Helen Rees is the PA to the Chief Executive at Marwell Wildlife Zoo. She is an avid supporter of the zoo and an animal lover. Sometimes she has unusual zoo’ tasks, like holding a press call to their famous Humboldt penguin Ralph.
1. How did you arrive at your position?
I have held a variety of PA and admin roles in various organisations, from Southern Arts (the former arts funding body for the south of England) and local authority arts venues, to the regional office of the Audit Commission. I also ran a community youth music project for a couple of years. However my family have always been avid supporters of Marwell Zoo and have visited as guests for years, so when this job was advertised, it was just perfect.
2· What do you do in your typical day?
No two days are the same, and we always say here there’s never a dull moment! Mainly I’m co-ordinating meetings for our CEO and Exec team, and for our Board of Trustees, welcoming meeting visitors and generally keeping the overall admin of the place under control! I’m also part of our new intranet project team so there’s lots to do there. Oh and being part of our workplace choir!
3. What aspect of your job you love the most?
It has to be the people. An amazing bunch of dedicated, positive and talented people who do so much for Marwell. I’m immensely proud of this organisation, its conservation mission and its goal to provide a top quality day out to all our guests and visitors. And I love the opportunity to be around such incredible animals too, of course.
4· What are the most important tasks you have to perform?
Representing the CEO’s office in a professional and welcoming manner, and keeping the Exec Team and the Board of Trustees up to date with meeting papers, governance arrangements, meetings with consultants and partners, in a timely fashion, are probably the key things to keep the wheels in motion!
5· What’s the most challenging aspect of your role?
Managing the diaries of the Chief Executive, Finance Director and Director of Conservation (and our various Board and sub-committee commitments) is a never-ending challenge! I think perhaps there is a mathematical formula that dictates how much more exponentially difficult it becomes to schedule a meeting every time you add an additional attendee to the group. Fitting everything in, and making everything happen in a charity (with limited resources) is one of the most challenging but rewarding aspects of the job.
6· What’s the funniest thing you have ever been asked to do by your boss?
I am very lucky to work for a CEO who is very inclusive, encouraging and supportive of my role. While I am never asked to fetch dry cleaning or purchase family gifts, we do of course have the rounds of unusual ‘zoo’ tasks, like holding a press call with our famous Humboldt penguin Ralph, or arranging to get a hive of bees removed from a Tyrannosaurus Rex sculpture that’s part of our Dinosaur exhibition this year. We also sang a version of Jessie J’s ‘Price Tag’ with a garden full of rhino sculptures last year – that was fun. “Only at Marwell” we say all the time… Nothing ever surprises us any more! We learn to expect the unexpected.
7· Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years’ time?
Right here! I love this job immensely, and I would love to think I will still be here in 5, 10, 15 years time, being part of our exciting future as we look towards some exciting new exhibits and projects, and continuing to ensure Marwell delights our guests.
8· Any advice or assistance you could give to others wishing to work in a similar role?
Take any opportunity that comes your way. I never set out planning to be a Zoo PA, but all the roles I have taken in the past have contributed to a varied CV and range of experience that all really helps me do my job to the best of my ability now. I have been fortunate that great roles have come my way at the right time, but I also think that a positive ‘can do’ attitude, together with attention to detail and a professional manner, are all part of it too.