EUMA's 40th anniversary

An interview with Christine Davies
13th Oct, 2014

On the occasion of EUMA’s 40th birthday, which will be celebrated in Paris on October 31, Christine Davies, one of the founding mothers of the organisation, answers a few questions.

You, together with Sonia Vanular, Joke Snijders, and others., were one of the founders of EUMA; originally EAPS (European Association of Professional Secretaries). How did you meet the other founder members?
Sonia and a group of others (who later became founder members) met at an international symposium for secretaries in Zurich. At a dinner Sonia put forward the idea of founding an association to recognise secretaries as professionally skilled people, better enabling managers to do what they are good at - running the business. One of the ladies was Lynne MacFarland and she and I got together with Gwen Cowan and started the UK group. Sonia continued with the other ladies to start groups in other countries.

How did the idea of founding an association come to your mind? What was the initial spark and why did you do it?
It was Sonia’s idea. She had worked for Addressograph Multigraph and the American army in Paris as a secretary. Before moving to Paris she worked with one of the top secretarial schools in London as secretary to the owner. So she learned and knew a lot about the skills we needed. When she later worked as a management consultant in Paris, she recognised the importance of secretaries - from which the notion of a Pan-European network grew, in order to share ideas and to promote secretaries as professional support to top managers.

Do you remember if there already was any networking or training minded association or club for secretaries in those days?
Many countries had national associations. In the UK for example there was the established Institute of Qualified Private Secretaries” (IQPS). To become a member of this institute you had to pass a tough examination set by the London Chamber of Commerce. The idea was to encourage companies to employ only secretaries who had this qualification, but the employment situation was such that it was difficult to get anyone to be a secretary. (She laughs) “If they’re warm and breathing, we take them.” Organisations will fail without good administration. It’s so important to do things properly: having well organised meetings, pleasing formats, minutes, good practice and protocols which you have to learn and apply. EAPS/EUMA was the first Pan-European network - our chance to start something different - a vivid, young association with a clear European aspect.

How did you advertise EAPS/EUMA? People had to get to know EUMA and this without having fairs like career@office, no internet.
Our advertising of EUMA in the early days was by word of mouth. For example, with Gwen Cowen, the secretary to Peter Parker, a captain of industry and boss of British Railways. They worked very well together. When she helped to found EUMA he supported her and the association. He dealt with the highest people in government. As a result Gwen knew all their secretaries and recruited them into EUMA. Peter Parker referred to us affectionately as “the Mafia - you cannot succeed without these people”.

When you look back at the years since founding EUMA, did you initially expect our current development and such a success?
No, we didn’t. It’s such an amazing success. We grew across Europe very quickly. But we still have a lot to do to get business to recognise our high-level contribution.

The jobs have changed so much in the last decades…
No, sorry, I have to say I do not think the job has changed. It’s the tools that have changed. Computers are tools that enable us to do our job more quickly and more effectively. Let me tell you a story about a company that employed a great many engineers in their field service department. When they needed to appoint a new manager, they usually promoted the best engineer. This resulted in them losing a good engineer and acquiring a poor manager. Good engineers rarely have administrative or people skills. So they decided to promote the secretary instead. Secretaries have good admin skills and can empathize with the customers and the engineers.

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