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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Having the PA factor

I am not sure if there exists any empirical human resource research on the skills and expertise of PAs (Personal Assistants) to the company chiefs in multinational organisations in Bangladesh or elsewhere. If there were any, I would have tried to find out if my assumptions regarding the skill-set of PAs are correct or not.

Due to popular beliefs or simple stereotypes of this being a clerical job, hardly any job seeker actively pursues the job of a personal assistant or prefers to keep this option lower in the priority list. Some also assume that this job is exclusively for female job seekers only and in a lot of instances, companies actively look out for all female applicants for such a position to aid the day to day work schedule of the head of the organisation. I believe very few PAs realise before they take up the job what kind of exposures they will get in the course of the assignment and the opportunities to develop their professional skills.

PAs seem to be the most privileged staff to be in the closest vicinity of the think tanks of the organisations. As s/he takes down minutes of important meetings and arranges schedules and activities of the chief executive, s/he notices the important dynamics that take place in board rooms. The way things are communicated, argued on, the rationales that lead to decisions being taken and the body languages of colleagues and counterparts – all are observed and recorded by none other than PAs. Moreover, they are the staff who get to observe the leadership brass from a close distance, often allowing them exposure to the thought processes and actions of an organisational leader – CEO. For a variety of these reasons PAs seem to be having a fast track route to developing core business acumen without actually having prestigious business degrees or actually having any real life business management experience.

Certainly the career growth for PAs might be limited – that is, its very unlikely that a PA, after developing business skills by merely being in the company of company heads, will be promoted as a CEO him/herself. But better still, there are examples that many of them have actually ended up being the owner of their own business ventures.

One of the TV programmes that I try to watch from time to time is the Apprentice, a show about which I have tried to convince a few friends in Bangladesh to emulate – without success. The winner of the last year's show was Stella English, who worked as a PA at a Japanese Investment Bank before being selected as one of the candidates of the popular British show. Similarly this year for series 7, one of the top four finalists in the process of becoming Lord Sugar’s business partner happens to be Helen Louise Milligan, who again works as an Executive Assistant to CEO.

Sure not all the fingers of the hand are of the same size, but surely having a PA factor can take you places and make you win big in business and in life.

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