We interviewed Abigail Jones, Executive Assistant to the CEO at ghd and PA of the Year 2018, about her insights and key learnings when it comes to business travel management. In her own words:
I started as a PA in the art world (as my degrees were in Art History and Curating) and moved across into the charity sector. In 2008, after the financial crash, it was easy to pick up temping roles in different sectors that were previously closed to me due to lack of experience, and I started working in more corporate environments. As my career developed, I worked at more senior levels, and now work at C-Suite. Last year I won PA of the Year 2018 and I am currently a Finalist for EA of UK PA of the Year 2019.
I also coach/mentor other EAs and PAs and I am a public speaker on the EA/PA network, which I enjoy. Outside of work, I love travelling and going to as many museums and galleries as I can.
1. When it comes to managing travel for the CEO, what’s your biggest priority?
Making sure travel is covered from the point he sets out on the journey to the time he steps back in the office, with a clear itinerary. Ensuring that flights and trains are booked with our policy, he knows where he is going and there is a plan B in case something changes! For example, during the Eurostar strikes, getting a seat on a flight meant having to waitlist him on several options and being prepared to change all the confirmed plans.
2. What do you love most about the work you do?
I love problem-solving and using my brain—I love those really awkward and unexpected logistical nightmare requests that you can’t predict. The more challenging the problem, the more interesting it is to me. I also like people—learning how different people work and behave is very intriguing. I have worked with so many different personality types across different sectors and industries and have met such a variety of people!
3. What are the main challenges you’ve faced?
I think EAs and PAs often have to learn things from scratch and don’t necessarily have someone else to ask for help. I think feeling confident in my role is something that has developed over time, with real-world experience and practice.
4. What are your secrets to communicating and making sure key decision-makers listen?
I think being clear with the facts and having lots of options is helpful. Speak up for yourself and have confidence in what you are saying.
5. How has technology impacted the travel programmes you’ve worked on?
“It is so much easier to book and change travel than it was before. I like being able to book travel on apps, which sync across to diaries and send reminders, and I appreciate the alerts that let you know in real-time if there is a problem.”Abigail Jones, EA to the CEO, ghd
6. What other changes have you noticed during your time in the industry?
The EA role itself has changed and is continuing to grow. Admin professionals have a huge remit, including events, travel, project management, HR and CSR responsibilities, social engagements, and are morphing often into Chief of Staff roles.
7. How do you currently manage your ground travel for the CEO? What would you need in a ground travel solution?
At the moment we used a preferred company which we can book online, by phone or through an app. For me, it is important that they are on time and easy to get hold of in case of a problem. There is nothing worse than a late taxi and a driver who is impossible to get hold of!
8. There’s a new generation entering the workforce, and technology and business priorities are constantly evolving. What do you think corporate travel will look like in 10 years? What are you most excited about?
I wonder if travel will either become far more normalised and everyday, with people working remotely from any destination in the world, or if travel will decrease dramatically as a result of excellent video conferencing and virtual options. I hope that companies embrace the flexibility of working remotely and virtually.
9. What’s one story about managing corporate travel during your career that stands out?
There have been so many! The time a conference had to be changed from one city to another because of a terrible bombing attack, the time my CEO realised that he had neglected to bring any form of identification to the airport, the time a different CEO decided as he was about to board that he didn’t want to get on the plane and wanted a ticket booked to an entirely different country, and the time a (different) CEO had a meltdown because the ash cloud had prevented any flights from departing. Best laid plans never take into account a change of mind on a whim!
10. Finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Take everything in your stride and don’t take things personally. And more crucially- you are just as important as the person you support and the only person who will put time and energy into developing your career as much as you want- is you.
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