“I would not dream of being anywhere else,” was the frank and honest statement by Krystle Ellul, PA, to the Chairman of Corinthia and the Board of Directors of IHI.
I had asked her for an interview, but it turned out to be a friendly chat with an open and frank Krystle, always faithful to her simple, unpretentious style. That is her hallmark. “I loathe arrogance. It’s base, appalling and out of line. No one has the right to roughshod anyone, irrespective of position and rank.” And she’s all for honesty and respect. “I feel respect is the basis of any relationship. At work, it fosters camaraderie and is essential to join efforts and visions to achieve aims and targets.” How could anyone disagree with that?
Krystle joined Corinthia 17 years ago after experiencing a few short-term employments and a three-year stint with a firm of auditors which she still remembers with positive feelings. She had never considered joining Corinthia, but a call for employment by Corinthia was bought to her notice. “I did my homework, and what I found was indeed appealing. So I applied for a secretarial job. I remember clearly Alfred Fabri, who still graces us with his experience, telling me in the first interview: ‘One thing I promise you. You’ll never have a dull moment.’ And he was absolutely spot on.”
How did she become PA to the Chairman? Krystle nodded gently and smiled. “Actually, it’s quite peculiar; or should I say, particular? We were a team of assistants who assisted different persons without being allotted to someone in particular. So we each had contact with the management in general, and that offered me a very versatile and wide exposure. Then, one of us retired, and suddenly the others resigned in quick succession. The reasons for resignations varied, however I was left the sole assistant. For three months, I was a Jack (or Jill?) of all trades, manning reception at HO and offering assistance in several odd jobs. I recall that period with great interest because, though the challenges were varied and sometimes overwhelming, the experience I reaped was enormous. I was not only exposed to odd and various jobs, but I also got the hang of switching off and on and moving in all compass points in quick succession. This experience only lasted for three or four months, but it was intensive. Naturally, I was also assisting the Chairman.”
Suddenly Krystle chuckled and commented: “So perhaps the Chairman had no real choice!”
I was quick to comment that knowing Mr Alfred Pisani, he would not have allowed himself to be in a position of no choice. Furthermore, had he wanted someone else, he would have acted or reacted.
Krystle gently accepted this argument. Perhaps she was aware of it but did not wish to blow her trumpets. And this is a facet of her character that is somewhat revealing. She is quite unassuming and definitely unpretentious. She is confident but not overconfident. She is friendly but takes her time to establish friendliness. These traits were evident in her chat as she spoke honestly and candidly.
So, what would be her main tasks? “As PA, I would mainly need to assist the Chairman in his day-to-day tasks. This could include various things such as, writing letters, attend to his travel arrangements, agenda management and requirements, etc Mostly my time is taken over by the Chairman’s needs and requirements. But I also assist other Executives in several areas where I would need to fit in specific requirements according to their individual needs and requests.
“Moreover, I would need to attend to the Chairman’s needs, take note of and organise his daily schedule. I am kept au courant with all his work requirements and do my best to meet the demanding standards. He is always on the go, and I am the silent organiser and, often, the note-taker and the fixer of many meetings. I am the silent, loyal person who must see that his various and often demanding requirements are met.
“In a way, he changed or should I say, he matured my character and helped me develop facets of my personality and capabilities which he saw well before I became aware of them.
“For example, I do not consider myself a super ambitious person when it comes to my career. When I joined Corinthia, I never planned or dreamt about this particular job. He has gently pushed me forward to take up specific tasks which also led to me being appointed as Company Secretary of a few of our subsidiary companies. At first, I was sceptical that he was asking me to perform certain duties which I considered well above me. Yet he believed in me, and in his unique manner, he steered me to different experiences. I can only be grateful to him for this confidence in me and his guiding style without first giving a silent example himself.
“He is an absolute hard worker. He works with great passion. So, he instilled in me a duty to follow his example. I plodded forward, and now I can say I am confident in many tasks and have the inward strength and determination to face unknown challenges.”
And what about the executives she referred to? “Yes, I assist in several other initiatives. In particular, I help Jean Pierre Schembri, the Company Secretary and Chief Administrative Officer, in various tasks, such as seeing to the collation of the various material prepared for publication in the Annual Report as well as the organisation of the Annual General Meeting and the various documentation that go with it.”
“I am also a member of the Corinthia Social Committee, which is responsible for organising Continuous Service Awards in Malta and in our properties overseas, Investors’ Trips and other internal events like the Group Summer Party, Chairman’s Christmas Dinner and various activities throughout the year. This is an absolute pleasure as I thoroughly enjoy working with the team we have in place and it also gives me the opportunity to meet many of my colleagues in the various subsidiaries.”
So, should her job title be more extended?
The response was a wide-open smile, baring her impeccably white teeth.
Discretion must be an essential requisite for your job. “Most certainly. It is expected at all times with everyone. I am privy to very confidential information, and, I confess, I often play the part of being completely oblivious to certain facts. Discretion and confidentially are constant duties.”
Multitasking would be another sine-qua-non requirement for the job. Correct? “I have to be very versatile in multitasking. I will be working on something when I receive another request from the Chairman or another person. It happens every day. I call them the unwritten agenda of the day. I switch and attend to the most urgent requirement without losing the trail of the other requests.”
Is it a natural talent, or does it come from training?
“I believe it is a talent, which you discover you have over time, and if you do have it, then you can work on it and get better. Mind you, the fact that I have been here for so long gives me the confidence and know-how to switch easier. I know the company back-to-front, which makes the scenario a familiar one. I do feel the pressure. But I breathe in and out several times and compose myself for the challenge.”
It is a known fact that Mr Alfred Pisani, Corinthia’s Executive Chairman, is a living legend. He never looks back except to help him look forward, turns problems into challenges, is endowed with a regenerative vision and encapsulates all that is a positive outlook. It must be very daunting to be his PA. Correct?
“It is challenging. In line with his philosophy, there are no hurdles; only challenges to be met and won. I have learnt so much from him. He is a stickler for detail. Nothing is too small to escape attention. Even a simple letter must be re-read with an open mind to better the language and the message. He often speaks and urges us to go that extra mile. Just working one’s hours merely fills the prescribed work hours but barely means going that extra mile. I learnt what that means, and sometimes I walk two extra miles! At first, I used to panic when faced with many demands simultaneously. His composure is exemplary and so encouraging. He keeps his mind and vision clear to enable him to decide without a cluttered mind. It takes a lot of auto-discipline, which he has taught me.
“He is larger than life. Expansive and visionary. A person like that is necessarily particularly demanding because he is singular and extraordinary.
“I take all this with humility and learn. I confess I don’t particularly appreciate complaining. What’s the point? If something is annoying me so much that makes me want to complain, I would much rather act on it and do something about it.
“All this is a great learning curve. And I am always ready to learn further.”
One very particular trait in you is your love for animals. Was it always there?
“I always loved animals. My earliest experience was when I was very young. My father, then, used to breed pigeons, and I always accompanied him and was mesmerised. He lovingly gave me white pigeons, which I cared for and loved as my pets.
“I used to introduce stray dogs at home, but my mother always asked me to refrain. And she was right; I was too young and would not have had the time and capability to care for them, so that would have burdened her.”
And now you have Cora. Could you speak to us about her?
“Cora is my three-year-old mixed-breed dog whom I love to bits. She was four months when I got her home, and my life changed. She is reticent, not so trusting and wary when I meet someone and talk to them. I could tell she was not that comfortable. My trainer told me she might be protective. But she is so easy to have around. I share my time with her after office and go for walks when the summer heat subsides. And when I am in the office, she sleeps almost all the time. She is lazy in capital letters. I stalk her at home via my home cameras and sometimes speak to her to see if she is well. Sometimes she reacts; other times, she keeps on sleeping.
“And she is not demanding at all. I sometimes think of the future and dread when she must leave me.
“When I arrive home, there is rarely an out-of-control excited homecoming welcome, even when she was a puppy. Sometimes she comes to the door to welcome me calmly or, especially in winter, she continues enjoying my sofa (or should I say her sofa) and I just see a wagging tail. So, the ‘supposed’ master has to do the greeting! Mind you, she adores me and still constantly follows me around. I give her some love and treats, and she lets me go on with my home chores.
“Later, after she is walked and fed, we sit and watch some TV or sleep to wake up for another busy day…unless it’s weekend when she and I share each other’s company with great love and pleasure.
“And then I look forward to another week of work with many of my colleagues I consider friends. Like Cora, I assess well before I befriend, but then again, perhaps all the others assess me before they befriend me.”
Well, Insider Plus has easily reached an assessment of Krystle Ellul: An exceptional character to know and admire.