She says life would fall apart without me

Several years ago, having lived in London, I moved south to join my partner. I was longing to work for a highly successful and charismatic person with a salary to reflect the skills and attributes needed. But after temping for several companies I began to worry I wouldn't find the senior role I was looking for.

Fortunately Nikki was looking for a tip-top PA who could do more than type letters, and offered me the job immediately. She was bubbly, vivacious and warm and as she described the history of NSB I got swept along with her enthusiasm. She told how she spotted a hole in the retail market when she was in sales for IBM and set up a company supplying a merchandise management system.

Our software allows retailers to manage their supply chain from supplier to point of sale, and clients include big department stores, restaurants and garden centres. As the man presenting Nikki with her award last week said: "Nikki Beckett's software system now touches the lives of many."

I remember Nikki telling me: "Whatever your role is now it will have changed within six months. I don't know what lies ahead, but intend to acquire several more companies." Sure enough in October '99 NSB was floated on the Stock Exchange and shortly afterwards made two big acquisitions.

The pace got faster and faster, but I work long hours because I am dedicated and want to do the best possible job for someone I admire and respect. People have said I'm loyal and committed by nature and it's true I get my kicks from working near Nikki. Her hectic schedule means she needs someone she can rely on and I recently heard she told a reporter her life would fall apart without me. Several months after I had joined, she said: "Now I know what it's like to have a true PA."

I have never had a role quite like this one, I love always learning and being constantly on the go. I can't bear not having enough to do.

Nikki, who has every reason to be pleased with herself, is down-to-earth. When she was asked how she intends to spends her £100m she said she's more interested in how she's going to earn her next £100m. When she won the title of AIM Entrepreneur of the Year in '99 I found myself being congratulated for working for the winner, and with the latest award it's happening again.

It's nice to experience the reflected glory. I may not be irreplaceable but I have built up a huge knowledge about how Nikki likes to work. Tact and diplomacy from me are essential. A lot of people want to talk to Nikki and they need to know she is accessible.

She's customer-driven and, when not in the City with advisers and investors, she will be at meetings with clients. Her diary is full and at times I have to squeeze extra meetings into odd free moments.

This job is the culmination of all the jobs I've ever done and has given me a chance to expand and push myself. My colleagues think I'm assertive, sometimes almost aggressive, but outside work I'm different. Nikki is also a devoted mother and her weekends and holidays are sacred and dedicated to her family. She has back-up from her husband, who works part-time, proving that these days behind every great woman is a great man.

Friends have questioned my desire to work for a woman, but I've never found it a problem. I like Nikki's personality and the way it feeds into the culture of the the company. She's supportive of her employees, and is pro-flexibility. She allows mums to have the opportunity to work from home if need be and the staff turnover is low because we feel valued. She sends birthday cards to all her staff, which was all very well when we were relatively small, but now we number 500 it's quite an undertaking.

With her approach she auto-matically generates commitment and loyalty. I would hate to work in an atmosphere where I couldn't laugh with my boss or be myself. I also enjoy being allowed to work in casual clothes.

Nikki's time is so limited that whenever she is in the office we speak in a sort of shorthand, but she makes up for it. Last year she took me to a health club for a day so we could have quality time together. We've also all joined a sports club because Nikki likes playing badminton with the staff, and it's not a problem if we beat her.

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