And The Winner Is: Introducing Inspiring PA Winner Debbie Grimshaw
Posted: 31st Mar 2016 | Share this Article:
Following on from the Awards season! Cornerstone42 felt it was only right to honour our talent in the PA and EA profession.
I am delighted to introduce Debbie Grimshaw: Senior Executive Assistant at Brother UK, the Information, Communication and Technology Company. During a 27-year career with Brother, she has provided EA and PA support to the senior leadership teams of Brother UK and Brother International Europe.
In September 2015 she achieved a WeAreTheCity Top 50 Rising Star Award recognising female talent in the pipeline.
In November 2015 at the inaugural Manchester PA of the Year Awards she won Manchester PA of the Year.
Tell us about your journey on becoming a PA?
In my last two years at secondary school I took a business studies course doing Teeline shorthand and typing at my local college. I left school at 16 and went straight into a job with Thorn EMI Television & Video Centres as a receptionist. For those readers old enough to remember, this was back in the days when you rented your television and VHS video recorder. My grandfather worked for the MD at the time as his chauffeur and handyman so he got me in for an interview. I got the job, which came with a very un-glamorous uniform and hours of 8:30-5:30, a long day to a school leaver. A couple of weeks into the job I was introduced to the Managing Director and his Secretary (the title PA wasn’t used so much in those days). I was in complete awe of her. Working with the big important guy who sat at the end of the corridor, a lovely office to herself, meeting lots of senior clients, taking minutes in his private meetings. As well as having the most glamorous wardrobe, handbags, shoes, make up and perfect hair. That was the moment I decided I WANTED HER JOB. Sadly the television and video market changed, people started to buy their own and I had to look for another job.
From there I went on to work for a company called Priory Furniture as secretary to the buying manager. I was there a couple of years then a friend working in the commercial vehicle industry told me about a vacancy as secretary to a sales team. I went for an interview and got the job but it was the biggest mistake I ever made. It was such a male dominated industry, I was treated with no respect and spoken to in a way that I’m so glad to say my current boss would never permit in his business. I stuck it out for as long as I possibly could then an opportunity to work in the Directors office at Priory Furniture came about and they called me to ask would I consider coming back. I jumped at the chance and worked alongside the MD’s PA there for 3 years.
My Dad worked for Brother for 42 years and retired in 2004. He came home from work one day to tell me that there was a job going at Brother International working for one of the Japanese Managers and he had got me an application form. I went for an interview on a snowy March evening. I was interviewed by two Japanese gentlemen and we hit it off immediately. They offered me the job there and then. I worked with them in our Domestic Appliance Division (sewing machines, knitting machines, microwave ovens) for 4 years and then went off on maternity leave. When I returned, I did 3 months with them and then was approached to take a position in the Chairman and Directors office. I worked in this role for 8 years primarily in the PA function but also managing an advertising campaign project between our head office in Japan and each of our European offices. In 2000 this project ended and in some organisation changes I went to work for the Senior Finance Manager as his PA and also co-ordinating Facilities Management. This was one of my most loved jobs as I got to work closely with all the Japanese staff who came over on secondment finding their houses, schools, cars, doctors, dentists and just about anything that helped them to settle in the UK. I have some great memories and some very funny stories from those days.
Then in 2008 a position as Executive Assistant working with the Japanese MD of our UK Sales Office came about. I was interviewed and I’m proud to say after recommendations from my Japanese colleagues, I secured the role at Brother UK. I worked for him until he returned to Japan and continued to support the new Managing Director Phil Jones who replaced him and who I still support today.
What are your main responsibilities?
I manage the complex and demanding diary of our MD, organise meetings/events, keep a constant eye on his email, manage our business travel management program and lead the travel team, work in kinetic groups across the wider business. I am a key contributor to our company intranet and social media platform Yammer and I work closely with the CSR department on Internal Comms, Employee Engagement and Local Community initiatives.
Tell us about this particular award and why you were nominated?
For both awards I was nominated by Directors of our business. In the Rising Star Awards my nomination came from a colleague who is our only female Director, Louise Marshall. As a business we are very committed to gender equality and diversity and Louise has played a big role in transforming our business culture to meet this commitment.
In the Manchester PA Awards my nomination came from my boss, Phil Jones. He has always supported my career and personal development and it was lovely that he shared his nomination entry with me to read how much he values my contribution to the business and our working partnership as a team.
Describe to us the process what did it entail?
WeAreTheCity Top 50 Rising Star – I received an email to tell me I had been nominated and then another within two weeks to say I had been shortlisted. I then had to submit an online profile for which there was the opportunity for the public to vote for me online. I was invited to attend a shortlisting event at Bloomberg Headquarters in London and then following that event a panel of judges made the final decision.
Manchester PA of the Year Award – I had an informal interview in my workplace following my nomination, and then when it was announced I had made the shortlist I had another interview with some of the judges. In between that interview and the awards evening everyone who had made the shortlist got together for a dinner for us to celebrate each other’s success in making the final shortlist. There was a real sense of camaraderie throughout the whole process.
The final decision was then judged by a panel from Manchester PA Network and Robert Walters.
Did you tell anyone you had entered, in particular any of your work colleagues, what was their reaction? – if your answer is no, why not?
Yes I promoted my nominations on my social media channels and our internal Yammer network at Brother UK. I was overwhelmed at the support I received from my colleagues, friends and family, the hundreds of people who voted for me in the Rising Star Awards and the encouraging support of the UK PA Community in the Manchester PA Awards.
This is a quote from my boss following my Manchester PA of the Year Award… “We all felt great to see Debbie recognised for her talent by her peer group. She is a shining example of someone that has continued to develop in her role and her career, seeing the value of external networking, knowledge sharing and lifting others to greater success through support and mentoring. All these attributes sit exactly within our values of PRIDE (Personal Responsibility In Delivering Excellence) and TEAMwork (Together Everyone Achieves More) and being ‘At Your Side’ with colleagues. It was particularly pleasing on so many levels and adds to our reputation as a business.”
And the winner is: talk us through those exciting moments when you heard your name being announced?
Rising Star Award – I received an email from Vanessa Vallely personally congratulating me on becoming a winner of the 2015 WeAreTheCity Top 50 Rising Star awards. An announcement was made on WATC website and they also announced the winners via their Twitter feed. Given the amount of entries received and the level of applicants, I was exceptionally proud of myself, both in terms of my achievements and for being seen as a role model within the industry and my profession.
Manchester PA of the Year – Originally I was shortlisted for the Manchester PA Network Ambassador Award alongside two ladies who have become very dear friends welcoming me to the network when I joined. The winner was announced and I was delighted that the award was presented to one of those friends. At the end of the day if I had to lose then I didn’t mind losing to either of these two inspiring ladies, I was more than proud to be shortlisted alongside them. Following the award an announcement was made that there was another category and that was Manchester PA of the Year. I truly don’t remember a word of the speech before it was presented as I was so stunned that the ladies called out my name when they announced the winner. In my 30 year career that was my proudest moment and I was truly speechless.
Do you think winning this award has impacted on your career as a PA?
Both awards have had tremendous impact on my career and me as a person. Since winning I’ve had the chance to push out of my comfort zone to speak and share professionally at networking events. I have been appointed a Non-Exec Director on the general advisory board of the EPAA which is just the most amazing opportunity. The awards have inspired me to give back by mentoring and encouraging others to nominate themselves or highlight that they would like to be nominated. Most importantly being awarded with these two fabulous accolades has raised my profile and greatly increased my professional network.
What do you enjoy most about being a PA?
I love the challenge and yearn to make a difference. The juggling, the mind reading, the connections, putting out fires and bringing order to chaos. Working for someone who is regularly on the move it’s a fast paced role and constantly challenging. We work together well, understanding each other’s personality type and way of interpreting information. Phil ensures I am fully briefed at all times as we sit down religiously on a Monday morning to go through his diary and commitments. He is a great role model, strongly supporting my personal development and giving me opportunities to progress in my career. I just love my job.
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
I am one of the key ‘go-to’ people in the business so my office is welcoming with tissues, a cup of tea and a biscuit or a place to sit and help those that come to me for confidential assistance or guidance. This can sometimes put pressure on my time management. However, I like that people respect my advice and feel they can trust me so I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What gets you out of bed in the morning what motivates you?
I can honestly say that there isn’t a day when I get up and don’t look forward to going to work. Of course we all enjoy our holidays but I absolutely love my job with a passion, the people I work with and the company I work for. Feeling I am part of a wonderful team on a continuous amazing journey is what motivates me.
You really are a champion and a voice of the PA industry, what do you see that others perhaps do not?
The role of a traditional PA has truly evolved and continues to change. The new model of ‘Executive Assistant’ has a much wider mandate doing more in terms of organisational impact and goal alignment activity. I want those coming through the pipeline in schools and colleges to see that this is a rewarding career and up there with all the other leading professions. A lot of work is still to be done to continue to raise the profile of the PA profession but with the launch of EPAA we are determined to ensure that EAs and PAs are recognised as the lynchpin of every business.
The PA awards industry seems to be booming, what advice would you give to a fellow PA who is considering entering for an award
Don’t be afraid to nominate yourself or ask a peer to nominate you. There is so much support and great camaraderie out there in the PA community. The whole world is behind you as we all appreciate how nice it feels to be recognised for being the organisational glue in every business. Connect with other nominees and champion their success and use your social media platforms to shout about your nomination and be proud.
How relevant is networking in our industry?
Little did I know back in November 2013 the impact that joining Manchester PA Network was going to have on my career, my personal development and me as a person.
Being an active member of MPAN has raised my profile greatly in the EA/PA world and my network has extended way beyond Manchester and the UK, I am now connected with EAs/PAs all over the world and have made friendships with people I used to read about.
I’ve written articles for various industry magazines, had my career showcased, been interviewed, sat on a PA panel, won awards and been given the amazing opportunity to join the board of EPAA and all because I started networking and have had a fantastic platform on which to launch to launch my career.
It’s greatly improved my confidence, boosted my personal profile, given me personal development and helped me to recognise that having been a PA for 30 years there is so much knowledge and experience I can share and give back, inspiring others to believe in themselves and achieve their dreams.
Because of MPAN I have made so many great friends, business contacts, had the opportunity to view venues and I have the Google of Manchester at my fingertips…there’s not a question you can put to the network that someone won’t come back on with help, suggestions or even a solution for you.
What’s next for you?
My role at Brother UK will see some changes from 1st April 2016. I will continue to support our Executive Directors and Senior Management Team but I will also head up a new PA team supporting the wider business. I have a great team of ladies who will be working alongside me, all with plenty of experience in the PA role so I am really excited to see what improvements we can bring to the business working kinetically.
I am passionate to promote the value of today’s PA in business and the broader scope of responsibilities that come with it as business influencers, confident decision makers and representing our Managers and organisations as Ambassadors. So working alongside some very inspiring Assistants at the EPAA I will use that passion to champion, promote and develop the Assistant profession, providing an important voice to EAs and PAs across the UK.
2015 was the highlight year of my career with two amazing awards. So maybe this year I will think about nominating myself so that I can continue to be a good role model and inspire the future generation of EAs/PAs.
Thank you Debbie!
Keep in touch and follow us: You can follow Debbie on twitter @DebbieG_EA Cornerstone42 is a boutique Executive Assistant recruitment and executive search launching this Friday 1st April 2016. Founded by Executive Assistant Vivien Edwards further details and to register your interest https://www.cornerstone42.com, email contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on twitter: @cornerstone42_
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