Today's business aides often need the skills of at least a middle manager.

A secretary earning 40,000 a year? That must be a business assistant. Whatever the name, top executives expect something pretty spectacular when they hire for that sort of money.

Once there were secretaries who typed letters, intercepted phone calls and organised the diary.

Then there were personal assistants who did all that and also attended meetings with the boss, helped to draw up agendas, kept a list of decisions, acted as a conduit for communication to and from senior people and earned 50 percent more.

Amanda Maine-Tucker has now upgraded that function still further and invented the business assistant. She says she did it to fill a growing need. One managing director wanted someone with a brief that included vetting companies for potential acquisition, while a busy QC needed someone to run his private life.

That meant not just remembering to buy flowers for his wife's birthday and keeping track of appointments, but organising the purchase of property and dealing with investments.

Responsibilities like that mean such people have a pretty confidential and intimate working relationship with the boss and often need the skills of at least a middle manager.

Miss Maine-Tucker said the point was not to add another executive to take on a specific function but to lighten the load on the managing director, who could therefore increase his own productivity by 25 percent.

She is confident enough of her own judgment and recruiting to offer a guarantee. If in the first three months the candidate is not right, the fee - which can run to 6,000 - is returned.

The ploy seems to have worked and she is talking about further expansion. She started the business 10 years ago after short periods at two employment agencies which made her wonder why she was building up a good client list for someone else and getting so little to show for it.

So, at the age of 23, she launched on her own. Within two months she was in profits and moving to premises in Pall Mall. She now has a staff of 12 at larger premises in Jermyn Street, still in the elegant London area of St James's. She can also boast her business has never had an overdraft.

Growth will still concentrate on the business assistant because that is a niche she has created and understands. Since those jobs involve such close working with the boss, she vets not just the applicant but the client. This includes chats to other members of the staff.

The Daily Telegraph, July 1996

brief = mission, instructions

vetting = checking

QC = Queen's Counsel = avocat

a niche = un créneau

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