'He calls me at 5am from abroad, ready for work'

Martine Chaney Mitchell works for Malcolm Miller, chief executive of Pace Micro Technology
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The Independent Online

I arrived here seven and a half years ago having been told of a vacancy at Pace by a colleague who didn't fancy the job. At the time, the company consisted of a small office and a few sales people. It has grown unbelievably. We are now the world's largest dedicated developer of digital set-top box technology, with more than 1,000 employees, as well as a manufacturing plant on site.

I arrived here seven and a half years ago having been told of a vacancy at Pace by a colleague who didn't fancy the job. At the time, the company consisted of a small office and a few sales people. It has grown unbelievably. We are now the world's largest dedicated developer of digital set-top box technology, with more than 1,000 employees, as well as a manufacturing plant on site.

I've had a set-top box at home for six years and through listening to the talk around me I'm learning about its full potential. The technology will extend to remarkable things, from sensing when your electricals are on the blink and automatically contacting the manufacturer, to hearing your fridge indicating you've run out of milk and adding it to your grocery list which is then downloaded to the supermarket.

It all seems ridiculously futuristic, yet I remember the time I thought it impossible I would use e-mail, which I now couldn't do without.

Two and a half years ago Malcolm joined us and I was appointed his PA. I like him, he's down to earth, but he's very different from my previous boss who was almost my best friend.

Malcolm is extremely professional, although we do have the odd joke together. He would never ring me up and say: "You will never guess what happened." He's a very family-minded man, but he never asks me to organise his personal life. He's a private man.

If something goes wrong on the road he will sort it out on his own. Malcolm is a "grown-up" boss, self-sufficient and good at organising himself. He deals with about 80 per cent of his e-mails and I never have to worry about a meeting overrunning. He is the Palm Pilot king, and through e-mailing, his diary or his phone I could go a week without actually speaking to him.

We have an "If it's Monday it must be Saltaire" joke because he's here two days a week and the rest of the time he's travelling. Now he's moving from city to city worldwide as part of what we call The Investors Road Show and he is good at dividing his time fifty-fifty between existing and prospective customers.

I can't believe his stamina. When he's abroad he rings me at 5am his time, ready for work, and I'm sure other secretaries think I'm mad when I schedule a 7.30am meeting for him.

PAs at executive level can seem very snooty. Luckily I've been here for so long people know me for who I am rather than for who I work for and they don't ask me for the gossip. I feel part of a team because, regardless of our positions, we all take an interest in the company and its progress. Most of us are shareholders, and we can consult our in-house investment advisers.

I am used to speaking to VIPs, say Bob Geldof or Rupert Murdoch on Malcolm's behalf, but I'm no good at being anything other than myself. I don't feel intimidated.

When someone said another of our executives, David Hood, was one of the richest men in Britain, I found it hard to reconcile this with the David I make tea for. Similarly, Malcolm, an extraordinary businessman is nevertheless a nice, everyday person without airs and graces or a sense of being better than he is.

I see our relationship as that of a well-oiled engine and I am proud he is my boss. He has also been very good to me, particularly last year when my mother was dying of cancer. He allowed me to take a month off to look after her and when I came back his attitude was very businesslike, which was just what I needed. Had he been sentimental I think I would have been in bits.

It was only when I read an interview with him I saw he lost his father when he was 11. Now I am a mum he also understands I need to pick my son up on time at the end of each day.

It does seem strange a company as successful as ours, competing with the big guys, is in a beautiful old mill in a tiny Yorkshire village. Our office overlooks a canal and the juxtaposition of the men fishing on the side and the buzz of the office is strange.

Our building also houses a David Hockney museum and if I'm having a bad day I will walk around the museum with its fresh flowers and rousing music and I can't help but feel better. I absolutely love it here.

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