Alice Scutchey is the founder of the Canary Wharf PA Club (CWPA), a new network in London, and chairs an EA network at a major investment bank
Can we start with a little background information? Where are you from and what is your current role?
I was born and raised in Kent, also known as the garden of England. I am the baby of the family with two very protective older brothers. It’s safe to say I have learnt the key to resilience! My parents are in the pub industry so our home life was pretty different from that of my peers. Living in a pub made for a very interesting childhood and I do believe it has taught me some very important life skills. I worked locally until I was 18 before finding a role in the bustling city of London.
My current role (since March 2019) is Senior Executive Assistant at Citibank in Canary Wharf. I support the UK CFO as well as 3 MD’s in the Finance team. My role at Citi prior to this was Senior EA on the Global Commodities trade trade floor – a very fast paced and high-pressure environment!
What is your background?
I left Grammar school at 16 and went straight into full time employment. Although I did well at school, university was never something I considered. As a go-getter, I just couldn’t wait to be amongst the ‘grown-ups’. Living in pubs, I was used to working from a very young age whether it was stocking the fridges, waitressing or pot-washing. I have been in business administration for over 13 years now and have a Level 2 Accountancy qualification.
How did you become an Assistant?
I joined a local printer as a production assistant. It was my first job and a great entry-level position that taught me the importance of a support function within a business. I found the factory fascinating too! Watching thousands of pretty brochures being printed and then loaded onto pallets to be shipped around the world. It was a well-oiled machine and I loved that I contributed to that. I’ve always enjoyed helping others and making people happy so in some ways, I think I was destined to be an Assistant.
What are the main changes you have seen in the time you have been an Assistant?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has to be the biggest catalyst I’ve seen to date. I remember writing out manual expense forms, stapling the receipts to the back and then posting it to our head office – after being signed and approved by 3 people first of course! Now with a click of a button, you can book a flight, upload your receipt and be reimbursed in a matter of hours.
I don’t think it’s a negative thing, I think Assistants should embrace the changes and make AI work for them. I like to think of these new systems as my PA. They save me time and effort that I can then focus elsewhere.
Another growing change in the role is definitely gender. In a 2016 study, 94.6% of secretaries and administrative assistants were women and although in 2018, ‘secretary’ was still one of the top jobs for women, I believe more men are now turning to the Executive Assistant role. I love how our profession is becoming more inclusive.
What inspires and motivates you?
A lot of things inspire me! My friends, my family, strangers and even myself. Self-inspiration is very important and is the outcome of working on oneself. Through self-love and asking yourself what you want to achieve you determine the decisions you will make/the success you will demand. I find women in positions of power very inspiring and I would say that seeing visible results is my biggest motivator. Knowing that my persistence and hard work is paying off and I can look back to say ‘I achieved that’ is really rewarding. I also thrive on being creative for example if I’m given a task to improve or invent something – hence the motivation behind the Canary Wharf PA Club!
What advice would you give someone just starting out as an Assistant?
My biggest piece of advice would be to embrace change. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be joining the administrative profession but also a time that’s seeing some great shifts! You need to be flexible and resilient.
I would also suggest joining a network (or two, or three!) – meeting other Assistants and like-minded individuals can really catapault your career. It allows you to share ideas, gain advice of experienced peers and become visible to the right people. If you are networking regularly and doing it well, you will notice lots of opportunities coming your way. I feel that networking is the most essential tool in career development.
Tell us about the Canary Wharf PA Club. What inspired you to set up the club?
My inspiration for the Canary Wharf PA Club came from an existing network that I had built within Citibank. I realised how important it was for the Assistants to have a support group. Every day, the distribution list is being used for asking questions, finding contacts or just to have a moan about the systems! We are so used to fixing other people’s problems that we rarely have a place to seek help for ourselves. I had just returned from maternity leave in January 2019 when I decided to expand on this idea. A few of my Assistant buddies from other banks had shown interest in joining a local networking group so I took on the challenge of making it happen. In February 2019, The Canary Wharf PA club was born.
What do you think is the secret to keeping members engaged?
The secret to any successful networking group is variety. I like to change up the events each week so we have a good mix of social parties alongside training and development sessions. I’m always seeking out the latest topics and the most sought after speakers. This keeps the members engaged as they don’t want to miss out!
My goal is to create a sense of community. People like to feel a part of something special so you have to make the group feel exclusive. As 95% of my members are based in Canary Wharf, I hold 95% of my events here. This gives the local businesses some exposure too and means our members have networking opportunities right on their doorstep. I work closely with the Canary Wharf Management Group who run the estate and keep me updated with ‘what’s on’. This means our members are usually the first to know about new venue openings/refurbs and get to attend the latest launch events.
I’ve also created a CWPA Member card which enables members to redeem offers around Canary Wharf. Every week, there are new bars/shops being added to the discount list, so this attracts and retains existing members.
So, what’s next for Alice Scutchey? Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
That’s a tough one and to be honest, I rarely set myself goals or deadlines. I know they are important for personal growth but I like to feel ‘unlimited’. Saying that, in 5 years’ time, I hope to be working for myself on my own terms and achieving more work/life balance. I have two young babies at home (3 and 1) so I’d like to spend more time with them rather than spending it in the office. I am a Mental Health First Aider and will be taking the Instructors course this November. Once qualified, I wish to teach Mental Health First Aid for businesses around the world to raise awareness in the workplace. From the age of 15, I suffered with an eating disorder which led to severe depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts by the time I was 21. I am currently writing a book on my experiences that I hope will go on to inspire and help others on the road to recovery.