“Strategic business partner, chief of staff, the right hand of your executive”

EA PROFILE Kim Chapman is a decorated management support professional. Working for one of the world’s largest professional services firms Ernst and Young, and a 2018 PA of the Year runner up, Kim shares her experience in choosing work, keeping on top of it, and future proofing yourself

Kim Chapman left school at 16 with hopes to become a hairdresser. Looking into the eld, and realising that cutting hair may not be her professional passion, she took to her mum for advice.

“My mum in all her wisdom said to me ‘you’re not going to go and do hairdressing, you’re gonna go do a business administration traineeship.’ At 16 I started my traineeship through tafe, and I was also working in a small tree lopping company as an administrative assistant in Townsville, Queensland.”

Kim’s early years were spent in the Queensland heat, working away in the office, learning the in’s and out’s of the company. But it was time to move on, the small town role had taught her all she needed to know. Moving to Sydney, Kim was working in an administrative assistant role and looking for a change of pace.

The benefits of being choosy

Knowing what you want out of a workplace is incredibly important. Coming to terms with what you value in a job will help you understand where your skills and hard work will be valued most.

Kim spent a long time researching, reading and debating with herself while searching for work in Sydney.

“I thought, where do I want to work? What’s the kind of company that I want to work for? Instead of just looking for any role I tried to find an organisation whose values would align with mine. I firmly believe in being genuine and authentic. Keeping your integrity. That’s how I conduct myself on a day to day basis at work and at home.”

“It was funny, on the way into my old work on the train I would pass the EY building every single day. When I was looking for roles and I was searching for that people culture, EY was one of those companies that kept on popping up. I had never delved too far or really understood management consulting firms or the big four, until I came across EY in my research.”

“It was like I was meant to work there. It felt like it was so right that I decided to trust my gut and it has definitely paid off.” Despite only having six months experience in an similar role, Kim got the job and was on her way to success.

Learning on the job

Four years later, Kim has elevated her position at EY and is now EA to Heidi Riddell, Asia-Paci c risk advisory leader. Her job is diverse, challenging, and Kim wears many hats. A project manager, advisor to her boss and a true strategic partner. Getting to where she is now was no walk in the park, Kim is always striving to push herself forward.

“In the four years I’ve had the mentality to just continue learning, taking every opportunity that comes to me. About two and a half years ago I had the opportunity to interview with Heidi. She is a supportive boss, and saw that I was interested in learning more about what she does. I just started saying to her, ‘can I come to this meeting, can I come to that meeting, and gain a full understanding of what your business objectives are?’”

Kim started taking notes in leadership meetings, and taking control of any actions that needed handling. After Heidi’s position was elevated to encompass both Oceania and the Asia-Paci c region, Kim stepped up to the challenge.

“I knew that they previously had a couple of operations managers supporting [the previous boss] in that role. So I said to Heidi, I’m really interested in this. I know that I might not have the training and the experience that an EY senior manager would, but if you are happy I would really love to have a go at this.”

“She was, as usual, was completely supportive.” But the personal development didn’t stop there. Meanwhile, Kim had just completed a diploma of project management. Even now she is studying a bachelor of business part time, with high distinction grades to boot.

Balancing it all

A full time workload at EY and a part time degree definitely takes its toll. EAs aren’t strangers to burnout and Kim is no exception.

“At EY I have been at a position where I have burnt out. I think as EAs in general we want to give and give and give. In a place like EY where you are constantly busy, I hate saying ‘I’m so busy’ because I feel like everyone is busy. An EA at EY probably supports between four and five people. So you have a lot of people to answer to. When I had hit that moment of complete and utter exhaustion, I just had to take a step back.”

Learning to separate your mindset and your work is important. Controlling how much pressure at work leaks into your psyche is key to keeping healthy.

“I have a mantra, ‘you’re not saving lives’. Nothing is so important that you should sacrifice your personal wellbeing. That’s how I’ve managed to become more successful at what I do. I’ve done it through mindfulness, it’s the ability to pause and stop yourself from going into your head. I’ve practised it for quite a long time, and I have now reaped the rewards.”

Adapting to an ever-changing profession

The position of an EA is so much more than what it used to be. Management support now encompasses roles such as project management, event management and key strategic decision making. At EY, Kim is optimistic about the future of EAs, event despite some worrying changes.

“Strategic business partner, chief of staff, those kind of buzzwords have always been in my mind with how the EA profession is going. You are the right hand of your executive. They have complete trust in you, and you have the training, education, skills, and knowledge of the business objectives to actually go and make decisions for your executive. That’s where I want to go, that’s where I see it going.”

Unfortunately, due to a number of factors and the abundance of labour in the global market, offshore assistants are now taking over some of the work. But to Kim this is just another opportunity for growth.

“They’re doing expenses, booking travel, it’s really the bare bones of what our job is and it’s the really mundane stuff. I see it as an opportunity to let go of it and move on to something like I’m doing now, where you are literally keeping to the cool stuff and doing the things that lead you to the strategic business partner role.”

Kim’s perspective on the future of the profession is a lesson for all EAs. Adapting, learning, and developing yourself are keys to a successful career. Now an award-winning professional, Kim continues to push the boundaries and set an example for the entire profession.