PA Diaries: Jessica Duerden, ODEON Group

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This week we are introducing you all to Superwoman aka Jess Duerden, PA to the MD of ODEON Group. I will avoid any feeble attempt at kicking this off as I normally do so instead, sit back, take 5 minutes and get ready to immerse yourself in the incredible world of one of the most impressive ladies I have ever had the opportunity to talk to…

TAR: Hey Jess, happy Friday! How are you?

JD: I’m good thanks, very excited to be speaking to you!

TAR: And you! So excited to have you on the PA Diaries! So let’s get down to the nitty gritty about your experience in the PA industry and your current position at Odeon, it sounds awesome! How would you describe your typical day?

JD: My typical day like any pa is very varied. I look after Mark Way, president of AMC Europe and MD of ODEON Group. He travels a lot so there is a fair amount of logistics around his diary, making sure his travel connections are correct, diary is up to date and we are prioritising his time. I also look after our AMC colleagues when they come to visit – diary, travel, restaurant bookings, meetings and events. I also organise our group conferences for the top 150 leaders in our business. This is normally held in January, the most recent one being just 2 weeks ago in Milton Keynes. I project manage this from conception, through delivery to wash up and feedback sessions before beginning to plan the next one. I also lead the PA team across our territories. We have PA’s in London, Manchester, Spain, Germany and Italy. We hold PA workshops every six months with our most recent one being just this week. The January workshop is used to review our team objectives for the previous year, share feedback and insight and set our team objectives for the forthcoming year. This weeks sessions were particularly special as we had a guest speaker from LEGO as well as a VC with one of the assistants from AMC in Kansas – fantastic! With the PA teams from Spain and Germany being able to VC in it felt truly international. Finally – I also help out on various projects, sit on the charity committee and ensure the office runs as smoothly as possible

”Clear communication with your boss is key – if you’re struggling ask them to mark tasks out of 10 (10 being most urgent) you’ll soon then get a feel for what is important in their mind.”

TAR: WOW…it sounds like an absolutely mammoth job but one which I can tell you are absolutely in love with! With what sounds like an intense ‘to do’ list how do you find prioritising your own time as well as Marks time and what tips would you give someone who maybe needs a helping hand in this area?

JD: I’ve always found the trick to prioritisation is always planning and giving yourself time to plan thoroughly. Writing out all your tasks the night before and giving yourself 30minutes of the start of each day to incorporate any overnight emergencies should give you a good view ok what is important and when. Also, clear communication with your boss is key – if you’re struggling ask them to mark tasks out of 10 (10 being most urgent) you’ll soon then get a feel for what is important in their mind.

TAR: Fantastic advice! You can clearly see how devoted you are to every aspect of being a PA, how and when did you realise that this was the role for you?

JD: I completed a four year business studies degree in strategy and entrepreneurship at Nottingham Trent uni which included a sandwich year in the industry. I worked for a property company and then an NHS advisory group. In my summer holidays I did a lot of secretarial temping across London and realised that I liked working with a variety of different people and teams, supporting people and learning more about different businesses. Once I had graduated I took a temp role supporting the CEO of HCA and then a permanent role at 3i as a Deal Assistant. That role encompassed everything I was looking for – working with interesting people and supporting them to achieve results coupled with learning about lots of different businesses.

TAR: I am totally with you on your last three points, I really feel that the role of the PA is one of the most diverse and privileged positions out there in terms of variety on a daily basis. What would you say in your own opinion are the pro’s and con’s of the industry? For someone coming into the world of support it can be a pretty scary experience!

JD: I think the only thing you have to be really mindful of is that you need to be honest and really love the role. To succeed you need to care about the people you support and be engaged with the business. We’re lucky here at ODEON as the films are always great to watch and there is always something new to see so it’s easy to feel motivated to come to work. In terms of negatives, I’m not sure I see that many these days. As a Fellow of EPAA I’d say recognition for the role is definitely growing and much more value is being placed in high performing EA’s who demonstrate real value to a business however, nothing replaces hard work and dedication to the role, going the extra mile, showing initiative and being flexible are all things anyone entering the role / industry should make sure they are willing to demonstrate.

”To succeed you need to care about the people you support and be engaged with the business…”

TAR: YES! I am SO happy that the perception of this role is changing! It was my main aim when starting the PA Diaries and have really seen a change in attitudes both from the PA’s and from those who have an outside view of who we are and what we do. So…EPAA…it’s an amazing industry group, how important do you feel groups like these are to personal and industry evolution?

JD: Massively important, they give a voice and identity to a group of people who need it. I think it’s very easy for PA’s to be seen individually and feel part of a business but not part of something larger – despite being critical to a businesses success.

TAR: So with the level of experience and passion you have for the industry, what would you say had been your biggest achievement in your career and how has that impacted you going forward? It’s amazing that you achieve so much on a daily basis and the positive impact you make to your colleagues which is no doubt invaluable. You are a true leader!

JD: Career wise the biggest achievement has to be supporting my boss and the team here through the acquisition with AMC that is so exciting for the company. It was a big challenge and I was part of a team that had to make sure everyone had the right information at the right time. No mean feat but one that was very successful and it has set us up a very exciting 2017 and beyond.

TAR: And finally, if you were to impart any piece of advice of someone who is looking to create their own support network at work among their PA colleagues in the same way that you do at Odeon, how would someone begin to lay the foundations and what would your absolute do’s and dont’s be in making it a success?

JD: On a personal note it has to be the PA internal network and workshops. We work as a true team across territories and time zones supporting each other and delivering outstanding seamless support. For those looking to set one up – communicate the benefits to all, engage sponsors and line managers early and listen to what the teams want. It will pay dividends later on and ensure you have a network that will continue to grow.