Penni Pike was Sir Richard Branson’s executive assistant for 32 years. Working for one of the most charismatic business tycoons in the world, Pike has heard and obliged her fair share of zany requests.
The zaniest, she remembers, was during a helicopter ride with Branson. “One of the most memorable tasks I was given was to leap out of a helicopter…in order to read road signs for the pilot who had forgotten his map!”
“The best thing about the job was the variety – turning up for work and thinking you were going to be filing and, before you knew it, you were helping with the launch of a hot air balloon. Great assistants expect to take on all sorts of jobs,” according to Pike.
Now Pike mentors Time etc’s assistants. “People forget that assistants aren’t just hired to help with work-related tasks, because it’s the life admin that distracts from running your business or doing your day job,” she says.
Time Etc’s army of virtual assistants (VA), who are instructed by some of the UK’s most high-powered entrepreneurs and business executives, have revealed some of their more memorable tasks.
One client outrageously asked his assistant to dump his cowardly son’s girlfriend on his behalf.
And another assistant, who was initially hired to do some light social media work for a client, was called on to compose a “dance track”.
Confusingly, one VA was requested to write detailed descriptions for lingerie a client was selling through an unrelated retail website, while another was asked to source clothes using pictures in Vogue as inspiration, so her client could buy them for his wife and daughters.
A very specific request was for a VA to research and compile a list of all the zoos and wildlife centres in the USA that keep sloths.
Time etc’s virtual assistants are also frequently requested to complain on their clients’ behalf. One such occasion involved complaining to a seafood restaurant that gave a client food poisoning, to a clothing shop after a jumper got damaged when it was dry cleaned.
In another instance, a VA had to call Gucci about a custom-made suit that wasn’t tailored to a client’s exacting standard.
A VA hired to help an American bride plan a wedding in the UK was sent on a pumpkin pie sourcing mission.
The exact brief was to find an appropriate recipe, work out how many pies – and consequently how many cans of pumpkin – would be required for 70 guests. The client wanted the VA to find a minimum of five suppliers, and make a comparative spreadsheet with a breakdown of the can prices, delivery charges and links to the products. As far as wedmin goes, that’s pretty thorough.
According to an anonymous personal assistant to a Hollywood actress, confidentiality and professionalism comes with the territory. “I can’t say who it is because I signed an NDA,” the PA who goes by Averysadgirl on Reddit, said.
“I’ve been to parties where the pile of cocaine was a foot to a foot-and-a-half high miniature pyramids. It’s…ridiculous, just piles of coke,” she confessed.
In Tinsel Town, keeping secrets costs money. The anonymous PA was paid $3,200 a month to run errands for this starlet, which ranged from babysitting her client’s children during her lunch break to helping her with her botox treatments.
“In any industry, especially the Hollywood industry, it’s extremely important to stay relevant,” she adds.
After hearing from a wide array of PAs, it seems clear that for every horror story or zany anecdote, their clients may have a handful of experiences where the day was saved by their industrious assistants.