“I like to be the person that can solve problems” - Julia Tolkaciova was crowned this year’s PA of the Year.
“It was such a great feeling to be in a room with these amazing girls and guys from different industries that felt like one big team,” says Julia Tolkaciova about the Secsinthecity’s seventh annual PA of the Year awards. “Assistants don’t always have a team - it’s often a one man band. But there was genuine happiness for others doing well and being acknowledged.”
And it was Julia herself that scooped the main award at the ceremony, which took place on the 8th of November at the Ivy.
“I did not expect to win at all. Just the fact I was nominated was just a massive honour,” she says. “I think businesses now see assistants in a very different way and understand the value that we actually bring to the business. I’m so happy that these awards exist, because it really motivates us to keep going and gives us that power to not be afraid.
“Julia speaks with such enthusiasm about her profession, it’s infectious,” says Susanna Tait, chief executive of Tay Associates and a judge at the awards. “She is a standard setter who has contingency plans for everything, but is still armed and ready to tackle any unknown surprises that get thrown at her. She impressed us with her natural gravitas, energy and determination.”
Julia is Executive Assistant to Mark Way, who sits right at the top of the management team and with a lot of MDs and executives reporting into him from across out European territories, so he’s very much involved with every single business - meaning so is Julia.
“We learn and share so much between the different territories, so he’s often out meeting his teams, and if he’s in London there are never-ending meetings. He likes to be as involved as possible so he operates a very open door policy, always available if you have a question - big or small.”
And in turn, Julia doesn’t see her role as being the person who keeps people away from her boss’s door. “You are a bond between functions, between your manager, between departments, between people,” she says. “You’re a facilitator rather than a gatekeeper. You’re there to make sure that people get where they need to get in a fast, efficient way.”
The fast-moving, demanding nature of her role calls for all of Julia’s skills and experience as a personal assistant. “No day is the same - it’s all very much led by where the business is,” she explains. “Being a cinema business, for us it’s very driven by the seasons, and by products - what films we are showing. Along with things like diary management, travel, expenses and other standard day-to-day things, I make sure he’s as informed as he can be with what’s going on, keeping that kind of information flowing. Anything I can preempt, I do.”
Julia sees this unpredictability as a good thing. “The variety is one of the best things about it,” she insists. “It’s a wonderful industry to work for - we’re all passionate and we all believe in the product, which is an exceptional cinema experience. It’s great to see new development within the business - with things like the Luxe refurbishments and the opening of our Odeon Leicester Square cinema, which hosts european and world premieres. It’s a massively exciting business to be a part of.”
Another thing she loves about her current role is the comradeship across the company. “It’s all about delivering one main goal, which for Odeon it’s about delivering exceptionally good experience to anyone that comes to our cinemas,” she says. “You play a massive part when you have great relationships with people and I think that’s my strength. I have wonderful relationships with all my colleagues, across all functions and all departments.”
Julia believes this is an important attribute to embrace to be a good assistant. “You can learn organisation skills, you can learn to take minutes, you can learn to book travel - you can do all those practical things really well,” she points out. “But unless you have wonderful relationships with your peers and with your colleagues, it won’t work.”
Her biggest piece of advice to anyone starting a career as an assistant is building those relationships and understanding how crucial they are, not just to further in your career, but to make your day-to-day life easier. “There’s a really good saying,” she tells us. “They may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. I think that’s very important. If you have those relationships you will make connections with your colleagues and people know they can trust you and bring you in.”
Julia also knows from experiences that there are challenges along the way, but that it’s up to her to overcome them.
“For me, it was drawing a line between my work and life balance,” she admits. “At times one would suffer - usually my personal life. Previously I didn’t manage expectations. I didn’t communicate well to make sure that people understood the line. So with my current role, I set the boundaries early on and I receive a lot of respect from my colleagues for having those lines, and they’re never crossed. In terms of the day-to-day, I’m always available, but there’s always a line.”
And Julia isn’t phased by the pressure of being the person that makes things happen.
“That’s something I’ve always really enjoyed,” she says. “I like to be the go-to person - the person that can solve problems. Not everything is solvable, but I’ll definitely give it a go, so people trust me. And that’s highly satisfying.”
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Tay Associates was established nearly 20 years ago with the mission of being the best recruiter of PA and business support staff in London, and we’ve achieved this by being consistent in our values, attitude and work ethic, but evolving with the market and our clients to stay on top of our game.
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