SECRETARIAL: I Work For... - `I used to feel like a dragon barring people from his door'

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The Independent Culture
Christine Staveley, secretary: I've worked for Allan Leighton since he joined Asda as group marketing director in March 1992. When I was asked to work for him I was a bit apprehensive but we soon hit it off, especially as I heard that he was a fan of Paul McCartney. He immediately asked to be called by his Christian name and it's "jackets off" in the office now.

It wasn't long before he had the office walls knocked down to make the building completely open plan and the environment less formal and more friendly. People like myself who had worked for the company a number of years thought we might find it too noisy but, on the contrary, it's great. I used to feel a bit of a dragon sitting outside the old office barring people from speaking to Allan but now his desk is about six feet away from mine and people can see if he's in a meeting or on the phone. I now feel more like a "guardian angel", and if he needs something done he just calls across to me.

I guess I could have predicted that Allan would get to the top. He's a very organised, self-disciplined person - if he decides to do something he sticks to it, whether it's running every night or giving up coffee. He is very punctual, which from a secretary's point of view is great, and he hates people being late. Similarly, his meetings are short and to the point. My role is to organise his life. His diary changes constantly and I have to be on my toes. There are odd occasions when things don't go smoothly, but if I make any mistakes I always own up. I arrange all his travel and try to make the best use of his time getting from A to B.

When Allan became chief executive he needed an assistant as well as a secretary, so Lynsey's predecessor joined us. It was strange at first working with someone else, as it had been just Allan and me for a long time but we work well as a team. Lynsey and I get on well, we always find time to have a laugh. Allan is fun too, he is always winding us up but doesn't usually catch me out, although on one occasion he called me pretending to be someone else and was very convincing. It was a while before the penny dropped. Lots of people ask about his morris dancing and I've seen it for myself, because he once gave us a fantastic demonstration in the office. Allan is a great guy, and if he hadn't come to Asda who knows who I would be working for today? I feel really proud to work for him, but having said that I would also like to point out that "behind every successful man there's a good woman".

Lynsey MacCuish, assistant:

I've been in my current role for five months, and Christine's worked with Allan for eight years - without her I would be absolutely lost. I was originally employed by Asda in the colleague-involvement department, predominantly working on the colleague suggestion scheme for business improvements. Some of the suggestions we had were rather quirky and included, "Why don't we have Smoky Beckham flavoured crisps?" and "Why don't we turn the stores into beaches during summertime by filling them with sand?"

The environment here is totally different from anywhere else I've worked. The first time I saw the office I thought, "Wow, this is great". Allan sits just a few metres away from me and we have the radio on in the background. Having never worked for such a high-powered businessman before I didn't know what to expect. But Alan is so lively and fun in the office - his passion about the business is obvious and everyone respects him for it.

I love the fact that I can address Allan as I would anyone else. Mind you, one day a carphone number flashed up on my phone and I jokingly answered, "Hello, darling", expecting to hear another colleague's voice on the end of the line. I was very embarrassed when I heard Allan say: "Lyns, is that you?"

The first time we went out together to see all the general store managers in the UK, I was a bit daunted at the prospect of spending so many hours in the car with Allan. However, we soon got talking about music and discovered that we have similar music tastes, like Fatboy Slim and Travis. While travelling, we also spend a lot of time working on our laptops. It's not all hard work on the road, though, and we do stop for some scenic picnics en route.

I love the variety of my job. My duties can include anything from going to suppliers' meetings on behalf of Allan, to visiting the stores as a customer and reporting back. There's lots of information to absorb and sometimes things go over my head, but Allan will always explain the retail jargon to me. When returning from my holiday in France I casually asked if anything exciting had happened while I'd been away, only to learn that we had merged with Wal-Mart, the huge American superstore. This is a very exciting time, but it's still business as usual.

Every year we have our team Christmas initiative, when everyone in Asda House, including Allan, goes to help out in the stores. I am doing a couple of night shifts in a 24-hour store, which I'm looking forward to. A couple of years ago I had a job on the checkouts and although I'm not a natural supermarket person, I learnt that through smiling a job is made much easier, a philosophy I employ in my current role.