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Real EAs of Wellington: Episode Two – Antoinette Wilcox

Business Support

With a career spanning over thirty years, Antoinette Wilcox is a true gem among Wellington’s Executive Assistant professionals. I sat down with Antoinette to hear more about her journey from an office junior role at the age of 17, to her current position as the Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive at The New Zealand Film Commission.

Tell us about your pathway to becoming an Executive Assistant (EA).

Antoinette Wilcox

I didn’t set out in life to be an EA, but I took a job as an office junior in a large advertising company because it seemed like heaps of money at the time, and, being just 17, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. It was the 80s and, to be honest, we spent much more time having fun than working – it involved a lot of alcohol! I’ll always be grateful that I made lifelong friendships at that job. I quickly climbed the ladder within the organisation and within a year was working as the PA to the Director.

From there, I worked for a property development company, and by my early 20s, was working directly for the Chief Executive. I realised I was pretty good at it and that I’d found my niche. Since then, I’ve never looked back and have worked for more than 10 Chief Executives over a career spanning 30+ years.

What’s your funniest/most embarrassing moment as an EA?

There are so many to choose from! The most recent one was in my current role when a famous NZ actor had a meeting with my CEO. It was around lunchtime and I had made a toasted sandwich which was very dry, so I waited until he had left the office to eat it, but didn’t realise he’d popped in to someone else’s office to day hello. On his way back, he headed straight for my desk to introduce himself… just as I’d taken a bite of my “sawdust” sandwich!  I was chewing frantically, trying to swallow it so I could shake hands and say hello, and thrust my hand out to head him off at the pass, but he leaned in for the kiss on the cheek. I’m sure I had crumbs around my mouth and must have looked like a demented hamster as I mumbled a sandwich filled “nice to meet you”. I just wanted the ground to open up!

What’s been the biggest challenge in your career?

Moving to New Zealand. When I came to Wellington, my CV was just a piece of paper and my experience was all in London; I had to start from scratch and prove myself all over again. My first gig was a temporary role working for the Secretary for Transport at the Ministry of Transport. I remember being completely overwhelmed and thinking that everyone was so much smarter than me and it was only a matter of time before they’d find out I was a complete fraud. Within 2 weeks, they offered me the role permanently and I stayed for 6 years.

Who do you admire and why?

Anyone who tries to make the world a better place. The smallest act can make the world of difference to someone.

If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?

Without a shadow of doubt, I would be a vet. When I was in my final year of school, we had a careers evening and the girls were separated from the boys. All the girls were advised to go into teaching, nursing or secretarial work. The boys were all encouraged to take up a trade. Looking back, I can’t believe how short sighted those careers advisers were. I said I wanted to be a vet and was told to forget about it because I wasn’t smart enough. What a load of tosh! I should have completely ignored them and applied for University.

If I win Lotto, then I will either volunteer full time for HUHA (Helping You to Help Animals) which is a no kill animal shelter run solely by volunteers; it relies solely on donations as they receive no funding. Alternatively, I’ll start my own shelter as a sister arm of HUHA.

If you could rewind 10 years and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?

Listen to your peers! And don’t worry if people tell you that you have OCD; I think it’s an essential requirement for a good EA.

Don’t be too precious. Muck in and help with the yucky jobs. If you help others out, it will pay dividends in the long run.

What’s the best piece of advice that’s helped you in your career?

Current role: “You will never go home having ticked off every item on your to do list. Don’t fret about it; you can do it tomorrow and the world won’t end.”

What’s your favourite piece of work wardrobe?

Smart black pants. I have 8 pairs. Oh, and jewellery. You can always liven up a Wellington black outfit with a nice necklace.

Where is the best place in Wellington to get a coffee/drink?

For a great coffee, my office, actually! We have a fabulous coffee machine so I can have as many flat whites as I like. For a drink, I really like St John’s Bar, particularly in the summer when you can lounge around on bean bags in the sun.

If you were not living in Wellington – where would you be and why?

Back home in Cork, Ireland. As they say, home is where the heart is.