At which time do you wake up in the morning?
Usually around 7am. I’m not great in the mornings which is made worse by the constant struggle of trying to get two small children up and to school.
What is the first thing you do?
I look at my phone. Doesn’t everyone? 😊
Which news sites do you read (if any) in the morning?
Although it’s a bit of a mess these days, Twitter/X is still my go to place as a news aggregator and way of finding out what people are thinking and talking about. I also read the FT and BBC News.
At which time do you go into the office (or start working remotely)?
At 9am after the school run. I work from home maybe 2-3 days a week and on other days I will be in one of our offices in London or elsewhere.
How many times a day do you check emails?
Too many to count. I have great admiration for people that only go through e-mails at certain times, or who can automatically screen out the important from the unimportant. That’s not me, sadly.
When is your first meeting?
I try to avoid meetings before 10am to give me time to catch-up on e-mails and find out what’s happening in the world.
How do you plan your meetings across the week?
I try to concentrate external meetings into one-or two-days during the week, usually in London, or sometimes in Manchester where our head office is.
What is the split between internal and external meetings?
I work for a big, complex organization, so the balance favours internal meetings, with time spent listening to colleagues to understand their priorities, which in turn shapes my work.
How do you follow news development between meetings?
Usually via Twitter/X, plus we use a political monitoring service, which is set up to send e-mail alerts on key topics and company mentions.
How do you organize your calendar?
It’s probably a stretch to say my calendar is actually ‘organized’. As above, I try to condense travel and external meetings to 1-2 days a week. The one near constant is that I keep Friday afternoon’s clear for catching-up on reading and, if time allows, CPD. My company has a target for all employees to do 50 ‘digital learning hours’ every year, which is great and a privilege, but can be challenging to hit.
How do you take notes?
Pen and paper. In one of my first jobs, I once made the mistake of going into a meeting with a boss who was a bit of a martinet, without a notepad and pen. Big mistake. Ever since then, I take a notepad everywhere and am an inveterate scribbler of notes (even if I don’t always check back on them!).
What is your relationship to Excel?
What is your favorite app & why?
Apart from Twitter/X, I couldn’t function without travel apps like National Rail Enquiries or the Transport for London app. It’s a bit sad I know. I’m also zealously protecting a long ‘streak’ on Duolingo and get very competitive in its weekly league tables.
How many external lunches do you have a week?
Very few, especially since the Pandemic. Perhaps it’s my age, but it feels like the days of long lunches are over. I’m more a cup of tea and slice of cake person these days.
Which time do you go to bed?
Midnight or later, I’ve always been a nighttime person.
Where do you keep up to date on Public Affairs?
In London, as elsewhere, there is a regular circuit of events and meetings where you bump into and exchange notes with others working in public affairs. There are other PA networks I’m involved in, some formal, some informal, which are very useful. I also find LinkedIn and Politico’s London Influence newsletter useful for seeing who’s doing what and how. Finally, I regularly pick up the phone to people or just arrange to have a cup of coffee to catch-up.
What is your best tip for managing work/life balance?
I’m pretty good at switching off and doing other things (notwithstanding my need to constantly check e-mails and Twitter). My top, unoriginal tip: make sure you take a lunch break and get away from your desk, even if it’s just to go for a walk.
What is the biggest challenge you are working to solve right now?
I am writing this on the eve of the UK’s Autumn Statement, and we’re hoping for an announcement from the government about capital allowances. It is a technical subject, but I’ve been working on this topic on and off for nearly twenty years. If it happens it will be a big deal and may go a long way to unlocking business investment in the UK, which has taken a battering because of the financial crisis, Brexit, and the Pandemic.
What is the biggest challenge in Public Affairs right now?
In the UK the relationship between business and the government has been difficult since Brexit. It has improved recently, but, as we get closer to a general election, there is a worry that economic and political stability, which business needs and crave, could be sacrificed for short-term electoral gain. The UK also tends to follow what happens in the USA, and I think that we are increasingly going to import their destructive battles over so-called ‘work capitalism’.
Name a PA pro in the industry you respect and why
This is a toughie. There’s almost too many to list. I’m going to cheat and say two: Ben Fletcher at Make UK, who is a fantastic communicator and great professional; and Madeleine Hallward, who is, I think, currently doing a mix of non-Exec roles and agency work, and is brilliant and fearless.
When you go on vacation, do you still answer emails?
Yes, I can’t help it. I suffer from chronic, work-related Fear of Missing Out.
Which book did you read recently or are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Material World by Ed Conway. I’m about half-way through, but it is a fascinating insight into how our world is shaped, and dangerously reliant, on a handful of, ostensibly, common materials like sand and salt. It sounds boring, but it’s not!
Which skills will PA pros need the most in 5-10 year?
I think the main skill will continue to be the ability to explain ever increasing complexity in lay terms. When it comes to technology, for example, policy makers mostly ‘get’ things, like trains, or cars, or wind turbines. Where they struggle is in understanding digital technologies, like data analytics and AI, the metaverse, digital twins. And what they don’t understand, they will almost certainly overregulate.
How big is your PA department?
It’s complicated. There are two of us in our PA team, but I have counterparts in some of our sister businesses. Part of my role is ‘air traffic control’, to ensure we act in a coordinated way. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t!
Where is the PA departments placed in your organization?
We report directly to our UK CEO but have a close working relationship with our communications team and other relevant functions like compliance and sustainability.
Where should the PA function ideally be based in an organization & why?
I’ve worked in organizations with all kinds of models and structures. As PA people, of course, we always want to be close to where we think the action is, which usually means a reporting line to the leadership and, we hope, involvement in discussions about business strategy. And it’s true that there are advantages to that. But I think we obsesses about structure too much. For me, it’s not where PA sits in an organizational structure that’s important, it’s whether the organization understands and reflects the importance of public affairs as a function.
Steven Coventry is Head of Government Affairs at Siemens plc. He previously occupied a similar role for EEF, the Manufacturers’ Organization and, amongst other roles, worked as a communications consultant for the EU and UNDP in Eastern Europe. He is also a Governor at a local school.
He studied History and Politics at the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, has a MA in International Relations from Leicester University, and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Public Relations from the CIPR.