Fran Lielje is the Executive Assistant to Lucy Brazier, OBE and the Office Manager at Executive Support Media
Can we start with a little background information? Where are you from and what do you do?
I grew up in a very small town called “Bad Oeynhausen” in West Germany, which most people in Germany only recognize from the constant traffic jams along the motorway! I left my hometown in 2012 at the age of 13 to go to boarding school in the northeast of Germany, where I finished my A-Levels at the age of 17. The decision to go to university had already been made, so I applied at the International School of Management (ISM) in Hamburg to study Tourism and Event Management. During my studies, I had the opportunity to do an internship at the 5-star Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin and eventually ended up signing a contract with the hotel for a 3-year apprenticeship in hotel management, from which I graduated in 2016.
I then moved on to a beautiful German Island called Sylt to get additional, seasonal experience in the hotel business and then decided to support my parents’ business for a year. That is where I had my first experience in a Management Assistant role.
How did you become an Assistant?
To gain more experience in the administrative field, I decided to accept a job offer to work as an Office Manager in Amman, Jordan in 2017 for six months, and that’s when I realized how important the Assistant role is and that this was what I wanted to do going forward.
After returning from the Middle East, I worked as an Executive Assistant to the CEO of an event location and gourmet restaurant in Stuttgart, Germany until COVID-19 hit in March 2020. I moved to Spain and met Lucy. I am currently working as her Office Manager and Executive Assistant here at Executive Support Media.
What are the main challenges of your role?
With Lucy being one of the leading authorities on the administrative profession, she is in great demand, and so the main challenge of my role is to prioritize her commitments and to determine how to best utilize her time so she can be the most efficient. Another thing is to make sure our communication is consistent, especially when she goes back to travelling the world. That way, the whole business has a clear direction, and the team can work efficiently and autonomously.
What are you enjoying most about your role?
What I love about working with Lucy is that I am constantly learning and growing and therefore the company is, too. Lucy and I work on an eye-to-eye level, which enables me to understand what the company’s goals are and be an active part in reaching them. She involves me in all the major business plans and decisions so that I can make sure everyone in the business is informed about changes and upcoming challenges. Another bonus will of course be the travelling and being able to meet all these amazing EAs in person. I believe it will enable me to fully understand the work Lucy does for the profession.
How do you find working with the new team, and being the go-between as well as managing Lucy?
I believe we have managed to put together a real “dream team.” The people who work at Executive Support Media genuinely care about the company and its success, which creates a unique working atmosphere. The Office Manager & EA role go hand in hand because we can only be successful if Lucy and the team are at their best. To ensure that, the “go-between” is particularly important to be able to ensure everyone’s expectations are met. This is a challenge, and it can get overwhelming easily, which is why it’s so important to have processes and procedures in place, communicate efficiently and trust each other.
Tell us the gossip! What is it really like to work at Executive Support Media?
That’s a good question. Working at Executive Support Media is like being at a family gathering every day. We care deeply about each other, we support and help each other, but we also have disagreements and discussions, make mistakes, and sometimes just get it wrong – like families do. But at the end of the day, we all have the same common goal, which is for everyone to be at their best and to create real change for the administrative profession. I believe we are doing a pretty good job at that so far.
You are a graduate of the ACEA training program. Tell us about taking part in the online course.
I am incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity to do the ACEA course in 2021. It covers a wide range of subjects and gives useful tools and skills that I take advantage of every day. What I thought was the greatest learning outcome was the broader understanding of the importance of the Assistant role and how many opportunities there are to step up and take on more responsibility to lead your executive, and therefore your company, to success.
You recently travelled with Lucy to an in-person Modern Day Assistant course. Can you tell us a bit about that?
As I have got to know Lucy over the past 16 months, I have learned that the most important thing for her is to be able to interact with Assistants on a personal level. That enables her to listen and understand their day-to-day struggles and therefore tailor her courses to fit their needs.
I realized early on in my role that I needed to get a better understanding of how teaching the full two-day Modern Day Assistant course impacts Lucy’s time, her energy, our communication and the overall work rhythm – especially now, when the course is once again being held live in different cities around the world.
Lucy invited me to London to experience just that, and I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate in the Modern Day Assistant course. Personally, I found the course extremely well structured, informative, and also interactive.
We began with understanding the history of the role and how it has been constantly evolving over the years. Throughout the course, Lucy focused on the opportunities that come with the role, especially now, with two years of being in a worldwide pandemic. She provided us with useful tools and resources to truly enable us to claim our seat at the table as equal business partners rather than in a pure support function. The course also includes some beautiful storytelling, which made it easy for us to take the information and transform it into an action plan.
I could really see how passionate Lucy is about supporting EAs to be the best they can possibly be, and I hope to stay in touch with the other EAs who joined us in London!
Why do you think the role of the Assistant is a valuable one?
After working for several different companies in different sectors, I have learned that Assistants are often taken advantage of and sadly only seen as the person you call when you want to get through to someone else – not realizing that the Assistant is the one who manages their executive’s time and therefore is the one they should really be talking to!
An Assistant is the glue that holds the business and its departments together and enables the executives to do what they are being paid to do. They are the employees who truly know what the challenges are throughout the entire business, and their job is to make sure everyone is working as efficiently as they can. There is no better person in a business to do that.
What advice would you give someone starting out as an Assistant?
My advice to someone starting out as an Assistant would be:
- Try to be as close as possible to your executive to understand how they work, how they would like to be communicated with, what their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are and therefore what their priorities are.
- Make sure you understand the core business ideas and values and gain as much knowledge about the business as you can.
- Always keep your skillset up to date and make sure you ask for training whenever you feel like you have some gaps, which we all do! And that’s okay; we just need to step up and work our way towards a seat at the table. Only then will you be able to free up your executive’s time so they can go out there and save the world.
So, what’s next for Fran Lielje? Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I love working alongside Lucy and I feel very privileged to be able to do so. I am constantly learning, and I am convinced that the learning won’t stop for quite some time.
A lot of exciting things are happening this year: we just introduced our Masterclass Series, and Lucy will be travelling around the world to bring her signature course, “The Modern-Day Assistant as a Strategic Business Partner,” to EAs everywhere. Executive Support Global is happening in June and our annual ES Tech event will take place in September, so there are many new opportunities and more lives to change. That’s why I hope we will be working together for a long time – if she lets me!