When you imagine the typical workplace of an executive or personal assistant, what immediately comes to mind? Generally, the image includes an office, and usually a corporate one at that. However, that’s not the case for Esther Dawson. As the Executive Assistant to the CEO of Ridgeview Wine Estate, Esther frequently spends much of her working day in wellies, walking amongst the award-winning winery’s vines.
We spoke to Esther, who is also the co-founder of the Sussex PA Network, about her career path, what a ‘typical day’ looks like in her role, and why it is so important PAs and EAs network with each other.
How did you come to be the Executive Assistant to the CEO of Ridgeview Wine Estate?
My role at Ridgeview came about after getting to know Tamara Roberts, Ridgeview’s CEO, at local business networking events. When Tamara reached out to me with the role, it confirmed what I had always believed about the importance of networking and the value of the connections you can build at these events.
What do you most enjoy about your role at Ridgeview?
I love the viticulture here at Ridgeview (the growing and harvesting of the grapes). I take many walks through the vines during my lunch breaks – I find the estate is even beautiful in the winter months when the vines have no leaves on them. I’ve always been a fan of wines, have enjoyed many tasting events and even have some wine qualifications, so I also enjoy conducting wine tours for the public at weekends and talking about what we do.
What does a ‘typical day’ look like for you?
One of the first things I do every morning is check the forecast for the day so the vineyard team can plan their day. Is it dry enough conditions for the team to spray the grapes or, if it’s wet, can they do something else? On Mondays we always check the data from the on-site weather stations from the previous two days to see what was happened in our absence.
Like most Executive Assistants, I’ve also always got my CEO’s calendar to hand so I know what she’s got planned and I can make sure that anything she needs for the day is ready for her. However, being a small business, I’m not only an EA, but also take on the roles of Office Manager, HR Manager and Payroll Manager. I have a huge remit, but I genuinely enjoy the variety this offers me.
And how does your day differ from an EA in a corporate environment?
The first difference is that I work traditional vineyard hours here on the estate, which are 8am to 4.30pm. This is great, particularly in the summer months, as it means I enjoy very long evenings. Furthermore, as I work for a family business, the owners of the estate are very keen to make sure all employees enjoy a realistic work-life balance, so we are actively encouraged to leave on time.
My workplace environment is also different to a traditional corporate environment. I never get sick of the views across the vineyard, the feeling of being in the countryside and the open-air. In fact, I keep wellies in the boot of my car, because we can be called upon to help out in the vineyard at any time. I’m not sure most EAs working in a corporate office require wellies!
What advice would you give to aspiring EAs who don’t want to work in a corporate environment?
Try to add a lot of strings to your bow. If you want to work for a small to medium sized business, you often need to be multi-skilled. Being able to look after HR responsibilities, administer the payroll, and manage health & safety issues were all qualities that made me a useful employee here, because I could take on many different tasks.
Aside from your day-to-day EA responsibilities, you also co-founded and run the Sussex PA Network. Could you tell us a bit more about this?
Myself and Emily Darnell, another EA, were struggling to find networking groups to join, so we decided to be proactive and start our own. We held our first in July 2015, and now we try to hold 3 or 4 events each year. They are free for PAs, EAs, VAs & Office Managers to attend, and we’ve been lucky enough to visit some amazing venues and hear presentations by some fantastic speakers.
How do you think networking can help PAs and EAs in their careers?
Networking can be hugely beneficial to a PA or EAs career – of course, if I hadn’t networked, I wouldn’t have found my current job. It’s a great opportunity to meet with your peers and discuss issues that arise in your role. It’s also a great way to learn new skills, which is particularly important as the role of an assistant evolves to become less about taking minutes and managing diaries, and more about being an effective business partner. Our network’s tag line is ‘Support, Develop, Succeed’, and that’s exactly what I think good networking can help assistants achieve.
Finally, what does the future hold for your career?
I absolutely love working in the wine industry and being a country girl at heart, I feel lucky to be able to work in an industry which is also my hobby. I have no plans to move away from Ridgeview anytime soon – I love the challenge the role brings to me day-to-day.