Q&A with Bethany Burns: PA of the Year 2020

Written by: Ethan Cumming
Published on: 29 Jul 2021

Twenty of the UK’s finest Personal Assistants, Executive Assistants and Office Managers held their breath and crossed their fingers as we announced the winner of the PA of the Year Awards at our virtual awards ceremony in November 2020.

Our event’s flagship award – the PA of the Year Award – was ultimately bestowed upon Bethany Burns, PA to the co-founder and CEO of Ellon, Aberdeenshire based brewery and pub chain BrewDog.

We caught up with last year’s champion to find out more about her career to date and her journey to the Awards.

Looking for this year's nomination form? Hit the button below to nominate yourself or a colleague today.

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Hi, Bethany. How did you become a Personal Assistant?

“I started off as a flight attendant back in the day, in Santa Barbara, California. When I moved to Florida, I wanted to be grounded for my school-age kids at the time, so an administrative role seemed a natural progression. From there, I climbed the corporate ladder and gained invaluable experience working for several super intelligent directors in several departments.

“In 2012, I relocated to Scotland and worked for a brilliant MD of a start-up drilling contractor, then a wealth management firm. I found I needed some excitement and the universe gifted me with the challenging, engaging role of First Mate to the Captain at BrewDog!”

 

BrewDog seems like an innovative and interesting company to work for. What does your role involve?

“BrewDog is amazing – super fast paced, ridiculously interesting and electric! My role involves everything imaginable to the not yet imagined.”

 

What do you love about your role as a PA?

“The ever-evolving landscape! There is constant change, the need to adapt and pivot. Sometimes it is exciting, sometimes uncomfortable, but always interesting!”

 

You nominated yourself for the PA of the Year Awards this year – how did you find the process and what would you say to any PAs toying with the idea of nominating themselves in 2021?

“Go for it! Know your value and put yourself out there. I think it is important to keep personally challenging yourself to evolve as an individual. I recommend you read interesting books (I read many of the books my boss reads), mix with brilliant people, take online courses (I’m just finishing a mini-MBA course!), do speaking events and above all, keep learning. Absorb the world around you.”

 

What did you think of the PA of the Year Awards interview process?

“What a lovely experience! Sarah EL-Doori and Susanna Tait were a delight to talk with, and made what is otherwise a faceless process, a really meaningful interaction, which I really appreciated.”

 

When introducing you as a finalist, PA of the Year Awards host Dan Richards said that “when a firm’s strength lies in its innovation and agility, the role of the PA is never more demanding.” What’s your secret to staying on top of so many competing priorities?

“My network! The strength of the collective brilliant brains that I am fortunate enough to have on veritable speed dial is indispensable and crucial to my success. I certainly don’t know everything, but I can definitely connect the right resource to the current challenge.”

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This year’s PA of the Year Awards was held virtually for the first time due to Coronavirus. What did you think of the ceremony?

“The team did a great job of making it such a special event, with a bright focus on so many positive aspects in such a tough era! Everyone has had to make concessions in work and life this year, and the grace and ease of this event didn’t go unnoticed.”

 

How does it feel to be the winner of the PA of the Year Award?

“It feels amazing to be recognised by my peers, and it feels great to elevate the role and bring visibility to the importance, diversity, and value that these roles embody!”

 

How did your colleagues and boss react when they found out you won?

“I was honestly so humbled by the reactions. Sometimes you don’t realise how many people, sectors, and businesses that you touch. I have such gratitude to be connected to so many invaluable people!”

 

In your winner’s speech you said that all the PA of the Year Awards finalists were “like shadow CEOs” – could you explain that for our readers?

“Definitely! We are absolutely ‘shadow CEOs’. We need to know the current business landscape, the current priorities, and every aspect of the business that the CEO intersects with. We need to keep all the key players informed – the CEO, the directors, the board members, the investors, the customers. We make strategic business connections, read up on the latest ideas and intuitively know the synergies that might influence the trajectory and outcomes. We have to be completely informed in order to make the greatest impact for the CEOs we support.”

 

Do you have any interesting or funny stories from your time as a PA?

“Too many! I will say that one of my first tasks at BrewDog was to get costumes for James and Martin’s version of the ‘Queen’s Speech’. Shopping for mother-of-the-bride outfits in a charity shop and holding up each garment for an honest assessment… ‘will this shade of pale blue go with his eyes or do we go with a brighter teal here’… was something else!”

 

It would be great if you could explain in your own words why Personal Assistants are so important to the businesses and individuals they work for.

“Assistants don’t just appear with a nice smile and blank canvas – they possess an arsenal of skills, a massive textured canvas of knowledge and experience to assist people and business, both in the moment and behind the scenes, to set active success in motion. They are soundboards and touchpoints. They make things happen – important things that impact seamless experiences. Support is defined as ‘to bear all or part of the weight; to hold up’.”

 

What advice would you give to other PAs hoping to replicate your success?

“Believe in yourself! Make informed decisions, educated guesses, and take smart risks. You live once… live it well!”

 

Do you have what it takes to replicate Bethany’s success and be named the PA of the Year 2021? Nominations close soon, so submit yours today by clicking on the button below.

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