Headshot Maria Cirillo

Maria Cirillo is the Executive Chair of International Management Assistants (IMA) and an Executive Assistant in Sweden

Can we start with a little background information? Where are you from and what is your current role?

I work as an Executive Coordinator at Swedish Forest Industries in Sweden. My office is in the city of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. I live with my fiancé, Per, in a terraced house an hour’s drive outside Stockholm and I have a daughter, who is 27 years old. Per also has two daughters from his first marriage, so we are a family of five and three boyfriends! Per also has a grandchild, a beautiful little boy called Elton.

What is your background? How and why did you become an administrative professional?

I studied information, sociology, and administration at university when I was young and then later studied marketing as a supplement. I also attended the Executive Assistant Masterclass at Företagsuniversitetet.

After university, I was active in politics, both as a political secretary and as a politician at regional level. I wrote a lot of political articles, and I organised the work for the county councillor. They were fun and interesting years where I worked with something that was also my pastime interest. Perfect when you are young and active!

But, after many years in politics, I was ready for something new and wanted to move into the business world. I moved to Franke, an international company which fabricates products in stainless steel, and became the Executive Assistant.

It was a great “school” where I cultivated my skills as an Executive Assistant. As the company was international, I had many contacts around the world. The head office was located in Germany, and I was in contact with the German Executive Assistant every day. The office in Sweden had around 50 employees: 20 in the office and 30 “blue collar” workers. As the Executive Assistant, my main task was to support the CEO, but I was also the substitute in many positions, such as reception, logistics, IT, and sales. So, you see, I learned a lot of administrative tasks! We were a nice group of people at that workplace, with a lot of laughter and jokes.

Now I have, in a way, returned to the political area. Not as a politician, but we work in the lobbying area of forest industries. I am the right-hand person to the Director General and ensure the smooth functioning of daily operations around her. Additionally, I coordinate the work for all six managers and departments. Given my background in communication, it’s natural for me to collaborate with the Communications Director and her team. I have a great involvement in coordinating various events and participating in trade shows, which adds another layer of complexity to the role.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

At my second workplace as an Executive Assistant, I was allowed to work close to the board: board meetings, minutes, agenda, general meetings, group trips, and so on. As that company was municipally owned, the board consisted of municipal politicians from several different political sides. That made it very delicate to work with: you needed to be a diplomat. As I had been in the political business, that situation suited me well. I loved working so close to the board and the chairperson.

I was also an active part of the management team; I had the role of Secretary. I juggled many tasks and responsibilities at that workplace, such as calendar management and mail correspondence, and I was the “go-to” person for all managers at that company (we had approx. 700 employees). I loved it and stayed there for 11 years, but I needed to see something else before retirement, so I moved on to the forest industries. Fun, isn’t it, forest industries in the country of the forest, Sweden!

I am also immensely proud that I have extended my current work situation, so I am both the Executive Assistant and a type of coordinator. We decided to change the title to Executive Coordinator; it is just a title, but it gives the impact of a more open role and that I am an important player in the future of the office.

You are the current Executive Chair of International Management Assistants (IMA). Tell us about that.

I am honoured to have the assignment as the Executive Chair of IMA, which is another side of my professional life. My main task is to keep the work together and ensure that the board works in the best interest of the members. I am driven to keep IMA the best professional network.

What is your vision for IMA?

As the Chair, my ambition is that IMA continues as a great international and professional network – that all members, no matter where they live and work, will feel included in the network. An especially important task as I see it is to encourage members to take on assignments within the network. Being part of the network is fantastic; you make a lot of new friends and gain a lot of knowledge, but if you take on an assignment within the network it is a real education. You get the opportunity to be part of a lot of fun and interesting meetings and adventures. That is something I would like more of our members to feel, and I hope they will during the coming years.

Another important thing is to create an environment in the organisation which allows all member countries to feel included and to thrive as functional groups. All members are important to me.

I know it will be a lot of work, but I hope I will manage it, and I have promised myself to not procrastinate on the tasks I have on my table!

What strategies do you use to balance your job, your committee obligations, and your life outside work?

I put some hours aside every week for the Executive Committee so I can focus on IMA when I have the time set aside for it. It is important to do a good job, but I also have to do a good job at my office, so planning is crucial.

I prioritise sleep and take my power walks. I don’t have too much to do outside the work, and the committee wants my attention, so when I have my spare time, that time is for me and what I think is nice to do.

What inspires and motivates you?

For me, it is all the fantastic colleagues I meet within IMA. To have a job I like and to know I make a positive impact there motivates me to get up in the morning. Every morning, I start the day with positive thoughts about my life and remind myself to be grateful. Life is fragile, so we must take care of it. To be a part of IMA is, for me, to take care of my life.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Assistants?

As I see it, we need to be flexible in our work now when we are a part of digital development. We need to change the way of working and we need to develop new sides of our work.

We need to cultivate our soft skills and cultivate the cultural side. Develop an interest in being a carrier of culture. That is a part that I work with every day, to develop the company culture at my workplace. It is an important part of my annual goals. Not everyone understands that company culture is important and that it is something we need to talk about and work with seriously. For me, it is the Executive Assistant that needs to take on the leadership role here.

So, what’s next for Maria Cirillo? Where do you want to be in five years?

I am not so young, so in a few years I will be retired, but I hope I will have the same positive mindset. When I think about it, I have to think about what I can do that will stimulate me. I have an idea to start my own business as an administrative consultant, part time. Just an idea for now. I know I might change my mind and set up another goal for the future and the retirement to come. We’ll see.

Kathleen Drum’s mission is to bring thought-provoking, timely and inspiring content to administrative professionals worldwide, empowering them to succeed in their roles and excel in their careers. As the Senior Editor at Executive Support Media, she works ... (Read More)

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