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A brilliant career makes the journey East

Suzanne Ardagh is one of WA’s most prominent personal assistants. She tells Business News about an exciting and rewarding career, including working with Wesfarmers’ Michael Chaney.

I GRADUATED from UWA in 1986 and joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade the following year. I worked in Perth and Canberra and had postings to Vienna and Mexico City. I left the Department in 1992 and returned to Perth to join Wesfarmers as Michael Chaney’s personal assistant (PA).

The role was exciting, demanding, furiously paced and hugely rewarding. As with any PA role, it required someone who could juggle 10 things at once, all the time being unfailingly diplomatic, calm and loyal. A CEO who is constantly being sought after by executives, shareholders and, not to mention, journalists needs someone to take care of all the detail, manage appointments and direct workflow so the CEO doesn’t get bogged down by the small day-to-day stuff. The skills required by any PA are many and varied and differ in each industry, but time management and people skills are universal.

The nine years I worked for Michael Chaney as his PA were great times and I had some wonderful opportunities. I accompanied the CEO and our executive team on a number of overseas conferences and business trips, went to some fantastic events (including the Olympics), was privy to all sorts of business deals and met some amazing people. Of course there were the long hours and the ‘24/7’ nature of the job, but that was never a huge problem for me. The best part of my job was that I worked with someone who I admired tremendously and I was part of a dynamic team.

The next stage of my career developed from a holiday I took to Vietnam last year. I instantly fell in love with the place and, on the second last day of my holiday, I found an advertisement for an executive assistant at the Consulate General. They needed an Australian citizen who had senior PA experience and a good knowledge of the Australian government. I had ticks in all boxes and immediately rang the Consulate to let them know I wanted to apply.

To cut the story short, I was successful, got the job, went home, packed up my house and moved to Saigon.

Here in Saigon the pace is different. The work is different but it is still exciting and rewarding. The Consulate General provides consular assistance for Australian citizens, promotes Australian interests in cultural and diplomatic circles, supports Australian business interests, processes migrant visas and provides regional support to the Embassy in Hanoi.

The work is varied, but the skills required are the same. One of the advantages of being a PA is that the role has transferable skills, which can be used in any industry or, in fact, in any country. Time management is still important, as are people skills, as our clients are now Australian taxpayers.

My role here includes organising functions and diplomatic events at the residence, acting as liaison officer for visiting ministers and government officers, providing assistance to the Consul General such as writing speeches and correspondence, diary management and general administration.

Saigon is a wonderful city. It hums all day and all night, the traffic is breathtaking – not aesthetically but by the sheer number of cars and motorbikes that fill the streets. The people are warm and friendly.

The food is delicious, the weather balmy and the shopping opportunities can wear you out and leave your credit card maxed to the hilt. Living in such a vibrant city I find that each day brings a new challenge, sometimes great frustration, but it is ultimately rewarding when you succeed in a strange and unfamiliar environment.

Being a PA gives you wonderful opportunities. It lets you work with amazing people in some amazing places and I’m really fortunate to have been able to experience both.

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