PA Diaries: Paula Gibson, JLT

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When brains and beauty collide the end result is that of a true #girlboss and on this particular Friday, that girlboss we re all lucky to meet is Paula Gibson. Currently at JLT based in London with a career spanning the Corporate world, Paula is the entrepreneurial spirit we can all relate to.

TAR: Hi Paula! Firstly, thank you for taking the time out of what I can imagine is a super hectic schedule to do this with me…I’ve been looking forward to having a chat with you for a long time!

PG: Thanks Jess. It is great to speak with you too! I am a huge follower of The Assistant Room and I especially enjoy reading all your interviews with fellow PA’s!

TAR: You’re too kind. I think we should jump straight into things and get the lowdown on Paula Gibson! You have had such a great few years working for Zurich and now JLT, what motivated you to become an Assistant at the beginning of your career?

PG: The interview was set up for my role at Zurich by a friend, I went in and fortunately got the role where I started off assisting a team. My friend was a PA at the time and when she went on maternity leave I was asked to step in and be a PA to our CEO!

TAR: Wow! so a very unexpected start to your now career looking back at it then…

PG: Yes absolutely! My path is a bit different as I actually started my career as an actress, I worked on a whole range of productions but also took on contracts in offices alongside my acting. This meant I consistently gained office experience and could then gradually build up a strong cv! Then the Zurich role came along and I have somewhat reinvented myself as a PA! It has worked out well so far!!

TAR:  Wow! that must have taken a lot of dedication to work two jobs at once especially with the time and energy that goes into being an actress! How did you find balancing them both?

PG: I have to be honest, it could be extremely stressful at times… packing a huge bag in the mornings to cover work clothes as well as the right ‘character’ clothes for my auditions. It definitely gave me good experience in becoming very organised and a multi-tasker, which comes in useful now!! It was very hard work but also worthwhile too.

TAR: Well it has definitely paid off as you have had a wonderful few years in the Corporate side of business which is notorious for being tough work! You’ve been at JLT now for three years, what would you say has been your biggest learning curve while there?

PG: My biggest learning curve? That is a tough one, there has been so many! I think one of the biggest challenges has been learning to manage a lot of driven and ambitious characters! When you are working as a PA there are times when it can be very fast-paced and you need to learn how to keep extremely calm under pressure!! I also think a learning curve for me has been to not get bogged down in the everyday… to take a step back for a moment and think about which direction I want to go in with my career and the measures I need to take in order to get me there. It is too easy to get lost in the busy day-to-day as a PA and forget about your own aspirations.

‘…a learning curve for me has been to not get bogged down in the everyday… to take a step back for a moment and think about which direction I want to go in with my career’

TAR: All fantastic points and a very natural evolution of the role for you personally it sounds! Looking at it from a different perspective, what would you say has been your biggest achievement with the company so far?

PG: My biggest achievement so far has been in taking the initiative and setting up the JLT PA Network. I saw a gap in the market as there are so many PA’s here (almost 100!) and decided to launch the network with the full support of our HR team as well as our Specialty CEO. At the launch event, I spoke, my CEO spoke and Rosemary Parr (of the Global PA Association) came in and gave an inspiring presentation on the evolution of the role as a PA and how many of us are replacing ‘middle management’ roles. It was a really motivational day and I was relieved to have such positive feedback from the business following the event! I felt really proud.

TAR:  I LOVE the idea of the JLT PA network and know personally how important being part of those networks is 🙂 It’s such an incredible initiative Paula, you should be exceptionally proud!!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to do more than just the day job and how to feel inspired to start a similar network of their own?

PG: Thanks Jess! My advice would be to speak with HR and see what is on offer in terms of courses and training. Find out what is available to you that can help you develop in your role and also in the business. There can be advantages working for a big company as they often have the means (and money!) to be able to help you grow! For me, I was inspired to set up this network partly because I wanted all the PA’s to receive a bit more recognition for all the hard work they do! If that is something you want for your company too, then I would really recommend setting up a network. I was also very fortunate to have the encouragement and support from my manager who is fantastic. I would recommend getting your boss on side as well as HR/your talent and development too. If you pitch it to them in the right way, I can’t see why they’d ever say no. Setting up a network is really positive in so many ways!

‘…It is too easy to get lost in the busy day-to-day as a PA and forget about your own aspirations.’

TAR: Amazing advice! so how has it been received in the office from your fellow colleagues?

PG: My fellow colleagues have really commended my efforts in setting up the PA Network and feel good about being recognised. They said it was fantastic that we had an opportunity to all be in the same room for the first time..! Some of the PA’s had been at JLT for 30 years and never seen anything like this so for them, it really was very special. They are all very much looking forward to my next event!!

TAR: Awesome work Paula! I think it’s fab that you have created this network. I always like to champion the idea that as PA’s we provide an invaluable support function to those that we support however that same dynamic also applies to each other. As PA’s we all know how difficult things can sometimes get so to have that safety net at JLT is amazing!

You obviously have a very entrepreneurial mind with big goals set to achieve! Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

PG:  Thanks Jess. Yes, I agree a support network is invaluable!!

I like to think I have a lot to teach, so I would like to be in perhaps a managerial position where I am leading a small team. I also love the events aspect of my role so ideally this will grow and I will be executing lots more events for the company and for PA’s too!

TAR: So to those who may be considering entering into this industry as a career, what would you say is the most important aspect of the role which should never be underestimated?

PG: I think the most important aspect of this role is the relationship with your manager. You spend a lot of time with them and before you take on such a responsibility, in managing their life, you need to ensure that you will have a good rapport with them. I would even recommend meeting that person at least 2 or 3 times in the interview stages before accepting the role!

TAR: Great advice and I am in total agreement!

As an experienced Personal Assistant, what would the three most important skills be in your opinion to becoming successful in this role?

PG: I would have to say, strong communication skills, ability to prioritise and confidence can also be a real plus, especially when meeting and working with so many senior high flying executives!

TAR: And for those who may feel that they are lacking in those skills, should that put them off or should they go for it anyway? I personally believe this job is something that you learn as every day goes by…

PG: I do think you can always go on courses which help you to learn or hone those skills so I would say go for it!

Quick Fire

TAR: Favourite place to wine and dine…

PG: The Ledbury, Notting Hill

TAR: Best power dressing outfit?

PG: My Diane von Furstenberg heels and a fitted dress!

TAR: The one phrase that gets you through a rough day…

PG: Race you to the top!

TAR: What doe slove smell like?

PG: Basil and Neroli by Jo Malone.

TAR: The meaning of life is?

PG: A profound question!! To be happy and to strive to make others happy. Also, to do something that fuels your passion!

TAR: Your biggest guilty pleasure?

PG: Has to be watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette (the American version). I have to watch it secretly and splurge as my husband despises all reality TV!!

TAR: Three best words to describe you…

PG: Proactive. Determined. Fun!!