There is a certain gender stigma attached to specific industries within the workplace. To the lay person, a Personal or Executive Assistant is usually seen as a female; both television and cinema often depict a successful business mogul having his or her own female assistant. The reality is that the role of an assistant has become a lot more varied in its nature which has opened up many doors for males to gain a foothold in this exciting and rewarding industry.
Meet Don Turner, an esteemed estate and lifestyle manager to some of America’s most successful, intelligent and talented individuals and families. With Don’s experience as a multi-unit luxury estate manager, celebrity assistant to a Grammy award winning artist, bi-coastal executive assistant to a successful company CEO and as a lifestyle manager to a prominent philanthropic family, he is certainly up there with the most high-profile of global assistants.
At a very early age Don always had an intrinsic desire to be of service and to assist others. He found joy and fulfillment in the simplest of places; even when delivering newspapers with the utmost care and attention as a paperboy. During his school years, Don was the president of multiple extracurricular clubs to aide his schoolmates in realising and unleashing their potential and natural ability. Up on graduating, Don’s passion for leadership ushered him through a variety of management and support functions across diverse industries and then a natural progression into the health and fitness industry. For over a decade, Don had a very successful career – firstly as a trainer, then into the sales department and finally into management.
With the management side of things he was able to amalgamate his leadership qualities and his desire to help people improve their daily lives. It then dawned on Don that he wanted to be of service to the world on a large, universal scale.
“One day I was approached by one of the members who was the president of a successful bi-coastal investment firm. He mentioned he had an assistant position available and asked me if I would be interested. I immediately said ‘no, that sounds awful’ along with a big chuckle. But he was serious and asked me to at least have a meeting with him to discuss it in further detail. We actually ended up meeting few times and the more we talked about it; and he made it very attractive financially. Something inside of me said YES.”
“That YES would eventually make sense, however, I started the new job terrified that I was making the biggest mistake of my life. Ironically I found myself enjoying it right away and even more so as each work day passed – and I was fairly good at it! But I still needed to wrap my head around what it meant to be an ‘Assistant’ and then once I figured it out, would it be fulfilling enough for me? At that moment I found my YES!”
Changing careers can be a daunting prospect for many, it involves a lot of self-auditing to enable you to identify your attributes and skill-set which can determine suitable industries in which to take the plunge into. Don’s leap from health and fitness management into the world of lifestyle management and assistance are not worlds apart as they both involve an inter-personal level of service which is fine tuned towards the preferences and desires of the client – but in an industry which is unequivocally dominated by females, it is interesting to understand the male perspective when moving into the world of personal assistants.
“I must say ‘over 40, male assistant‘ doesn’t read really well on paper, especially in the corporate world. I’ve seen that perception change a few times, but that’s if you can get to the interview stage.”
“To some, there is something very attractive about a young, bright, fresh out of school tech wizard. However, others may equally value experience, intuition and wisdom. I found that the majority of assistant positons, were looking for a female. I’d be lying if I said the Mrs Doubtfire or Tootsie route didn’t cross my mind more than once or twice.”
“Not everyone will agree with my view on this, but I feel if you hire an assistant, especially one that works in your home, you should have exactly the type of assistant you want – being PC goes out the window, it doesn’t apply here. If you are more comfortable with a female, then you should have a female. If you want an older/or younger person in the role, then that’s what you should get.”
“It’s very easy to make this industry about us –’my goals, my skills, my perfect role,’ – but that’s not coming from a service heart. The Client needs to feel comfortable working with Assistant closely in their private home.”
We all have influencers in our own specific niche, our personal ‘heroes’ help us in terms of our methods and strategies when approaching business and building relationships, as well as acting as an inspiration for us to go on and achieve greater things. It is always interesting to know the influencers who are constantly pushing boundaries and increasing the profile of the private staffing industry.
“There are many people who inspire me for different reasons. Because of the discretional nature of the industry along with the fast paced, long hour workdays, I’m constantly inspired by those individuals who still find the time to share, network, support and teach.”
“I’m a huge fan of the of the work of Bonnie Low-Kramen and Vickie Sokol Evans who provide training, tools and inspiration for those who are at or want to be at the top of their field. I’ve taken their Ultimate Assistant Course four times and numerous individual coaching sessions. Victoria Rabin for her tenacity and entrepreneurship. The magnanimous Andrew Lowrey for championing service excellence, the grace of Susan Feigon and Taly Russel as well as ‘superheroes’ such as Nicky Christmas, MJ Lupton, Brooke Stone and Brian Peele.”
Is there such thing as a typical work week for a celebrity assistant? In other staffing positions such as a butler, a nanny, a household manager etc. – duties are usually more regimented in terms of knowing what needs to be accomplished and the when, where and how are usually more straight-forward and there is less of a need to feel like you are pulling teeth.
“There isn’t a typical week and that can be very challenging- but it’s also what makes it so exciting. So I try to add as much structure ahead of time as possible: What are the Daily/Weekly/Monthly ‘Have-to-do’s?’ Then put them on the calendar and task list, add reminders, etc. Then you are better prepared to catch the curve balls that come your way, and they will.”
“Some examples of these unprecedented curve balls include purchasing designer outfits for the family dog so it doesn’t feel left out at the party. Three options, since it’s *very* particular, Pulling entire trees out of the principal’s plumbing system. Having a house manager send me his daily check out email first to review, rewrite and return to them so they could send it off to the Principal feeling confident that the words matched his hard work he did that day and my personal favourite, when I was the PA to a major recording artist. During Grammy Award Weekend I sent him a text to check in, see how rehearsal was going and ask if he needed anything. He said things were going well, and he asked “Would it be possible to have a little dinner party tonight? I have 20 people so far, but most likely it will be around 25 dinner guests. Cool right?”
“Thank goodness for my network! I reached out to my favorite chef who just happened to be available that night. By some miracle, we put together an amazing 4 course dinner (with additional options for vegetarians) various passed hour d’evours, and a signature cocktail along with a few beer and wine options. I had to get real creative with candles and curtains to try to contain the guests all in one part of the house so they wouldn’t see the huge renovation mess.
Watching my principal beaming with pride as he entertained his friends in his new house, was pure joy. That alone, was more than enough – but then he gave me his Grammy Award Gift Bag with his heartfelt Thank you. We both will remember that for the rest of our lives.”
As an assistant, your network is part of your net worth. Your contacts can make or break your ability to put outlandish tasks to the sword. Ultra-demanding principals have high standards which means that all assistants should have a healthy and reliable network in which can play an integral role in terms of ensuring your principals needs and desires are fulfilled on a daily basis as well as maintaining a healthy, non-stressed mind set.
“You don’t have to go this alone, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You are actually doing a disservice if you go to work every day and only use your own experience and frame of reference. Join Domestic Estate Management Association, Estate Management Coalition or the Association of Celebrity Personal Assistants – participate in LinkedIn Groups, attend networking events both in and out of your industry, take a class, watch a webinar – keep yourself so full, and you will have so much more to give.
I can’t stress enough the importance of building your tribe. Trusted peers to share and discuss a number of the issues (professionally and personally) that you will face in this type of role.”
With technology and apps being at the forefront when it comes to managing, prioritising tasks and generally enabling an assistant to complete to-do lists in a much more effective manner, it is always important to share applications and hardware which generally makes work life a hell of a lot easier.
“I try to stay abreast of all the latest programs, Apps, and devices. However, even though I may use them, my principal finds comfort in his printed out itinerary and turn by turn written directions to his daily meetings so I provide him with that also.
I’m a huge of OneNote I think of it as a digital 3-Ring Note Book and use it for estate manuals, event and travel planning and project management. CAMSCAN for scanning documents with your phone, HootSuite for automating social media content and FlightAware* for private jet tracking.”
Don is always delighted to make new professional acquaintances to add to his ever expanding list of global high-profile connections. Join Don on LinkedIn or visit his personal website at www.don-turner.com