I work for ... the director of the Hayward Gallery: Sharon Kent is PA to Susan Ferleger Brades
Wednesday 04 February 1998
I started working for Susan when she was made director. I had worked with her for a year before my job was advertised, but by that stage I had formed such a strong attachment to her that I hoped that no one else would apply - luckily, they didn't.
Susan is American, tall and very imposing. She dresses in smart business suits with nippy skirts, bright tights and high heels, and she always has immaculate nails. Her bangles are one of her trademarks; people know when she's around because they can hear the jangling. The Hayward is a passion for her and she wants the best for it. She's very involved in plans for the site development of the gallery which will go ahead if we receive the funding. But when she's not working she's devoted to her family; her son's annual school concert, for example, takes priority over everything else.
Before I worked here I didn't have a strong interest in contemporary art and had no knowledge of the Hayward or even the South Bank, so it's been quite a learning curve for me. In fact I think it's important that I don't have aspirations to join the art world, because what Susan needs is a good assistant, rather than a PA who wants to run exhibitions. I was really surprised to see how many people there are in the art world; I had always imagined it to be quite a small network. When I was new to the job I asked a caller whether he was going to be present at the Howard Hodgkin exhibition. He was astonished, and answered, "But of course. Don't you know who I am?" He turned out to be David Sylvester, the distinguished art critic. Now I always make sure that I am suitably impressed when an eminent person calls.
I thought that I wouldn't be able to handle formality, but I think that my being Australian allows me to be more casual and laid-back in my approach - if I can make a joke, I will. I recently met the sculptor Anish Kapoor, having spoken to him many times on the phone, and we both laughed because we'd each expected the other to look quite different. Exhibitors tend to look more like normal people than weird artists.
Susan is very methodical and highly efficient. Her attention to detail is remarkable considering the speed at which she works. There are days when everyone in the office wants an appointment with her, and it's up to me to prioritise the requests. She travels a lot and often has to fly somewhere at short notice. Luckily I've got a good travel agent, but the organisation of trips can still be difficult. When Susan had to go to Tokyo I bought a map of the city and worked out how she would get from one place to another, booking her into meetings with gallery directors accordingly. I felt like a virtual traveller. She didn't have time to be briefed on her itinerary until the night before she left, but apparently the trip went like clockwork.
Our offices are on the top of the Royal Festival Hall and we have a wonderful view of the Thames, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. In summer time it's a lovely place to be, although the building heats up like an oven. One of the nicest things about the office is our rule that if anyone goes away they bring back food for everyone else.
I really like working for a woman which came as something of a surprise after having heard so many bad tales of female bosses. Susan respects me and unlike a lot of male bosses she takes care of her personal appointments and would never ask me to do anything domestic, like picking up her dry- cleaning. She is always apologetic when asking me for something like a cup of tea, although I tell her there's no need for her to be.
Susan and I laugh together a lot. She has a little system of sticking cat stickers on to my computer if I have done a job particularly well, rather like giving me gold stars. I really couldn't imagine what could happen to make me pack up and leave her.
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