PA Diaries: Jennie Sheldon, PepsiCo

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This Friday we have the wonderful Jennie Sheldon, PA to Head of UK Grocery at PepsiCo joining us for the PA Diaries. With an incredibly positive attitude and an amazing enthusiasm for her role supporting three Directors, Jennie will give you the oomph that you need to make it through the last of your Friday afternoon.

TAR: Hey Jennie! So excited to have you here with us, I think you must have one of the coolest sounding jobs I have ever heard of! How are you?

JS: I’m great thank you. Thanks! I think so!

TAR: For all of those people who may not know you, it would be great to get the lowdown on who Jennie Sheldon is other than just PA to the Head of Grocery a PepsiCo…

JS: Sure, I’m Jennie Sheldon, a northerner living in the South and forever on a quest to find a chippy that serves chips and gravy! I lived in London for 6 years before I moved to Reading 4 years ago for my current role which was pretty risky as I was initially employed on a fixed term contract.

TAR: Wow so quite an adventure then so far! Let’s focus on your role at PepsiCo which after almost 4 years must definitely now feel like home for you!

JS: It really does, I’ve settled in well here and it’s a great company to work for, PepsiCo has just been named one of Britain’s Top Employers for a sixth year in a row. I remember applying for my first position here which was a  maternity cover  in the finance department and it took me a week or so to pluck up the courage to apply for it and I’m so glad I did!

TAR: Wow! so it really has been a whirlwind of success as opposed to perhaps just a temporary position in London. That’s incredible Jennie and congrats to PepsiCo from all of us at The Assistant in reaching such an amazing milestone! So fill us in a bit more about the role you have at the moment…

‘…I’ve settled in well here and it’s a great company to work for, PepsiCo has just been named one of Britain’s Top Employers for a sixth year in a row.’

JS: I support three Directors (Head of Grocery, Transformation Senior Director and Tesco Sales Director) and report into Jon, who is Head of Grocery. I have really landed on my feet with all of them, all incredibly supportive of my career and genuinely value my input and opinion which shows what an established relationship we have. One of them frequently says to me ‘ask for forgiveness, not permission’ which really empowers me to work on his behalf knowing he trusts my judgement.

TAR: It sounds as though it’s an incredible group of people to be so involved with and if this is the ethos that PepsiCo takes on then you can see how they have managed to win such an incredible award as one of Britain’s top employers for the 6th year in a row. I can imagine a lot of our readers will be getting jealous by this point in our chat Jennie!

JS: Oh no! I probably shouldn’t mention our staff shop then…

TAR: Your Directors sound like an amazing support to you but no doubt there are the tough days.

JS: There are tough days sure but I just focusing on getting through to the end of the day and tomorrow is a new start.

TAR: What a great way to look at it! How would you say it is balancing the needs of three different members of the team who undoubtedly are extremely busy? It takes a certain skill to be able to multitask yourself and to do so on behalf of others can be unbelievably challenging.

JS: I always finding it the most difficult in the first month or so, getting up so speed on their priorities and acronyms  ( PepsiCo love an acronym). Forming a good relationship with my Directors is always important to me which really helps the communication flow.

I have regular check ins and run through what I have on at the moment. As well as the workload given to my by my Directors, I also like to be involves in function wide projects so it’s important we have good 2 way communication.

TAR: So lots to juggle but it sounds as though you love it! What would you say has been your toughest challenge at PepsiCo yet and what have you learnt along the way as a PA?

‘One of them frequently says to me ‘ask for forgiveness, not permission’ which really empowers me to work on his behalf knowing he trusts my judgement’

JS: My toughest challenge yet has to be organising the annual 2 day PepsiCo Sales Conference which took place last September. It was a mammoth task and knowing how much everyone looks forward to it really puts the pressure on. It was by far the largest scale event I had planned consisting of 270 delegates most of whom stayed overnight. We are big fans of providing our own ‘home-grown’ entertainment and  suggested, co-ordinated and managed Sales for Lip Sync Battle…hilarious! The whole experience really helped me develop my skill set and even though it was the toughest thing I have done, I would jump at the chance to do it again.

What have I learnt along the way as a PA…

Really basic advice but just be yourself. We are all human. As someone who used to be easily intimidated talking to a Senior Director at he beginning of my career, this became my mantra and has really helped me build relationships with senior people within organisations.  PA’ often think they need to be ‘super human’ and be flawless but errors will occur, just own them and correct them.

TAR: Amazing advice Jennie and WOW at that whopper task of organising so many incredible events at PepsiCo especially Lip Sync Battle! What would you say is the one thing that gets you up and going in the morning without dreading work?

JS: Knowing that I am in charge of my career, it’s up to me to direct my path at PepsiCo and Jon is really supportive of that.

TAR: For those who perhaps lack the more personal relationship with their boss similar to the one that you share with Jon, how would you say is the best way to begin creating this?

JS: Start with the ‘good weekend?’ question on a Monday but show you really care about the answer, a simple ‘fine thanks’ just won’t do as an answer! Once  you can both start to talk about your personal life rather than just business you’re onto a winner

TAR: So…steering away from the more standard questions, what would say is the most random/bonkers/funny thing you have ever been asked to coordinate on behalf of your boss?

JS: Oh my goodness. I used to work in media before I joined PepsiCo and I was asked to organise a hen party at work for one of the ladies consisting of all things ‘hen’. Trying to explain my expense submission to the account department is not something I want to do again!

TAR: So we all know that as a PA the requests are never off limits and it can be both an amazing job but a difficult one as well! What would you say to those looking into the possibility of starting a career as a PA and what should they expect?

‘What have I learnt along the way as a PA…Really basic advice but just be yourself.’

JS: I’d say that this is one of the few jobs that’s really difficult to define. The term  ‘ah hoc requests’ appear in  most job descriptions and this is one of the biggest parts of our role, all the extra bits we do which can massively vary. You need to be open minded and embrace all tasks that come your way, half of them you will have no clue what you are doing first time around but next time round you’ll be better at it.

TAR: With everything we have discussed so far and with your experience in the industry, what would you say ar the three biggest qualities you need to have to be successful as a PA and why?

JS: 1. Assertiveness but this doesn’t mean being rude or abrupt which I think can easily be the interpretation. I think I’ve found the right balance between Assertiveness and diplomacy to allow a bit of breathing room for my Directors when diaries are busy and I need to push back

2. Organisation skills are so incredibly important, you are managing multiple schedules and priorities all at once.  Organised chaos vs  clearly organised, whichever works for you!

3. Being proactive.  It can be  easy for a PA to be reactive but we really are in charge of our own career and we should constantly look for ways to develop.and stretch ourselves which is something within the possibility of all PA’S regardless of industry.

TAR: And finally, what would one piece of advice would you give yourself back to when you had just started your career in the PA world.

JS: Not to sweat the small stuff. That’s so easy for me to say right now but when you are beginning your career you want to do everything perfectly. It really isn’t the end of the world if you boss has a window seat instead of an aisle seat for example.

Quick Fire

TAR: Ultimate power dressing outfit?

JS: The office is pretty relaxed so I favour some cool flats and a smart blazer

TAR: Favourite London restaurant?

JS: The Red Fort in Soho.

TAR: Biggest guilty pleasure?

JS: Binging on a box set!

TAR: Your biggest inspiration?

JS: At the moment, a senior colleague of mine I have recently worked on an event with. She makes me realise I can push myself further and that I am capable of stepping up to a really big challenge and smashing it. She has become a mentor to me.

TAR: The one app you couldn’t live without?

JS: TripAdvisor!

TAR: What do you always carry with you?

JS: Tissues and lip balm.

TAR: The one phrase that gets you through the tough days?

JS: ‘You are worthy’. Short and snappy and can really pick me up when I need it.

TAR: What is the meaning of life?

JS: Love!

TAR: What does love smell like?

JS: Vera Wang for men, my Husband wears this!

TAR: Your favourite album?

JS: Sister Hazel – Chasing Daylight