Firstly, can I have a little background about you…

What is your career background?

I started my working life as a Chef. When I left Catering College it was obvious to me that I wanted something with more regular hours.

The hotel where I was working part time to obtain my catering qualification asked me to stay on. When I told them what I was looking for, they asked me to become the receptionist. After a few years of becoming their Head Receptionist and not learning anything new I was ready for a new challenge. I came across a role for a Doctor’s PA and this gave me my first taste of a PA role. I stayed there for four years.

I subsequently moved to a PA role in Finance for one of the “Big 4” accountancy firms and was then approached to move to another company who would also put me through my HR qualification. During my time there I took the first PA qualification in Guernsey, my HR qualification and also qualified as a Legal PA. When the company later closed its Guernsey office, I decided not to move to Southampton with them. I took a job at a local accounting firm before moving a few years later to my current role with another Big 4 accountancy firm, KPMG, where I have been for the last four years. In my current role I look after two Partners, an Associate Director and a growing team of fourteen.

Inside the Guernsey PA Network

Aside from the network, what have been your career highlights to date?

Last year I was nominated and went on to win the We Are the City Rising Star award for PA’s and EA’s. It was the first time the awards had been held and to say that I live on a small Island just off the UK I really did not think I stood any chance of getting through to the next round. When Vanessa Valley called me to say that I had been chosen as one of the winners of the Award I was speechless. Taking one of my bosses and the Chairman of KPMG Channel Islands to the awards presentation at the House of Commons building was something to be remembered.

What piece of advice would you give assistants coming into the profession today?

Find yourself a mentor that you look up to. This person will be there to bounce ideas off, will guide, motivate and inspire you.

I would also recommend joining a local PA network. This will mean that you get to meet other PA’s from all sectors and you will be able to network and develop.

What piece of advice would you give your younger self at the beginning of your career?

That’s a hard question. I think just to believe in yourself. Everything was guiding me in the direction of being a PA, I just never knew it.

I really wanted to do Geography for one of my GCSE’s, as I was very passionate about the subject. The teachers gave a big speech about how much hard work it was going to be and I didn’t think I would be able to cope (I was not one of the more able ones at school and I struggled). Therefore, I opted for Office Technology so I learnt typewriting and word processing etc. and due to this I had to take my RSA exams and thankfully I passed them all. The teachers wrote in my school reports that they were disappointed that I hadn’t opted for Geography as I was more than capable and they were surprised when I spoke to them about why I changed my option to Office Technology. When I started my career, one of the first questions I was asked was did I have my RSA qualifications. I was so pleased that I made the right choice, even though I didn’t know it. I passed over the Certificates, thankful of that choice.

I would also learn earlier on how to train yourself to switch off.

What piece of technology or app can you not live without?

I guess it’s my iPhone. I can keep up to date with the Guernsey PA Connect website and emails, my personal and work emails, along with always being able to call anyone if I need to.

About the network…

What made you decide to set up the network?

I went to Office* a few years ago with the idea of setting up a network. When I looked at the line-up of Vic Darragh, Marion Lowrence and Cath Thomas all speaking about networks or networking I thought I needed to be there to hear their stories. I must admit, I was like a groupie waiting for them to finish speaking so I could speak to them. I managed to catch Vic on the Hays stand and I asked her lots of questions. After her talk I knew that I had to do it for Guernsey as there weren’t any real PA training courses or anything like what we were thinking of doing.

What are the objectives of the network?

Right from the start, I wanted it to be a network for collaboration, development and networking. I wanted to make sure that no one felt uncomfortable walking into one of our events. We strive to ensure that the network is friendly and welcoming.

We now have a Committee who are very passionate about making Guernsey PA Connect an Ambassador for Guernsey, as many people don’t even know where it is. We are also keen to promote the PA profession in any way we can.

We are also going into the local Guernsey College and promoting the PA profession by telling them more about our role. We started off the first session by asking the students what they thought we did on a daily basis. The results were interesting and we are glad to say by the end of the session we had changed their views for the better. I know we inspired at least three of those students to become PA’s.

We have also started to raise money for the Isipho Admin Bursary promoted by Executive Secretary magazine to help change someone’s life by training them to become a PA. We are hoping that this will in turn have a ripple effect and it will inspire someone else to choose our career as their own.

Inside the Guernsey PA Network

What was the initial reaction and what does the network look like today?

When the local paper asked me how many people would I want to attend the first event to make it a success, I said around thirty PA’s. We had ninety five attend the launch which was amazing. We now have over two hundred local PA’s on our database and it’s still growing. Not bad for a small island of nine miles by five.

How did you promote the network?

We have been lucky that the local paper the Guernsey Press supports us and runs articles. We have also had articles in local magazines. EPAA and Executive Secretary promotes us, as well as there being referrals from PA’s that are members. We also have Facebook and Twitter.

Do you have advisors / board members / mentors that have helped with the network? Who are they and what did they contribute?

I’d like to just say that although I decided to launch the network, I did it with help and support of my bosses Ashley and Linda and colleagues at KPMG Channel Islands especially Tony and our then Chairman, Mark. I also had Caroline Renouf join me in setting the network up and she is still on the Committee and very much part of Guernsey PA Connect. In February this year we formed a Committee with three other PA’s Julie Twist, Jane Ravenwood and Jen Baudains. Together we make Guernsey PA Connect what it is. It’s not from me alone. It’s our collaboration that makes “GPAC” what it is.

I would say that Vic Darragh gave me the spark. The idea was there, but I didn’t know what the next step was. It was her talk that day that ignited it. Marion Lowrence and Cath Thomas were both really great when I was starting the network as they all gave me help and support when it was needed. Cath is always on the end of the phone/email when I need her and I appreciate that.

Since EPAA launched and I was asked to be on the Regional Board I have met other heads of regional networks and it is so valuable to sit around the table and share knowledge about the networks. We have some great ideas that come out of those meetings.

Inside the Guernsey PA Network

How do you engage with your members?

Guernsey PA Connect currently holds four events a year; one is topical, one with a speaker, one is training/development and the other is networking (although this year we have already exceeded that as we have had some great opportunities we have taken advantage of).

We have a quarterly newsletter and Julie kindly takes care of our social media.

What challenges do you think assistants within your network face and how do you think the network helps?

I think we can say that some PA’s get overlooked in terms of training and development. This is not true in all cases, as some of us are lucky but others get overlooked.

We have no joining or membership fee at present and we are not for profit so raising money is always tricky.

We charge under around £10 – £12 for our events so that if your company is unable to pay for you it’s something that you could pay for yourself. We don’t want to exclude anyone from participating and developing.

I also think that by networking and meeting fellow PA’s we can now pick up the phone and offer help to each other. This is really great.

Have you personally met any challenges with running the network?

Where do I start, first there was the worry of would people actually come to the launch, would they think it was a good idea, was this what they wanted.

It’s not easy to stick your neck out and at times people will tell you things that you may not want to hear, but to be honest is it just their opinion, it doesn’t mean that they are correct or that they know the whole reason behind why you have done something or made the decision that you did. It’s a learning curve for everyone. Show me any person that hasn’t made a mistake or the odd typo here or there, we all do it.

From the outside looking in people may not realise the sheer volume of work and time that it took to start the network and keep it running as well as working full time and having our own life and issues. If people knew half the story of what we went through personally at the same time, then they would know the battle that Caroline and I faced.

We have worked so hard to make the network something to be proud of and that represents our members well. We want to be part of shaping the PA profession to be the best it can possibly be. Above all we are here to support and represent each other.

What has been the highlight for the network so far?

I think seeing the idea actually happen and seeing people grow from attending the events that we have hosted.

When we have someone like Lucy Brazier from Executive Secretary Magazine travel to Guernsey to speak to our PA’s then I think we can say that it’s all been worthwhile.

I also got work on a fam trip recently with Aurigny our local airline, visit and Locate Guernsey and Leeds Bradford Airport as a new route had opened between Guernsey and Leeds Bradford. We had four PA’s from Leeds, Darren Peters from Leeds Bradford airport, John Duncan from Conference and visit Leeds and Marion and Jon Lowrence from the PA Hub come to Guernsey for two nights and we got to showcase Guernsey and Herm to them on a lovely sunny day. Taking them around and showing them the sights was very special. We were honoured to have been asked to assist.

We are also a member of our local Chamber of Commerce and they asked for our advice and input recently in regards to air links to Guernsey which is a current hot topic in the business community. We put a survey together for them and have given them the results. We are hoping that as the bookers they will be able to use our feedback to improve the air links.

I’m also proud of our members for coming on board and supporting us. We do this for them.

Most rewarding of all is when people say that we have made a difference in some way and “wow you do all that”. We wanted to show the world that there is so much more to being a PA then typing, filing and making the tea/coffee and I really think we have done that here. We have made a difference and people and businesses are taking us seriously.

If we get to promote Guernsey along the way, then as Guernsey girls that is even better.


Donna Olliver, Founder of Guernsey PA Connect & Chair

Network details…

Name: Guernsey PA Connect
Location: Guernsey
Twitter: @GsyPAConnect
Facebook: Guernsey PA Connect

Any other details you would like to share with the readers?

If you are not part of a regional network or EPAA please join them – we are not only trying to promote the profession but we are also trying to build a better future for PA’s and we need you on board.

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