Magazine article Management Today

MT Business Lifeforms: PA to the Chief Executive - Margaret Fowles, Marvens Plc

Magazine article Management Today

MT Business Lifeforms: PA to the Chief Executive - Margaret Fowles, Marvens Plc

Article excerpt

It's barely 10 o'clock and already Margaret has brushed off three senior executives, dispatched a brace of broadsheet journalists and told a bright young thing in the Cabinet that 'no really does mean no'. Not that she's been rude or dismissive to any of these people. Just resolutely firm, telling them where they stand, where she stands, and making it clear that if they ever want to speak to Sir Ian, they will do it on her terms - or not at all.

Margaret Fowles sits in a panelled anteroom, gatekeeper to the office of Sir Ian Austin, chief executive of the retail giant Marvens Plc. She is a woman of a certain age, subtly but deeply intimidating, the kind of secretary you might find in the pages of a John Le Carre novel. Efficient, proper, no nonsense... no, let's be honest - get on the wrong side of her and you'll know what it is to be savaged by rottweiler in a twinset and pearls.

Margaret (or Ms Fowles, as she is more respectfully known) has been with Sir Ian for as long as anyone can remember, ever since, as a newly made middle manager in the mid '70s, he gained a Rover P6 and a secretary of his very own. Back then, plain young Ian Austin was clearly destined for great things and so, by association, was the young, almost pretty, Margaret Fowles. Apart from a trial separation in the early '80s (three painful months, after which they rushed back into each other's Rolodexes), they've always been together.

Margaret's role has grown in line with her boss's. Over the past half-decade - thanks to Sir Ian's trenchant leadership - Marvens has gone from being an also-ran to a front runner in the retail Derby. As a result, its maximum chief is now a man politicos want to sup with and the media's retail boss of choice. Sir Ian is in demand as never before and his PA (who else?) finds herself the final arbiter of requests for audiences with the great man.

Many - especially journalists - try to bypass Margaret by e-mailing Sir Ian directly or dialling his surprisingly well known ('but you didn't get this from me') mobile number. They are wasting their time - there is no back door to his office. For all Marvens' vaunted online sales prowess, the computer on Sir Ian's desk is entirely for show, his mobile an uncharged brick on permanent divert to its fixed counterpart on his PA's desk.

Those who chance other channels find themselves similarly stymied. Investor relations, the various functions, the press office and even other board members - all roads inexorably lead to Ms Fowles. …

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