Being a PA to Dean Stott – a former member of an elite branch of the British Special Forces and current cycling world record holder – may sound intimidating to some, but Frances Race took to the role with ease. After only 7 months in the job, she won PA Newcomer of the Year at the recent Scottish PA Awards. However, she couldn’t accept the award in person as she was in Windsor, helping Dean and his wife Alana prepare for their attendance at another glamorous event: a certain royal wedding.
We spoke to Frances about her amazing achievement, what she thinks it takes to be a PA with a difference, and what the future holds for her career.
Could you tell us a little bit about your career path to date?
I started working in the hospitality industry when I was 17. Balancing school and a part time job wasn’t easy, but it paid off as under a year later I was made Bar Supervisor at a 4-star Hotel in Aberdeen. My passion for hospitality grew, and eventually I secured the position of Chef de Rang at a Michelin-starred restaurant in a prestigious Edinburgh hotel. Eventually I realised I wanted to achieve even bigger and better things, and so decided to take my career in a completely new direction and become a PA.
Why did you decide to become a PA?
I really wanted a role in which I could be doing something different every day. Despite not having any experience, I felt confident I would be able to find a position soon. Working in hospitality, which involved a lot of administration, dealing efficiently and calmly with unforeseen circumstances, and catering to customers’ needs meant that I had acquired a lot of skills which I knew would crossover well to a PA role.
As a PA to Dean Stott, I imagine your role is probably quite different to that of a PA working in a corporate environment. What does a ‘typical work day’ look like for you?
On a ‘normal day’, I arrive at the office at 9 am sharp, go through emails, and prepare for the day. After they’ve dropped of their kids, I will go through all my tasks with Dean and his wife Alana, who is a campaigner for mental health and anti-human trafficking causes. What I need to do changes almost every day. During recent months, Dean was preparing for his challenge, in which he attempted to break the Guinness World Record for the fastest time to cycle the length of South America on the Pan American Highway. As part of this, Dean was filmed for a documentary, and Alana and I had a production crew filming us in the office, to show the ‘behind the scenes’ preparations.
That sounds quite normal…!
Well, I have been known to have less normal days! My greatest challenge as a PA so far was driving vehicles from Florida to Panama during Dean’s cycling challenge. Safety and security was our main priority, so I had to be constantly focused, attentive, and aware. However, I also had a lot of work I needed to keep up to date with on the road. The Guinness World Record adjudicators needed the evidence on a daily basis on the run up to Dean breaking the World Record, to ensure they could issue his certificate when he crossed the finish line. This meant several sleepless nights and a lot of multi-tasking as we crossed borders – which was a real test on my part to see how well I could work under pressure. It was tough but we succeeded!
Aside from travelling through South America, what excites you the most about your role?
I enjoy the fact that no day is ever the same. I am lucky to have such interesting and unpredictable employers – when they want to achieve something new, they do it. We are currently looking into what Dean’s next challenge will be, and Alana is preparing to compete for the upcoming Mrs Scotland competition, so I’m sure the next few months will be equally as exciting.
What qualities do you think it takes to be an excellent PA?
It takes dedication. You must be dedicated and willing to help whenever your employers needs it. I also think it is so important to be honest and trustworthy. You can’t do this job to the best of your ability if there isn’t a certain level of trust between yourself and your employer – it’s the foundation of a good working-relationship. I have also found that it helps to be open-minded and adaptable, as I frequently find myself in new situations and environments.
Dean isn’t the only award-winner – congratulations on winning the PA Newcomer of the Year Awards at the Scottish PA Awards! What does this award mean to you?
Winning this award was a huge shock, as I have only been doing this for 7 months. I am so grateful and thankful to everyone who has supported me. I also feel that it proves that you don’t need a huge amount of experience or even a University degree to be able to achieve great things – as long as you are ambitious, driven and hardworking, you can achieve your goals.
What advice would you give to aspiring PAs who also want to be award winners?
If you’re truly passionate about your job, always go above and beyond what your job description asks.
Events like the Scottish PA Awards are a great opportunity for PAs to network. In your opinion, why is it important that PAs network with other assistants?
It’s really important to understand how other assistants work - whether they work in different or similar situations, there is always something you can learn from them, and as a result, perform better at your own job. It’s also nice to know a community that understands the unique life of being a PA or EA.
Finally, how do you think the role of a PA has changed over the years, and what will it look like in the future?
Technology has of course become a lot more advanced, meaning PAs have the ability to become a lot more efficient. Of course, learning how this new technology can help us perform our daily tasks is crucial. I think the role of a PA has the potential to continue to grow as technology advances, provided we improve our technological skillsets in tandem.