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hat’s it like being part of the team behind Arsenal?

Karen Brown, PA to Ivan Gazidis, CEO of Arsenal Football Club, says she was originally attracted to the role not because she loves football, but because of the globally recognised brand. She soon found that the big-business atmosphere suited her perfectly. “I’m actually a very corporate person,” she says, “and I’ve learnt that a traditional PA role suits me.” But the job was not as traditional as it first appeared, with a lot of room for other projects that, she says, keep her constantly busy. She has taken on some additional

responsibility working alongside Arsenal club secretary David Miles, a role outside her usual remit. Liaising with VIPs who want to visit the Directors’ Box and watch a match means she has made some high-profile friends, including Olympic hero Mo Farah and his wife. Several of the Olympic team, Twilight star Robert Pattinson and the cast of TV series Spartacus have all paid a visit, and Karen has even met David Beckham and Thierry Henry. “The younger players are humble and a really nice bunch of people,” she smiles. Karen realised the impact of her role when she helped organise a kick-about at the training ground between Mo Farah and Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger. The next morning, she spotted a story about the informal training session on the back page of a national paper. Working with Arsenal, she admits, is fantastic. Unlike her previous role within hedge fund management, with its focus on products and downturns, everyone is constantly positive, and the buzzwords in the office are ‘team’ and ‘winning’. Being part of such a global brand often involves watching a game with thousands of cheering fans and then realising audiences of millions

2011 – present:Personal Assistant to Chief Executive and General Counsel, Arsenal Football Club

2010 – 2011:Executive Assistant to Partner & Associate Partner, The Zygos Partnership

2007 – 2010: Personal Assistant to Global Director & Man Group Board Member / HRAssistant, Man Group

2005 – 2007:Senior PA to

Managing Director & Director, Hanover Search & Selection

2004 – 2005:International travel

2003 – 2004:English teacher, Amnuavidhya School, Bangkok

are tuning in worldwide. “You understand the responsibility and the privilege you have,” she grins. Karen has also warmed to the ‘beautiful game’. “I’m a fan now,” she says. “I grew up in Glasgow, which is a football town, and I would sometimes visit stadiums abroad, so it was always around me, but I never followed a particular team.” She says it has been a learning curve


from the business perspective, but the fundamentals of being a PA remain. The most important thing, she believes, is understanding. She knows she can gauge Gazidis’s reaction and see what he is trying to achieve, making her able to happily stand behind his decisions at the club. “I have to believe in the person I work for,” she says with feeling. You also need to have a

can-do attitude, as you’re always on call, according to Karen. She owns a Blackberry, which is always by her side, as she could be contacted about

something important at any time. Having previously taught English abroad, her decision to become a PA was a strategic move. It proved to be the best way to work closely with inspirational people at a high level, as well as a good opportunity to take an

administrative role further. She still loves her university subject, history, and may return to teaching in the future. But being a PA, she feels, is ideal for someone who wants more than secretarial work. It provides satisfaction, and you can make yourself indispensable: “You become their Girl Friday.” In her spare time, Karen keeps active by running and practising ashtanga and bikram yoga. “They’re quite physical forms of yoga, but I’m used to being busy and on the go, so it’s what I do to relax,” she says. Yoga is also helpful in the office, she adds, for teaching you correct posture and breathing: “Otherwise I can get frustrated sitting at a desk all day.” Despite the brand’s worldwide presence,

Karen says that her role isn’t as international as her last job. However, she still arranges everything for Gazidis, who attends every game Arsenal play, as well as meetings with shareholders and board members in Zurich, Geneva, Hong Kong and Beijing. “Ivan is involved in everything: he has links with the UK, Europe and the USA. He was the deputy commissioner of Major League Soccer, so he’s at the epicentre of everything.” It’s up to Karen to see that he avoids time-wasting meetings and she works closely with the travel team at Arsenal to organise all of his flights and travel arrangements. “I have to pre-empt what he needs, whether it’s documents or arranging meetings,” she continues. “Knowing intuitively when he needs a bit of space is important too. You have to look after somebody the way you would want to be looked after.” She’s also pleased to have found a network with other football PAs, who regularly email her with comments and support: “We all understand the challenges of the role – the good, the bad and the ugly.” Karen’s passion and commitment to

her role is tangible, as is the pleasure she has found in a sport she’d never previously followed with much fervour. One of her favourite memories since joining Arsenal is the annual staff football game, which is played on the stadium pitch in full home- team kit. “It’s something I never thought I’d do,” she beams. ●


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