Do you know where you’re going too? Lizi Dawes, on her journey from army recruit to PA EDitorial CEO
The Phone Call
“Hi, Lizi, do you have availability towards the end of April this year? We are holding a series of mini-conferences for editors and publishers; we’d like to invite you along – as an expert on our panel.
Okay, wow. Stop for a minute. How did we get to this? Retail assistant. Admin assistant. Editorial office assistant. CEO. Expert!
If I’d been asked where I was headed twenty years ago, could I have told you? Could I have predicted the trajectory that life was going to take? Nope. Absolutely not. Does it now seem inevitable, however, looking back, that the seeds were gradually sown and that I was always going to end up here; that I was made for this? Hmmm, well, now you mention it…
Growing up in leafy Sheffield, my earliest memories are of our rather grand Victorian house, from which my mum and dad ran a successful business. Ours never was a family where the parents left the house to work – the workplace was home. This was normal – and I must add, rather nice.
My dad’s office was in the house, and the best days were those when he would let me come in and sit with him. I would tinker around with his many (usually cutting edge at the time) computers – his Apple Mac, his Betamax – or his video camera. I would make stop-motion films using my Sylvanian Families figures. Although I didn’t realise at the time that not everybody had access to such ground-breaking pieces of equipment. Through this technological osmosis, my love of technology grew; to this day, I know that this is why I have never feared it.
As my parents could decide both when and how they worked, my mum was able to attend all school events and appointments; she could fit her work around her parenting and family commitments (a luxury at the time, and even now, in many cases). If I was ill from school, my mum was always there to pick me up, and I have fond memories of snuggling up with blankets and daytime TV whilst my mum essentially multi-tasked (as we all do).
Everything has its season, and this season came to an end when I was twelve – my parents separated and sold our family home. As necessity dictated, my mum started a job at Sheffield University, taking her strong work ethic and determination to succeed with her. She taught me early on the importance of work and independence, and I remember working in some form from a young age. I did it all, from paper rounds to leaflet distribution to hospital café work and waitressing. What strikes me now is how I never worried about interviews. On the contrary, you could almost say that I looked forward to them. I knew I wanted to work, and I had a quiet confidence – instilled in me during those early days of seeing my mum and dad lead and thrive alongside running their business.
School came and went. Do I have many memories of it? Primary school, maybe. However, I didn’t class myself as academic and therefore didn’t particularly enjoy it if I’m honest. I did what I needed to do at the time, and finally, it came to an end. Phew. After completing work experience stints, first in a nursery and then in the army (I, to this day, cannot remember why I chose the army), I was still completely undecided about where I was headed.
I guess I had a great sense of what my skills and strengths were but didn’t yet know where they were going to take me.
The Early Days
I knew I enjoyed talking – a lot – to people, to clients, to anybody. I enjoyed listening and interacting, and as time went on, I knew that I was particularly good at it. I eventually moved into the customer-facing side of the motor trade, working for a reputable and esteemed brand. I am thankful for the experience I gained from representing and delivering a prestige product and service, and I know this has helped me in creating my own prestigious brand. Here, again, I enjoyed working with people – colleagues and clients alike. I was in charge of managing the diary, and the hours were long. They were busy, mad days, and I worked my socks off, moving up the ranks quickly. One of the other perks of my motor trade days was more personal – meeting a tall, handsome man named Mike – now my husband.
Having spent some years in the motor trade, I eventually realised it was time to move on and find something more for my career. But where to go? I knew that something needed to shift. But what?
I took on more admin-based jobs. One of which was working in a medical centre: placing orders, organising, and chatting to patients (one of the best bits). And I loved it. But by this point, I was hungry for more.
Left, or Right?
After reaching a crossroads, my mum, who by now was an established and successful freelance editorial office assistant, asked me what I was going to do, but I really didn’t have an answer. It was then that she suggested I come on board with her and manage the peer review process on an academic journal or two. If I didn’t like it, then nothing was lost.
Mum became my mentor. She trained me up, and I gradually began to take on more and more work with her until I was in the position to leave my part-time job and make editorial work my full-time career. I soon put my organisational and communication skills to full use, and looking back, I thrived. I’d found my niche.
Together, we built up a continually growing portfolio of journals, working as editorial managers for each one. Those technological and language skills I had accumulated over the years, from childhood and through my various jobs, were serving me well. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t in my element. Added to this, through my previous work with prestigious companies, I knew how to deliver a prestigious service to our clients, and things continued to grow.
After some years of building up our reputation, we began to secure larger contracts with our main publishers. As more and more journals came on board, it was time to grow and employ more editorial managers to help manage the workload.
Growing a Family – Growing a Business
When I had my daughter in 2014, I returned to work shortly after. As a working mum, I was hit with the realisation that I was lucky and grateful to be able to fit my work and my child around each other without compromising the quality of time that I gave either.
This flexibility is, to this day, something that we are proud to offer to our freelancers. Some of them are parents, and by working with us, we can offer them the opportunity to bring their little ones up in an environment where they are physically available when needed. I feel privileged to be in the position where PA EDitorial can provide this level of well-being to families.
Our business has continued to expand; we now employ senior managers to help support editorial office assistants and oversee quality management for the whole process. We also have a marketing team and admin manager. In addition, we have increased our range of services: identifying and drawing in the relevant and experienced people who can offer these skills. In addition to our journal work, we now also offer social media services, proofreading, copy editing, copywriting and formatting. We are also proud that we have recently launched two new society titles. Needless to say, I am genuinely excited to see what comes next.
I am proud that I can be a part of empowering people to thrive in their careers. We truly believe, and instil within our freelancers, that everybody has a ‘super skill’ to offer the business. Nobody (or at least very few people) can be an expert in everything, but everybody excels at something. We have freelancers who are Excel whizzes, Word whizzes, submission portal whizzes, and submission system whizzes. Everybody’s super skills are celebrated and used to support those who might feel less confident in that area. We could not function as a business without this culture of learning and supporting. We know our colleagues’ strengths, and we want to magnify and nurture them, as this, in turn, nurtures the whole team and, in turn, nurtures our business.
Throughout my various work experiences, I saw many examples of excellent mentoring and leadership (thanks, Mum!), where people were cared for and encouraged. I have carried this with me; if you want your team to achieve the best, they must be valued.
My journey to where I am today did not take a linear pathway. In fact, as you can see, there were lots of wriggles in the road. When I reflect – and although I did not necessarily know what I would become – I ultimately focussed on what I enjoyed and upon my strengths. I truly believe that this led me to where I am today and that this is where I was always meant to be.
If you would be interested in joining our nurturing and flexible team, please contact us at info@PAEDitorial.co.uk to apply.
PA EDitorial - Providing prestigious peer review management services to academic publishers, editors and societies.