The PAssion for detail
The story of Cristina and Carlota, two PAs who love their work
Cristina studied Tourism and trained within the world of hospitality. Carlota chose marketing and selected “social media” and a diploma in journalism and communication, as well as fashion and luxury services. She has only been working at Alberta La Grup for a year, while Cristina is already becoming a veteran with her six years at the agency. But they both love their work. Within them, they carry the same passion for detail and a job well done, for a vocation for service and a great communication and empathy capacity. Their work as “personal angels – PA” in Alberta La Grup represents everything they dreamed of, even before knowing that this job existed. We spoke with them to tell us how they started their career, what training is needed to become Personal Angel, what their day-to-day is like and how they see their future. Neither of them has doubts in one thing: If only they could have studied the postgraduate course at THE LIFESTYLE INSTITUTE, which begins in the Fall. It is a golden door entrance to the profession that they are so passionate about.
Cristina studied Tourism and undertook training in hospitality. She started working in a prestigious hotel in the United States, where customer service is essential, as well as in a well-known hotel in Barcelona. Little by little, she realized that there was a very strong vocation in her for coming to light: “My vocation is almost innate,” she says. In both cases, she worked within the Vip Manager area and began to feel great frustration because many of the clients’ requests were left unanswered and she had the feeling that she could go much further. “I noticed that I was falling short in my capacity to serve and that I wanted to give more, but it was not allowed,” she explains. “Also, you couldn’t have a direct deal with clients and suppliers for them to explain properly what they needed.” Then, Cristina received what she was waiting for: a signal, in the form of an email from Alberta La Grup, where they specified a service that they were preparing for a client, and she understood that this was her path. “I don’t know if it was the calligraphy, the typeface, the color, the details, but something switched in me and I said to myself, that was what I wanted, and that was what I was looking for. Those details in every element –the desk, that was so romantic, that carries this or that, the flowers–, and the care from that letter captivated me so much that I even saved that email –I don’t know if it was very professional, she says between laughs–.
How did you start in the profession?
I had to renew my contract, but decided not to and try my luck. And the first door I knocked on was Alberta La Grup. At that time they had no room for me. After four months, they called me and I have not separated from them since. It’s just been six years. From the beginning, I said to myself: this is what I expected. I just started with a project of exclusive residences with “concierge” service that they were starting up. I started doing very basic tasks, but it was the beginning of a project, and I understood what the business circumstances were at that time. And I learned everything, from preparing the apartments for arrival, to the flowers or the kitchenware. I realized that being PA is not only about “glamor”, whoever expects this is far from reality. You have to go buy a light bulb if you need it or be aware of the appliances. Ultimately, it is about providing global customer service.
How was your training?
I first studied in Lleida as I’m from there. I did the first two years of Tourism and the third one I completed near Paris, in Cergy-Pontoise. There I got a degree, instead of a diploma, because there were many more subjects, history, negotiation classes, so I got more credits. I then returned to Spain. I worked in fairs and events, collaborated with the Lleida council. I was not sure what to do. What I was looking for. I wanted something else. I liked working for the client and I loved everything that involved being a retailer. Then I did a Postgraduate degree in Events and another in Politics within the world of Tourism, before going to the United States, where I worked in several hotels.
“To be PA, one has to be discreet, organized, and be aware of others” Cristina says.
What qualities do you think should define a PA?
To be a PA, one has to be discreet, organized, be aware of others, know how to listen, know how to give the right answer in the right tone, not give an out-of-place opinion, get ahead of yourself. Basically you have to know how to be present, but without being very visible. Discretion and proactivity are essential. You are 24 hours connected, but not absorbed, you do it with joy. In addition, you need to be tempered, you must know how to show them when they are not right but you cannot give them a resounding “no”. That is why self-confidence is essential. You should know that you are not a friend of the client, although you are part of their life, there is a fine line that must not be crossed. Nor should we feel small, even though the majority of clients are large businessmen or families, with a lot of experience and very well educated.
Is it difficult to find that balance point?
One has to have inner strength and security to be helpful, but treat the customer as an equal. You are learning through error, trial, error. The important thing is to have a good basic training, in hospitality, languages, guest services in a prestigious brand, for example.
What difficult situations have you had to face?
For example, moving. Many people think that the work will be done in 24 hours and do not realize that there is much more behind it. We carry out an exhaustive inventory, we place everything as the client wishes, we protect delicate objects in a special way. There is nothing left to do. We have also chosen a home or holiday residence for the client without him / her having seen it. We have made visits in her name, we have been her eyes and we have put ourselves in her place to try to be as accurate as possible …We could not have always been right! And, furthermore, we must not forget that we cannot do magic, we persist until the end, and we try, but if we cannot, we cannot. In these cases, you have to react with a lot of self-control, at first it was something that caused me anxiety and some frustration, because the result was not what the client expected. In these situations, you should enter your way of expressing yourself to convey that to the client.
We must not forget that we cannot do magic, we persist until the end, and we try, but if we cannot, we cannot. Cristina’s dixit
What are the basic functions of a PA?
My maximum is to know and be able to manage the lifestyle of the clients. It consists, in general, of 70% of home and family and 30% of leisure and entertainment: Organizing vacations, trips, home services. And basically, you have to think about the client, protect them. That’s what I like. Candles for the person. You make the client’s whole life run, in harmony. You take care of knowing the school activities that their children have, knowing what they like so that they can schedule them. We anticipate a quarter in the suggestions and proposals, because we know what may be needed, even before they themselves.
You mentioned before that a PA is not a friend. What other things is not a PA?
A counselor, for example. You can give your opinion, but you should not imply that this is final, things, situations vary and caution is a virtue. You also have to flee from self-centeredness, you can’t always take things for granted: this is the best, I’m going to get you this, etc. Do not brag, because there are things that do not depend on you. A PA is a professional and is also a human being and we can make mistakes. So, you have to recognize it and make self-criticism to continue with a firm step.
Is it difficult to be clear about the distance that you have to have as a professional?
I now begin, after six years, to put that distance and have the knowledge that experience gives you. When I started I felt small. It is complex, you can be more or less in tune with the client and you breathe and tell yourself that it is nothing personal but it does establish a strong professional relationship and you have to think that there are people in one way or another, sharper or sweeter . With the help of our coach, you are trying these episodes and you see that there are tools to improve communication with clients.
“You make the client’s whole life run, in harmony”. Cristina says.
What is one of your work days like?
The first hour you dedicate to yourself, answering messages, prioritizing what you can do, scheduling, etc. Then we have a meeting and organize the work. Then you visit a client to talk to the staff and check if everything is okay, or to see the second residence or take the car to the workshop. There is an office part, of procedures to comply with the client’s requests, and another one in person and contact. There are clients you don’t see, others once a month, and others require a constant presence. You are a bit of the eyes and the right hand of the client.
You said before you watch over your clients. That you are a “personal angel”
Yes, we ensure that their affairs are well taken care of. We improve their contracts, we always look for the best solution for them. We speak languages, we have skills, experience and training and we do more than just fulfill assignments.
Can you give me the portrait of your clients?
They belong to a very high social and economic class, with needs that ordinary people don’t even know exist. Complex lives. They travel by private plane, they have a private driver. For them, there are many things, such as having a perfect sauna or being able to go horse riding, which are essential as they provide them with their moments of relaxation. Many use an escort service with bodyguards. 85% -90% are foreigners. This international client comes already knowing who a PA is, they have chosen us personally. Many have a PA in their country and it is easier to work with them. They are very organized when it comes to sending you emails, for example. With the national client it is different. Many still do not know very well what we do and we have to be careful so that they do not think that we are meddling in things that they already have controlled. Dealing with the customer here is a more careful task, you have to be more delicate. I think it is because it is not a service that has been given so much here, here the family or friends are more involved, and they end up being their “assistants”. I hope we can change this and be a reference in the personal assistance for the national client as well.
Carlota: “I usually say” I sell my time and I dedicate myself to not worrying about others “,
Carlota is 26 years old, energetic and entrepreneurial. As a child, she wanted to be a businesswoman and a journalist and present sports. Today with a training in Literature, Marketing and Market Research, and after opting for a training in Social Media, a diploma in journalism and another in communication, fashion and luxury services, she has found the job that she is passionate about. “I came up with the idea of working in managing the day-to-day life of people who didn’t have time, that’s where I started,” she explains. “I went out to look in London and Paris for training for a personal assistant or“ personal shopper ”. I found the testimony of an American PA who worked for actresses and I thought: that’s what I want ”. Carlota’s qualities have helped her in her PA career. “I have communication skills, humane skills, I am open-minded, I have studied at an international school, my family has given me relationships since I was little, and all that is a plus,” she explains. “I consider myself a person who takes the reins, and I am brave.” These are, without a doubt, the qualities of a great professional.
You say you can’t stand the routine. This job is exactly that, anything but routine.
Yes, correct. I wanted a job where every day was different. I can’t be in an office from eight to five. I was not sure what to study. And then I looked for a job in which the four aspects in which I was trained, something like “personal shopper”, or “concierge”, like the one who works in large hotels. And I began to inquire. I came across an online testimonial from a PA and thought: this is my dream job. And I started looking for companies in Barcelona, where there are, in fact, only a few of them.
You have been working at Alberta La Grup for a year. What attracted you the most about the Alberta La Grup philosophy?
For me, there is a very important phrase which is that “details make the difference” and I believe that discretion, privacy and knowing how to be are essential. And this is reflected by Alberta La Grup. Everything coincided. And in the first interview I already had a lot of “feeling”. We had common values. It was like a gift that life gave me after a difficult personal time, it is destiny.
How do you describe your work to other people?
I usually say “I sell my time and I dedicate myself to not worrying about others”, and that confuses a lot of people. But that’s how it is. I manage another person’s lifestyle, I anticipate their needs. We are a guardian angel, we are pending 24/7 and, wherever you are and when you need it, we will always be there. For me, this is the new luxury of the 21st century, time, because it is the only thing that never returns when it leaves.
How is one of your days?
It is unpredictable. I may arrive at the office, the phone rings, and I may have to go to Geneva in three hours to deliver a mobile phone that has been left in Barcelona. You don’t send it by mail because the client wants you to go and if there are no flights, it’s not a problema as there is always a solution, a private flight. Or I arrange that a client, who was going on a trip and couldn’t buy the ice creams that he liked the most, could have them at home when he arrives. It is knowing how to offer what clients need at all times, even thinking for them. Not everyone can do it. You have to know how to manage your emotions well and know how to differentiate the personal from the professional. It is important not to transfer the problems of work to your life, because there are times when clients can be suffocating, demanding something from you that does not depend on you and that it is not possible to do. You have to be emotionally prepared, know when it was your mistake and when it wasn’t.
Would you say it’s a stressful job?
The truth is that no, if you are used to working under pressure. My days are eight hours. I always say they are a surprise, you never know who is going to call on the phone.
What difficult moments have you had with clients?
Fortunately, all of our clients tend to be people of integrity and with values. Perhaps the only time I felt vulnerable was when a person I was working with, a client who got along very well with me turned out to be vain, and manipulative in exposing me. But then everything cleared up.
And what is the most comforting thing you have experienced?
Accompanying the elderly parents of a client to the airport, they are vulnerable people and you are impressed with how they thank you. The fact that they trusted me from the beginning is something that motivates a lot, it makes you grow professionally.
I would recommend to fly high, to not to be afraid to feel less because you are dealing with people of a high level.
How do you see yourself in the future? Where would you like to go in your profession?
I am a dreamer and my dream would be to become an entrepreneur in the field of PA. It is an ambitious dream.
What would you say to a person starting in this profession?
I would recommend to fly high, to not to be afraid to feel less because you are dealing with people of a high level. They need you, it is a team effort and that is important in any job. Also, to know how to handle discretion, privacy and knowing how to be. That many times you will have to bite your tongue. Also be empathetic, proactive, don’t be lazy, always have the words “yes” or “I can” ready. I think it is one of the most important keys. It is a very emotional job, and there are crazy days. And you have to know how to read between the lines to understand everyone, be intuitive. Know when to say things and how to say them.
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Credits: photo by Luca Feller