Gisele Karame-Kemp is the Executive Assistant to Scott Farquhar, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Atlassian, a collaboration software company that helps teams organize, discuss, and complete shared work. Atlassian owns the popular task management software Trello, which many assistants depend on to get their work done.
Gisele talks about what it’s like working for a global software (with over a billion dollars in revenue), managing constant interruptions, and she shares some advice on getting the most out of Trello.
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Fortune favours the brave.
– Latin Proverb
CONNECT WITH GISELE
Gisele Karame-Kemp is the Executive Assistant to Scott Farquhar, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Atlassian, a collaboration software company that helps teams organise, discuss and complete shared work. Prior to Atlassian, Gisele was the EA to the Co-Chairman of News Corp. She has worked for Westfield Group, brand agency Generation Alliance, a private entrepreneur in the United Arab Emirates and the University of Sydney. Gisele holds a Bachelor of Economics (Marketing) from the University of Sydney.
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Gisele Karame-Kemp 0:00
Hi, I’m Gisele Karame-Kemp and today’s leadership quote is a Latin proverb. Fortune favors the brave.
Podcast Intro 0:10
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident, Game Changing leader assistant. Hey, everybody is episode 73. Here’s your host, Jeremy Burrows, who also happens to be my husband.
Jeremy Burrows 0:29
What’s up party people? Thank you to my wife for introducing me. She recorded that clip, probably a year ago or so. So I’m excited to pull it out of the archives and use it in this episode, which is episode 73. Show Notes can be found at leaderassistant.com/73. And I am going to let you know about our membership members.leaderassistant.com. We have a monthly subscription membership for top notch executive assistants all over the world. We do a monthly group coaching call, where we dive deep into relevant issues related to your role to your career, into your life to your health. We talk about burnout, we talk about email strategy, we talk about compensation. We talk about side hustles. We talk about anything and everything you want to talk about because as a member, you get to speak up and share your ideas and give us content suggestions. And we dive in every month. And if you can’t make it live on our call, then you can watch the recording. Afterwards, because all of the group coaching sessions and training webinars are recorded and put in the members only exclusive library. And speaking of the members library, we are using a new tool called circle. Circle is a platform kind of like a hybrid between slack Facebook groups, LinkedIn, and online course platforms. So it’s all in one, you can chat with other members. You can ask your questions, you can share job postings, you can reply to job postings. You can watch the replays of the sessions. We also have bonus templates and resources just for you the members in the subscription plan so members.leaderassistant.com We’d love to have you join us it’s $39 per month, we have an annual option if you’d prefer that’s $399 Which I’m terrible at math, but I think that breaks down to about $33 and some change per month. So it’s $6 or so discount. Again, members dot leader asst.com You can cancel anytime. You’ll just lose access to the library and the community when your current billing cycle ends. So visit us at members that leader asst.com We hope you can join us. I think you’ll really really find that it’s a very high return on your investment. And if you have any questions about it, let me know. I’d be happy to answer and welcome you to the membership. Alright, let’s jump into today’s episode. Hey leader assistants. Thanks for tuning into The Leader Assistant Podcast. Today I’m speaking with Gisele Karame-Kemp from Atlassian. She’s the executive assistant to the co founder and CO CEO Gisele how’s it going?
Gisele Karame-Kemp 3:56
Great. Thanks for having me, Jeremy.
Jeremy Burrows 3:58
Yeah, what part of the world are you in right now?
Gisele Karame-Kemp 4:01
I’m in Sydney. Sydney, Australia.
Jeremy Burrows 4:05
So it’s tomorrow there for you? Yes, I’m talking to somebody in
Gisele Karame-Kemp 4:11
the future or the future. Yes, that’s right.
Jeremy Burrows 4:14
So tell us about your very first job and what skills you learned in that job that you still use today?
Gisele Karame-Kemp 4:22
Sure. Well, my first job was working in a donut shop in the local shopping mall. I served customers. We made cinnamon doughnuts and coffee and ice cream. And I think I just learned, you know the responsibility of having a job being there on time after school or on the weekend. But it was actually pretty terrifying for me. I was I was quite a shy 13 year old and so I hated talking to customers or, you know, young boys that I’d seen around who came up toward or something like But the best part of that job was that we got to take home leftover doughnuts. So that made me pretty popular at school the next day. Yeah, I think just the the discipline of work really trying to do things efficiently. But it was a pretty, pretty easy job. Not a lot that I’ve brought with me today, I have to say.
Jeremy Burrows 5:23
So how did you end up getting into the world of assistance?
Gisele Karame-Kemp 5:30
Well, it’s funny, it’s something that just I just kind of fell into. And I did try to get out of the career a number of times, I was finishing my degree at the University of Sydney, I studied economics and marketing. And a full time role as an administrative assistant came up, and I was lucky enough to get that. So I was there for a few years. And I learned a lot about admin. And, you know, following creating procedures and being really organized and getting things done, and then I moved to the United Arab Emirates A few years later, and hoped to get into marketing, but instead, found a role as an executive assistant to an entrepreneur. And did that for about a year and then moved back to Sydney, and finally got a role in marketing working for Microsoft. But that was just a contract position. So when a friend approached me, about a role working for Westfield group, shopping mall company, was a role supporting the general manager of marketing. And that, that sounded pretty good to me. So So I took that role. And a few years later, moved into a marketing role with a company with Westfield. But that just didn’t didn’t quite work, work, work out for me. And then worked for a brand agency. And then I think the big pivotal moment was a role that I applied for as an assistant Marketing Manager for muffin break, which is a cafe franchise in in Australia. And I was really excited about the opportunity and getting my big break in marketing. And I, I did a marketing presentation. And I thought I nailed it. But unfortunately, someone else just had more experience than me and got it and, and I still remember, when I found out that I wasn’t successful, I absolutely sobbed. To my boyfriend at the time, just I was absolutely devastated. But a few weeks after that, I got a call from a recruiter about a role for Illyria private investment company, as the executive assistant to the managing partner, and the second assistant to the chairman who was Lachlan Murdoch, who today is the CO chairman of News Corp, and chairman of Fox Corp. And that was just such an incredible opportunity to sort of land on my feet. And I took that role. And as part of that whole process, I think I realized that this was really, you know, what came naturally to me, I’m a naturally organized person, I’m always looking for the most efficient way to get something done. And it’s really satisfying, you know, to take things off your to do list and I realized that it was it was really where my hearts heart lay and kind of gave up on the whole marketing idea. And, and the rest is history.
Jeremy Burrows 8:49
Wow, that’s awesome. Yeah. So Giselle, what was the biggest mistake you’ve made as an assistant? And what did you learn from the experience?
Gisele Karame-Kemp 9:00
Sure. It was the biggest mistake was was an error of judgment on my part. I was I was working for Westfield group. And it was early on in that role, and another executive assistant on the team suggested that she and I split the duty of sorting the mail that that would be dropped off on our floor for the for the team. And I thought I was a bit I was a bit above that. You know, I had a bit of an ego I think, and I thought I outranked this other EA and, and so I went to my my manager and said to him, Look, I’ve been asked to sort the mail and I just want to know, is that how you want me to spend my time? And he looked at me and he said, “Giselle, let’s just get it done.” And it was It stayed with me, throughout my, my career, and it was just such a it was so simple, but it’s been quite profound, you know, it taught me to just get on with things that sometimes it’s, you know, it doesn’t matter if something’s part of your role, just just get it done. And then it’s off your to do list and it’s instilled in me this idea of, you know, teamwork, and we’re all part of one team. It doesn’t, it doesn’t matter if, if really, someone else should be doing it, sometimes it’s easier to just get in, get it done. And you might also build a bit bit more support in the team, the wider team around you for having that attitude of, you know, just being happy to help and lend a hand no matter no matter what, what the task is. So that’s always stayed with me.
Jeremy Burrows 10:57
Yeah, that’s great. I, you know, it’s, it’s tough, because we want to be leaders, and we want to take on more strategic tasks and opportunities. But but I’m, you know, anytime people say, oh, you know, I’m, I’m above that, or, um, it’s my job is more than just scheduling meetings. And unlike it’s not just scheduling meetings, like, managing your executives, calendar is very, very important part of a company.
Gisele Karame-Kemp 11:31
Yeah, yeah. And I think it’s, it’s sort of helped me to have another patoot as well, anything that is saving my executive time is worth my time. So whether that is scheduling an important important meeting, or, you know, dropping off some dry cleaning, it’s all about utilizing their time. And so it’s all all part of the job and worthy of my attention.
Jeremy Burrows 12:01
So speaking of dry cleaning, do you do some personal assistant tasks as well?
Gisele Karame-Kemp 12:06
Yeah, absolutely. I’m not very much drycleaning at all. But I, I’ve found that the, the more senior the executive I support, the more that line is blurred between business and personal. I think it’s very difficult to to keep those things separate. You know, his whatever he is focused on is what I’m focused on, whether that is about the business about his personal life. Travel. It’s, it’s all just part and parcel part of the job.
Jeremy Burrows 12:44
Yeah, I agree. I’m kind of the same deal. It’s like I’ve always had personal assistant responsibilities as well. And it’s like, they don’t have two lives. They have one life and supporting their one life. And sometimes it’s personal. Sometimes it’s professional. So yeah, that’s right. So what is it, like working for Atlassian, which are very large global software company. You know, I had actually came from nonprofit world and my current job though, I’m in a software company. And so I finally kind of dove right into JIRA, which is a project management software that Atlassian has, and I just had never heard of it before. And then all sudden, it was like Jira, JIRA, JIRA, this JIRA that. And I was like, man, what is this thing? And now it’s like, okay, every pretty much every software developer in this business, uses JIRA for project management. So a couple things. What is it like working for just a global public company? And then the second thing would be do you have software development, training or any coding experience? That’s what I’m curious to hear you share?
Gisele Karame-Kemp 14:02
Sure. Well, Atlassian is an incredible place to work. I’ve never experienced anything like it. We have our five values that everybody seems to live and breathe. It’s a it’s a really supportive company that really values each and every staff member. We’re all encouraged to collaborate and work together. Our mission is to unleash the potential of every team. And that’s true inside these walls and outside. And it’s just a really supportive place to work. We have beautiful, bright officers with lots of plants and greenery and fun things to do. Ping pong tables and great kitchens and people bring their dogs to work. And that’s quite unusual in Sydney. There seem to be a few companies that are that are are starting to do that kind of thing. But it’s it’s just such a wonderful work environment. And everybody works really hard. And it’s it’s such a an amazing place to come to work every day, I still pinch myself almost two and a half years in into the role in terms of of coding, I do not code I have no experience in in any of that I don’t have a technical background at all. And JIRA is actually a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve found it’s been interesting for me coming from companies like Westfield, which is shopping malls, News Corp, which is media, I was always, you know, one of the customers of these companies as well as working inside of them. And so it was really easy for me to understand what we do, what we did what we were selling. But Atlassian is far more challenging to understand, as someone who isn’t technical, I use Trello it’s an amazing tool. And that’s one of our our products. But JIRA. I do not use and perhaps you could, you could educate me a little bit about a little Jeremy,
Jeremy Burrows 16:21
stay out of it as much as I can. Yeah.
Gisele Karame-Kemp 16:25
But one thing I’ve learned in, in the roles that I’ve had is, you know, I’m often so busy, I have to decide where to spend my time, I’d love to learn to code, and it’s definitely on my to do list just to have, you know, a bit more understanding about this world that I’m that I find myself in. But I kind of have to focus on, you know, just certain parts of this, this bigger picture. And so if that, if at some point, I need to code I’ll I’ll, you know, probably wander over to find some of our, our engineering team. So they can, they can educate me. But we have very talented people who do those things. And so I, I tend to stay out of that, that arena.
Jeremy Burrows 17:14
So what would you say to somebody that’s in a different industry, and maybe they’re intimidated by the software space. And they’re thinking about wanting to jump into that world, but intimidated, because of the, you know, not understanding the coding or not understanding the software? How would you kind of encourage somebody listening, that’s making, making a leap or trying to make a leap.
Gisele Karame-Kemp 17:42
I think I think a great starting point is just to talk to people. So find someone working for one of those companies that you’re you’re interested in working for reach out to an EA at that company or someone within your wider LinkedIn network and offered a you know, buy them a coffee and pick their brain and get a bit of an insight into what goes on. I’ve found that there’s been zero barrier to that, I think being an EA, a lot of what we do is transferable to any industry. But one thing I’ve found is that tech works so quickly. It’s it’s amazing, I think it’s an incredible place for an EA to be because we’re always looking for efficiencies and better ways to get things done. And we’re better than a tech company where we’re sort of, you know, using the best products to to get our work done, you know, we’re not stuck in, you know, I was up until I started it last year, and I was still using Outlook and Microsoft Word and sort of the products that I you know, started using in my first job at the University of Sydney. So was really exciting and a little bit challenging to have to get to know Gmail and Google Calendar and Google Docs and Sheets and even even slack was something that was brand new to me and it’s just helped me think in different ways and not rely on my old ways of doing things. It’s it’s pushed me to to grow, which is, which is nice after doing the same sort of role for such a long time.
Jeremy Burrows 19:28
That’s great. So do you have any tips for managing constant interruptions?
Gisele Karame-Kemp 19:37
Yeah, I do. I mean, I’m, it’s, it’s a challenge, but it’s, I suppose it’s the nature. It’s the nature of the beast. What I find really helps for me is when somebody asks me for something, whether that’s my exec or someone else within the team, a simple question I ask is, “when do you need that by?” And I find that that makes the person stop and think, Okay, actually, this isn’t as urgent as I, as I made it sound, or perhaps I thought it was and I don’t need it, you know, for a few hours or just by the end of the day or the end of the week. And that then helps me to prioritize, though, that, that task in terms of the other things on my to do list. I also put my phone, I have my phone on silent. Years ago, I really realized that every time an email came in, and I heard that little, that little notification sound, I, I had an almost physical reaction to it. And it was pulling me out of whatever I was doing my family, or just trying to enjoy a TV show. I was sort of, you know, it was pulling me back into my work world. So I turn those notifications off. And I now keep my phone on silent. And I just check it, you know, throughout the day, just to make sure I’m on top of things, and I’m not missing anything really important. And then the third thing I do is I put my phone on Do Not Disturb through the night, and I make sure my exec and other important people in my life are a favorites so that you know, if there’s some kind of an emergency, they can call me. But I’m not being woken by emails or messages. Because I think it’s really important to get a good night’s sleep and, and recharge ready to to get back into it the next day. So those are my top three things, I think.
Jeremy Burrows 21:40
I love it. I am a big fan of the do not disturb. And I even Yes, I even never go online on Slack. People still ping me and you know when they need something, but I don’t even change my status. I just keep it as a way.
Gisele Karame-Kemp 22:00
Fantastic. I might try that.
Jeremy Burrows 22:01
So if you could snap your fingers and instantly give all assistance, more of something, what would it be?
Gisele Karame-Kemp 22:10
I think it would be recognition. You know, we do such incredible, incredible jobs. And we’re balancing so many conflicting demands and getting so many different things done and interpreting information. And, you know, all in the hope of helping someone else achieve their goals. I think, you know, there, we there are a lot of execs, who who recognize what we do. And some of my I think my biggest fans are my teammates who appreciate my work. And I mean, certainly Scott is, is really supportive and appreciative of everything I do. But to see, EA is recognized a little more in the wider business community, I think would just be Excuse me, would would just be incredible. A bit of recognition goes a long way in terms of our confidence and growth opportunities. One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is it’s sort of baffling to me that an executive assistant becomes an executive assistant and then remains one for sort of, you know, 1015 2030 years and, and there there isn’t this natural career progression you sort of you grow depending on who you support. And you perhaps work your way up to being the assistant to the CEO or the chairperson. But why aren’t there I find myself questioning why there aren’t clear title changes. And, you know, we see there’s a greater prevalence of the chief of staff role now. But it would be nice to see clear career progressions for EAS and I think that would come with a bit more recognition from people for what we do, what we achieve, and how we go about the way we go about it without really creating a farce and sort of remaining in the shadows and doing it for the you know, the good of someone else and and for the company. So I think that’s what, that’s what I’m wishful.
Jeremy Burrows 24:35
That’s great. So, what do you think makes an assistant a leader?
Gisele Karame-Kemp 24:44
I think taking others with you. Would, would be it was certainly the approach I tried to try to take I’ve been lucky enough to be the second second assistant and then have, you know the sort of the first assistant to a CEO or chair chairperson, and then hire someone who reports into me who also supports that executive. And what I found is sharing information, explaining why I do things a certain way, making sure that they’re privy to, you know, what I’m working on. And, and not kind of just keep keep information to myself to, you know, I think it would be easy to try and try and make myself almost indispensable by making sure I was the only person who could could get a certain thing done or, you know, make sure that my exec really relies on me heavily. But I don’t, I don’t want to be that person, I don’t want to think, Oh, well, I’m really sick. But I can’t, I couldn’t possibly take a day off. Because you know, this and this, and this needs to get done. Knowing that someone else on the team can step in and do that allows me to take the break when I need to, it empowers them and helps them to grow. And as a result, you know, as they grow, that allows me to focus on other things, and grow in my role as well. So I think that’s a great way to sort of lead others and empower them. And I think secondly, the other thing would be speaking up when, when others, you know, when you disagree with with perhaps what someone is saying or their opinion, and putting your opinion forward, it’s very easy to just keep your opinion to yourself, if you think that others don’t agree, but I think all my experience has been that sharing my point of view, has certainly helped others in, you know, their growth and speaking up as well. And putting their opinion forward having having the confidence to do that. So I suppose leading by example, in that way, perhaps leads to being a bit more of a leader, and not just an assistant.
Jeremy Burrows 27:20
Yeah, I love what you said about kind of not being afraid to train the people that work for you. I’ve heard people say, you know, you should train those under you to replace your basically replace you. Yeah, absolutely. You want them to do so well, that they replace you someday. Yeah. So yeah, love it. So let’s, Giselle let’s close off with one tip since Atlassian. Trello. Since Trello is one of Atlassian products. What’s one Trello tip that you’d like to share with assistants all over the world?
Gisele Karame-Kemp 28:01
Trello tip. I think, I think for people out there who haven’t used it, just just get in and have a go. It’s such a simple tool. I don’t I don’t think I’m I probably am not even aware of half of the features that are available. I just create a creative board. That’s sort of my you know, work board, I have a board that I share with my husband, for our our life admin and our holiday planning and things like that. But I think for people to just just get in and start using it. It’s it’s a really simple tool for recording what you need to get done. And so once you I think once you start your, you know, the beauty of it will will soon become clear. I don’t think I’ve I’ve articulated that very well. But I’ve certainly got a lot of my EA friends and colleagues on Trello. And they absolutely love it. And it’s invaluable. So it finally got me off using a written to do list. So
Jeremy Burrows 29:13
that’s great. I love what you said about your husband, you use it with your husband, too. We, my wife and I do the same thing. And we have a to do list spreadsheet that we just keep track of our personal organization.
Gisele Karame-Kemp 29:26
Fantastic. Yeah, he’s a, he’s a facilities manager. And he said he started using it for I think planning office moves and things in other states. So it’s just great for collaborating with other teammates and it’s really easy to use. It’s it’s great. Awesome.
Jeremy Burrows 29:43
Well Giselle, thanks so much for taking time out of your day to share your story and your tips. And I’m just really excited to share this conversation with everyone. Is there something that we can do to support you or somewhere online that people listening can find Do
Gisele Karame-Kemp 30:01
ya um, I’m on LinkedIn. So look me up connect and you know if there’s anything I can help with advice that I can give, please reach out. Happy to help.
Jeremy Burrows 30:12
Well, thanks so much again, and we will talk soon. Excellent. Thanks, Jeremy. Thanks again to Giselle for a great conversation. Be sure to check out the show notes at leaderassistant.com/73 to find a link to Gisele on LinkedIn so you can say hi, also, don’t forget to join our membership members.leaderassistant.com Or you can just go to leaderassistant.com. Click on training and membership or scroll down and click on membership. And we’d love to have you $39 A month or $399 a year. Good luck finding ongoing professional development at that price from top instructors with state of the art up and coming software platform. And just top notch members honestly the members in our membership are smarter than me have more experienced than me and share more insight and it’s very exciting to be a part of this group. Hope you can join us at members.leaderassistant.com Talk to you soon.
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