30 August by Lily Shippen
Donald Trump’s PA, Madeleine Westerhout, who had served him since day one of his presidency, resigned this week.
Her shock departure came after she allegedly shared intimate details of the US president’s family and Oval Office operations at an off-the-record dinner with journalists, according to the New York Times.
Ms Westerhout, 29, had been drinking and disclosed the private details during the meal which took place in New Jersey, during Mr Trump’s holiday at his nearby golf club in the town of Bedminster.
Anonymous sources told the paper the president learnt of her breach of trust yesterday, prompting her swift exit from the White House.
Manchester-based PA and secretarial recruitment expert Lily Shippen says keeping schtum is one of the most important parts of the job description and many would be expected to sign secrecy clauses if dealing with highly sensitive information. And for good reason.
Says Lily: “PAs often know more about a company, the business and the boss than any other employee. Maybe even more than their partners and that’s a huge responsibility to take on if discretion is not one of your strong points.”
She says PAs will often be one of the first to know about any sensitive information such as redundancies, companies being sold or going into administration along with their bosses and they will not be allowed to share this with anyone.
Similarly, some PAs will travel with their principals and it’s important that this is not shared on their personal social media unless agreed otherwise.
Lily advises: ”As a boss, it’s important to set boundaries with your personal assistant as soon as they start, so that it is clear who they should share confidential information with, if any.”
PAs are required to be flexible, extremely discreet and organised at all times.
“The most successful PAs that we work with are the ones who have worked hard to establish a relationship with their boss. Their bosses trust them implicitly and know that whatever information they know, they are still able to get on and perform in their role. From the PA’s perspective, there is a lot of pride to be taken in that they are that trusted person within the organisation.”
Heather Baker, International PA trainer and founder of Baker Thompson Associates added: “An exceptional PA is an emotionally intelligent leader. They change their behaviour depending on who they are interacting with. It’s very important that when hiring, that they have someone who understands that their manager's objectives are theirs, too. The manager and the assistant essentially do the same job, they have the same objectives, they simply carry out different tasks to achieve those objectives so the assistant has to know that they work with their manager for the success of the organisation.”
In the case of Ms Westerhout, Lily says it should be a given that PAs should never drink alcohol whilst working, whether that’s at the dinner table or their desk.
Lily started her career at the tender age of 18 working for global recruitment firm Robert Walters in London, specialising in placing business support professionals into the financial services sector and working with blue chip companies.
She went solo in 2016 and launched the Manchester office the following year after noticing a gap in the market for a specialist secretarial recruitment agency in the North West.
Lily Shippen work across all industries but only recruit business support professionals, including Receptionists, Team Assistants, Legal Secretaries, Personal Assistants, Private PAs, Executive Assistants and Office Managers.
Says Lily: “We’re different to other agencies in that we meet every single candidate and client that we work with. We are then able to offer a consultative service and ensure that both the employer and employee match perfectly. That personal approach works very well for us.”
Lily received a Highly Commended award in February for Entrepreneur of the Year at the Made in Manchester Awards. The company also received a Customer Service Excellence Award at The Greater Manchester Business Awards.
The company sponsors the Manchester PA Awards, which take place in November at The Point, Old Trafford.