Admin Spotlight – Martha Fernando
Name: Martha Fernando
Job Title: Lawyer / Executive Assistant / Family Law Masters Candidate
Company: Goldman Sachs
Thank you for agreeing to be featured on the Admin Spotlight. I know you’re not a fan of having the spotlight on you. You’re a quiet achiever so I really appreciate you sharing your career journey as I personally have found it fascinating to follow.
Admin Avenues: How long have you been an Executive Assistant?
Martha Fernando: I have been an EA longer than I have worked in Law – hence that would be close to 25+ years.
AA: From your first day to now, how has your definition of the Executive Assistant role changed?
MF: I believe an EAs role is to serve (as is a Lawyer’s role) just in a more speedy way! An EAs role is primarily the right hand to the person one is supporting – the CEO, CFO, CIO, MD, VP whomever you support individual or team – you are there to anticipate their needs, assist them to manage their jobs/roles by alleviating the less arduous technical tasks so that “they” are more productive in their roles to achieve the objectives of the Company.
An EA – in today’s world is not a mere typist, coffee maker, laundry collector – an EA is a business support person – a Partner to the team and/or an individual, the 2IC in charge of managing that person’s day-day activities, an EA is the right hand person to his/her team or individual she/he supports.
AA: After an outstanding career as a c-suite Executive Assistant, you went on to study law and became a lawyer. What prompted this career change?
MF: I have always wanted to study Law or Psychology – I chose the former as it was more challenging (and I love a challenge); I felt it was my forte and the learning was valuable, not just in law but in day-day life and skills.
AA: How did you manage to study law and continue to work full time as a c-suite Executive Assistant?
MF: It was not easy – there were days when I felt it was too much, however, I am not one to give up (on anything) once I start I need to finish! The demands of an EA role (as you know it is not always a 9am-5pm (plus attending lectures, undertaking assignments and studying for final exams)) was challenging – but it made for an interesting as well as resilient character!
AA: What advice would you give to admins who were looking to do the same thing (maybe not law), study and work as an Executive Assistant?
MF: Go for it! My advise would be study something you enjoy – not what society deems ‘prestigious’ or ‘fashionable’. Once you study something you enjoy, it becomes less tedious and fringes the incentive to complete the undertaking.
AA: After practicing law, you decided to move back to being an Executive Assistant. What promoted this?
MF: Law is interesting, challenging, long hours, hard work and never stops. I find all these elements comfortable – what I did not find comfortable were the Principal lawyers – which created a toxicity that did not algin with my personality, some elements of law did not align with my value base. Although the law is important; society needs lawyers – however, it needs much reform and I believe the younger generation (whatever the acronym (Gen Y?) for the up and coming young ones) will ensure that the law is done differently – with more work-life balance, more decorum, respect and a whole lot more ethical!
I took a year off (due to medical diagnosis) and I told myself one year was enough – and I will get back into law – in that “gap” year, whilst working as an EA at a Global Investment bank, I found the role and tasks so simple, lacking in depth and not as motivating as law – life was so simple, no one yelling at you, demanding your time 24/7 literally (yes, I also worked the occasional Sunday); as a junior lawyer you can never say no, as a senior lawyer I doubt you could either! Don’t get me wrong, I missed the challenges, I missed the detail oriented work, I missed the principles of law and how interesting it is – compared with EA work (subjective of course!) however, I did not miss the life as a lawyer – (which may never change) nor the salary as junior lawyer!!
What I learned in the legal arena (the legal skillset that was fastidiously imbedded), I practised as an EA – which only added value and made for a much better EA who thought outside the box, willing to do more, research further, seeking to understand why and what the purpose of a task and or the outcomes of the organisation. Working smarter as opposed to harder. These initiatives and skills were noted and put me cut above the rest – in some ways, and in other ways not popular with the majority of EAs – which is not always pleasant, however, my thick skin can cope with not being ‘popular’ as opposed to doing my job well!
Currently I am undertaking Masters in Family Law (LLM) and practise law by guiding clients in the area of family law – that is – not advising, but guiding them to understand the process and principles of a financial (property) settlement or childcare arrangement or divorce.
I have not given up on practising law! For now, I am enjoying the less stressful area of work (although not taxing) and acquiring the mental stimulation by studying LLM.
AA: Do you feel your skills and knowledge from being a lawyer have made you a better Executive Assistant?
MF: Definitely – as stated above. It gives an edge.
AA: You also continue to practice law via charity work. How do you manage to fit it all in?
MF: Working as an EA for a lot longer than a lawyer, I have learnt the skill of managing, co-ordinating time and tasks very well!
Charity work, makes for a fulsome life – giving back to the community is important – I am grateful for all that I have and until you see what others are going through you cannot fathom how fortunate you are – it puts things in perspective.
I encounter many scenarios of lonely, homeless and mental disorders – people just want to be listened to, heard, connected with and empowered.
AA: You also have a family, how do you make it all work? (I personally am blown away).
MF: Well, my son and daughter are young adults – I do very little of care-taking – but I am always there for them when in need – it is important that they know that – as parents we need to be available for our children to ensure emotional and physical security.
AA: What are 3 items you can’t work without?
MF: God (I am a Christian), Family and Friends
AA: What do you consider to be the most rewarding aspect of your position as an Executive Assistant?
MF: Being able to assist one person or a team to achieve a fruitful outcome – no matter how challenging. Similar to being a lawyer, helping someone to achieve a positive outcome – although as an EA our charge out rate is a lot less (and it does not take months or years to achieve an (positive) outcome)!!
AA: What skills do you possess that you believe is crucial to your Executive Assistant role?
MF: Listening, understanding, going beyond the elements of the JD/role and working as a team (not as an individual). Lastly not taking all criticism personally – being able to brush things off and adopting the art of resilience – most important element in any job!
AA: Can you recommend any helpful books, courses, programs, or podcasts that you love?
MF: I read a lot – not necessarily related to work (although reading legal text books and cases are related to study and work) – I read non-fiction. I believe one gains knowledge through experiences – living it!
AA: What is the most exciting opportunity you have had as an Executive Assistant?
MF: All of my roles have been insightful, exciting and feel grateful to have worked for top tier ASX listed and Global firms in Sydney.
AA: Do you have any tips that you would like to share?
MF: It is important to be ego-less (although I may have sounded ego-istic above in relation to my response as an EA)! Most importantly humility is important in any role in any field. It is a difficult element to acquire – ego plays amongst the insecure – and we are all insecure in some form – practising humility is important – I believe it comes with self-assurance, independence and believing in yourself and particulary being authentic. There is no competition in authenticity!
AA: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
MF: Do not sweat the small stuff.
Sometimes it is best to give in (particularly if one is secure) than fight it out.
Most importantly – be kind.
AA: Do you have any top tip/s for keeping your resume up to date and job-ready?
MF: Updating as and when you changes roles.
AA: If our Admin Avenues community would like to contact / follow you, where can they reach you?
AA: Is there anything else you would like to add?
MF: May I add that I am blown away by your success, your perseverance and your resilience since starting Admin Avenues. I am so proud of you. It takes a lot of hard, long and arduous hours and tasks to start this venture – congratulations on getting this far – well done!
Want to be featured on The Admin Spotlight?
We’re always looking for admins to share their experiences, advice and tips with our admin community. If you would like to be featured, send us an email at [email protected].