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?

MF: You can contact me on LinkedIn here or you can email me.

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!


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