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Introducing Our Unique Executive Support Team - Part 1

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Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know so many of our ASAP members. I love hearing about what you do, and you all have such curiosity for how our team does what we do. One of the most common questions is, “Can I work for ASAP? Do you have EA or admin roles on your team?”  Of course, we do! We have a thoughtful customer service administrator (Hi Olivia!) and a creative marketing administrator (Hi Samantha J!). They’re who you write to any time you write to ASAP or APC via email or on social media.

But at our Portland, Maine based company Diversified Communications, we are also lucky to also have three seasoned career executive support staff members: Michelle Roberts, our Director of Office Support Services & Executive Assistant to the CEO & President (Global); Sethany Roberts, our US Office Manager, and Ainsley Shannon, the Executive Assistant to the President (US). If you’ve attended APC or EA Summit in recent history, you have likely met one or all of them.  

When ASAP started Admin Month ages ago, we knew we wanted to not only celebrate you each year, but also to help you re-commit to your career and your growth. Time and again we hear how crucial it is to learn not just from presentations and online trainings, but from each other’s real-life experiences. You thrive when you learn from what colleagues share and you inspire each other.

This year, we’re finishing the month strong giving our administrative professionals a platform. We’ve introduced you to Michelle, Ainsley and Sethany on social media recently. We hope as you get to know them you’ll learn as much from them as we do. We’re all facing different challenges throughout this pandemic, and we couldn’t think of a better time to spotlight their unique, marvelous talent.

In preparation for this article, I interviewed all three of their executives. While I only needed them to respond to three of these questions, they all happily wanted to contribute to every question I had on my list. Serendipitously, the same thing happened when I interviewed our executive support team! It was such a perfect example of how in synch they all are, and how excited they were to discuss their working relationships. Their generosity inspired us to do a deeper, three-part series. (part 2) (part 3)

The ASAP team is so lucky to see such great examples of true partnership up close as we continue to support all of you. Enjoy!

~Heidi Souerwine, CMP, Executive Director, ASAP

Part 1- Mary Larkin & Ainsley Shannon

Mary Larkin is the President of Diversified Communications’ US division. Ainsley Shannon is her Executive Assistant. This is a glimpse into their partnership.  

Ainsley, tell us a little about yourself. What’s your world like right now?

I’ve been an EA for nearly nine years at this point; longer if you count the front desk work I did at my college library. Right now I’m focused on keeping everyone sane! As a team, we’re still heavily navigating the effects of COVID on our business, so staying on top of moving priorities is critical.

Mary, what do you most enjoy about your partnership with Ainsley?

I feel like it is a true partnership working with Ainsley.  I know she is working behind the scenes to ensure that the leadership team is moving initiatives ahead rather than letting issues/plans lapse, she keeps issues on the agenda until we decide they have been resolved.  Ainsley has managed within one year to become the point person for employees to set up meetings with me or to get answers on pressing questions. This was much harder when I was traveling or when I was leading UFI last year.  She is the key to my calendar, often moving things around so I can be everywhere I need to be.  She is also very pleasant to work with.  She has a good demeanor and I know she represents both Diversified and me, very well.

Mary, what are the top skills and attributes that make your executive assistant successful?

Trust, organizational skills, and attention to detail are paramount for an executive assistant to be successful.  Ainsley and I have built a great working relationship in a short time and I trust that she is planning ahead and keeping everything moving.  She keeps me organized and has become a liaison with both DC employees as well as people I work with at UFI and SISO.  Ainsley is also very quick at reading a situation and knowing what is important at that moment in time.  That can make all the difference in a day or week.

Ainsley, what do you see as your 3 most critical responsibilities?

  1. Protecting my bosses time, 2. Organizing various information and schedules/meetings (notes, items to order, dates and events to keep track of, follow-up items), and 3. When the world is “normal,” heavy travel arrangements and scheduling.

Mary, what are the 3 most important things that you rely on your assistant for? 

Meeting and calendar planning, travel planning and presentations. Before the pandemic, I had a heavy travel schedule so Ainsley became familiar with how I liked to travel: which airports had delays so no short layovers; she knows I don’t like 6am flights so she books me on the 7am!  She plans meetings and agendas ahead of time, so we know what is ahead of us in the coming weeks.  She also can read my “sketches and scribbles” and turn them into a presentation, often at the last minute.  She does a lot more than this every day of course, including helping the VP team and often working with HR as we prepare for larger company wide meetings.

Mary, how have you seen your assistant grow professionally? 

Ainsley has become more confident and anchored as she has settled in at Diversified.  She will try anything, and I have to say, having her work with me during the pandemic has been a life-saver.  She is an experienced EA and has good feedback on how we can change or improve things as we go.

What has helped shape your working relationship?

Mary: Trust and an open dialogue.  Trust is probably the most important factor in our working relationship. We can chat and discuss projects or issues without any concern about confidentiality or challenges. I feel we have a mutual respect and are considerate of each other’s workload.  Ainsley is very supportive of me and knows what is urgent and what can wait.  She is on constant alert with my very full calendar making sure that I build in enough time to actually get some work done!

Ainsley: Listening! That’s first and foremost. And just learning and paying attention to your executive’s style of communication, organization, and how they handle tasks because everyone is different. I think adapting to their needs and learning how you can accommodate them is key.

Mary, what could your assistant teach others about skillfully managing up? 

Ainsley is grace under pressure!  She doesn’t flinch when dealing with a tough situation especially one where I am presenting!  I would add that Ainsley is always prepared, efficient and considerate of the calendar.  Ainsley often has a list, is quick about suggesting solutions, and puts time on the calendar in advance of a decision deadline. If something is urgent, she makes sure we deal with it there and then. 

Ainsley, EAs are often expected to be mind readers. How do you stay proactive and anticipate your executive's needs?

It comes with experience, but it’s really about paying attention and learning your boss’s style and how they operate. Some will be very thorough and tell you everything the second they think of something, while others are the opposite. I’d say pay attention to the areas that are most likely to fall through the cracks (is that daily meetings? Is that emails? Is that the calendar?) and work on being very aware of that “neglected” area.

 Ainsley, what is the most rewarding part of your job/career?

 I love the ever change of pace of things – I like variety! There’s always something new to learn and especially as a higher up EA, you get to learn SO much about a business while not being directly responsible for any of it - that’s a great perk!

Check out   Part 2  &  Part 3   in this Admin Month feature series!

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