEO, who is fantastic, and I also lead our workplace experience team.
“As well as being a great place to work with an awesome culture, nib is an organisation that, at its core, wants to do the right thing. My CEO is genuinely the most authentic and inspiring exec I’ve ever had the good fortune to work with. His leadership is clearly aligned to the company’s vision and mission, he’s clear on what we need to achieve, and he gives us the autonomy and support to deliver.
“We have a philosophy we work by called Racing the Red Queen. It’s based on a line from Alice in Wonderland where the Red Queen says to Alice: “Now, here you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
“In short, if you go at the same pace as your competition, you never achieve more than them – and you won’t survive. So, we have a very fast-paced, intense environment that’s also very supportive of challenging the status quo and our own abilities. We continually evolve our roles, innovate and improve the way we do things to meet the changing needs and requirements of our business.
“Taking ownership is strongly encouraged. What I was doing five years ago isn’t what I’m doing now and what I’m doing now will likely be redundant in five years’ time. So, I need to keep learning, evolving and growing my skills. Fortunately, I’ve been supported with comprehensive courses in leadership, commercial acumen, strategy and a number of other focus areas – as well as getting involved in some pretty intense projects.”
The powerful team behind the EA
“Leadership development has been a focus for me throughout my career. I think it’s a privilege to be able to support and enable the growth and development of our people, drawing on their strengths to continually support our executives, our business and help build careers. Even in EA roles without direct reports, indirect leadership – influencing, guiding and advising the wider team – is a huge part of the role.
“My team is amazing and has a broad remit. We provide strategic, project, advisory and operational support to the New Zealand CEO and CFO and we look after our office hubs in New Zealand. We’re responsible for creating a premium experience for employees and visitors, bringing people together and keeping teams connected.
“In early 2020, the pandemic presented us with a rare opportunity to completely rethink the way work. We developed a hybrid work model across the nib Group, providing our people with the flexibility and choice to work where and when suits them – and their role.
“For my team, we needed to completely redesign our office spaces in New Zealand to make them fit for new purposes – primarily connection, learning and collaboration rather than a bias towards focussed, desk-based work. It’s been an exciting journey and project. In consultation with our people and reacting to the way we use the spaces, it’ll be a continual evolution.”
What the CEO says
“The traditional role of the EA no longer exists. It’s now about being a strategic, trusted adviser that supports the business to deliver upon its mission and objectives. That’s exactly what Zoë is to me – a key part of our leadership team that helps us to drive results.”