Nicholas Coleridge CBE is President of Condé Nast International, and Managing Director of Condé Nast Britain. Condé Nast International is the overseas division of Condé Nast Inc. It publishes 126 magazines, close to 100 websites and over 200 tablet and smartphone apps in 29 international markets. Key brands include Vogue, Architectural Digest, Gentlemen’s Quarterly (GQ), Vanity Fair, House & Garden, Tatler, Glamour, Condé Nast Traveller, Wired and Love.
Nicholas is currently Chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum and Chairman of HRH The Prince of Wales’ Campaign for Wool. He is also an Ambassador for The Landmark Trust and a Patron of The Elephant Family. Previously, Nicholas has been Chairman of the British Fashion Council and Chairman of the Professional Publishers Association. He was founding Chairman of Fashion Rocks and was on the Advisory Board for the Concert for Diana. He has been a member of the Council of the Royal College of Art, a member of the Trading Board of the Prince’s Trust and a Director of PressBof. Nicholas is also author of 12 books, both fiction and non-fiction, which have been published in 17 languages.
Do you believe that behind every great business leader is a great PA?
To have first-rate assistants in the office makes a crucial difference. I am particularly fortunate at the moment. Emma Brown is my Executive Assistant (EA), and Francesca Hanratty backs her up. In the past three decades I have had six PAs – they have done an average of six years each, before becoming exhausted by me, and going off to get married or suchlike. All six have been very good and loyal, but I think the current team is the best it has been. I do quite a lot of things – 26 overseas business trips a year for Condé Nast International, mostly to Moscow, Mumbai, Munich and New York, and I also run our British company which has 800 people, and I Chair the Victoria & Albert Museum as well as an environmental campaign concerning wool for the Prince of Wales. All of these activities have large casts of people involved, who ring all the time, and need attention and face-time. Emma is brilliant at remembering who they all are, scheduling it, and knowing who gets instant access and who doesn’t. And who I need to ring back immediately or whose calls can interrupt a meeting (the answer is: my wife, our four children, and anyone with the surname Newhouse, who own Condé Nast). It is also vital to have a PA who “gives good phone” – i.e. who is always polite on the telephone to strangers and never sounds harassed as it gives a good impression. Anyone ringing my office should be met by an air of calm and pleasant competence, so they feel reassured.
To have first-rate assistants in the office makes a crucial difference…it is also vital to have a PA who “gives good phone”
What makes a great PA over a competent PA?
It is largely about intelligence, and being constantly “on it”. Knowing what needs prioritising, while seldom forgetting anything. And planning ahead. Emma is excellent at this, I’m very lucky. She is always thinking six trips ahead, booking hotels, flights, cars. Printing boarding cards. Reserving my favourite airline seats on Sunday morning for a Monday flight. Reminding me about my godchildren’s birthdays, getting birthday cards. Reminding me about my wedding anniversary. And sometimes telling me to go home early if I’ve been out ten nights in a row (frequent) and getting a bit stressed (not so frequent). And she always gives me the latest 5-day weather forecast for wherever I’m headed, so I know what to pack.
Would you agree that chemistry is the key ‘ingredient’ for a successful long-term working relationship between a PA & Principal?
This is vital. If you don’t like your PA as a person, it’s hopeless. After all, you see them most days and are in constant touch. My dream (which I have achieved) is to be greeted by someone with a smiley face, but who also gets the mood. Some days are very hard work, serious days, other days easier, with time for jokes. I like people who can do both. I appreciate an EA who can liaise with colleagues setting up meetings, making things work and happen, but who also ensures suits go off to the dry cleaner and photographs get printed and that Brian, my driver, is ready outside the office at the right time. Francesca is particularly kind about these things. And collecting my breakfast in the office (ham and avocado) and my mid-morning sushi. Emma is an expert nutritionist and has recently forbidden me from drinking Clamato juice (my favourite) and Diet Coke. Instead I have water and a weird green juice.
Is your PA a confidante and sounding board for you?
Yes, I tend to share most things – my opinion on people, on situations. Sometimes I will exclaim, ‘I am getting distinctly worried about the organisation -or lack of – of this (forthcoming) conference’ or ‘Do I get the feeling that so-and-so is away on holiday every damn time I ring them?’ etc. It can be very helpful to let rip and let off steam, until the mood passes, and be met with a sympathetic and informed ear. Especially by someone who volunteers to help.
How do you keep your PA motivated?
I’m not sure I’m that good at this! I rely on them to keep ME motivated. But I like it when they come along to Condé Nast and V&A and Campaign for Wool events – some parties, openings, exhibitions and conferences. It is good when they witness the actual thing we have been planning and discussing. I try not to be too demanding or intrusive at weekends, though I do sometimes email. That’s because I have slightly more time at weekends in Worcestershire (where we have a house) to catch up with things. But I don’t expect replies at weekends (though I do sometimes get them).
Would the lack of a PA impede your daily output?
It would shut it down. I am totally reliant – I dread the day when I no longer have a team. Emma does all the things I find intensely easy to put off, such as replying to letters from my stockbroker, bank, accountants, lawyers and so forth, and printing out and organising agendas and board papers. Routine admin which needs to get done. She reads letters like these properly (I skim) and so we reply properly. I have had a PA since I was 32, so that’s 27 years. Some people we come across have useless, vague, part-time PAs who never know anything, and I feel very smug that this isn’t us. Emma and Francesca are currently helping organise guest lists for my 60th birthday party next year. I am pathetically grateful for the way they find email and home addresses, and all the rest of it. I’m sure I could relearn to do all this on my own…but it wouldn’t be nearly as good.
I am totally reliant – I dread the day when I no longer have a team.
Is your PA an ambassador for you and your office?
Totally. In fact I think first impressions count for a lot, and actually change the way a visitor feels about a company or the person they are visiting. If you are met at the lift by an obviously friendly, informal but smart assistant, and offered coffee etc. in a nice way, then it sets the mood. Were you to be greeted by someone arrogant, or a stroppy, scruffy cow, it would undermine the whole atmosphere. I very much like it that Emma organises periodic drinks in a neighbourhood cocktail bar for the 40 or so PAs in Vogue House – so they can all meet each other away from email action. It is a very popular innovation of hers. One thing I dislike, by the way, is when a visitor comes to our office and doesn’t bother to smile or say a passing hello and goodbye to the team outside my office, who have set it all up. Bad manners – and noted.