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Women Who March, Part 2: Meet 5 Women of Change

Meet Emily Burley

President, Executive Leadership Support

As for my final remarkable woman of change, I would like to introduce you to Emily Burley. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Emily on several occasions over that past 4+ years.

Emily joined Q1 Productions 11 years ago as a producer for Life Science conferences. In this role, she was charged with conducting the exhaustive research and content development of assigned programs in highly technical fields. Over the course of her career, she moved into a leadership role as Production Director where she led and managed a team of producers.

Our first project together involved an emerging business line that Q1 Productions had developed for executive assistants (EA). The impetus to pursue this category came from Paul Northover, managing director of Q1 Productions.

While a concept requires a tremendous amount of foresight so does the ability to turn an idea into a viable, sustainable, scalable business. This is where Emily came into the fold.


Emily was best served to bring this vision to life. She had all the know-how (and ample creativity) of what it takes to produce events and build the content to ensure its success.

Focused on providing enriched learning for EAs in a meaningful, profound way was of chief importance for Emily. She wanted to build a network of previously unconnected (mostly) women and create a supportive community of empowered business administrators. She would deliver this through a series of forums produced under the newly named, Executive Leadership Support (ELS).

While the goal was clear, the “how” wasn’t so straightforward.

Initially, the belief was they could fit this within a longstanding business model used for Life Science events and apply it to the development and execution of the ELS Forums. However, it became apparent that the current business model for creating conferences for Life Science couldn’t support this ambition.

It was an uphill battle trying to break out of the Life Science conference mold. People were busy. Resources were slim. And there was no meaningful budget to support the redevelopment required in order to get ELS to work. The stakes and risk were high and the disruption they were making in the industry wasn’t favorable. On the contrary, it was downright bad.

But where some might see a problem, Emily saw potential. Where others would see too great a challenge, Emily saw an opportunity for change.


Emily knew that if she didn’t re-evaluate how to approach this business segment that they would fail. She spent weeks devising a strategy and plan to develop, build and market ELS. With her plan in hand, she approached Paul and pitched the idea of taking a completely different approach to building the ELS Forums. Paul saw and seized the opportunity and Emily began to enlist the necessary resources to bring her plan and vision to life.

The first order of business was to figure out a way where sales and marketing worked better together to fully deliver on ELS’ mission to – improve the profile and professional lives of executive assistants by creating an educational outlet inspiring growth, collaboration, and community.

It was at this point when Emily and Paul enlisted my services to help evaluate their current structure, roles, and responsibilities in order to devise an infrastructure they could build upon.

We knew we needed to start from the inside and build a foundation of enduring collaboration – where client relations, marketing, and producers all worked alongside each other. No walls. No smokescreens. Just real authentic conversations and practices that lead to a shared set of goals.


This body of work helped support the business to run like a well-working machine (not quite yet a well-oiled one). It was both daunting and exhilarating to see the learnings and pivoting which came at an accelerated rate – growing from 1 forum in Chicago to hosting around the world.

Cities and markets were added. Agendas were overhauled. Professional speakers were retained. Sponsorship agreements were made. Marketing was amplified and brand-building and awareness became vital.

They were onto something big (really big). There was a groundswell of happy and inspired EAs attending the forums and sharing their stories and/or participating in their free webinar series, ELSx. Their latest ELSx garnered 1,200+ participants worldwide.

They’ve also created a very strong network of subject matter experts, thought leaders, and influencers that serve as speakers including Monique Helstrom, the assistant to Simon Sinek, as one of several highly sought-after speakers on their roster.

The success of ELS is also gaining a favorable amount of interest from big brand sponsors. To date, they’ve secured sponsorships with Grub Hub, Airbnb, and Bevi. When you start attracting recognized brands such as these, you know you’ve reached a superior level of credibility and value.

All the while building externally, Emily was vigilant in rallying her internal team around the significance of making a difference and contributing to something that matters. As they commence their fourth year, she has experienced minimal turnover on her team.

It goes to show you that if you find a purpose for yourself and include others in that vision, you can see, hear and feel the far-reaching benefits of your work and your teamwork. In 2018, they had a 108% increase in growth over the prior year.  

Emily Burley and Paul Northover with their talented ELS team

Under Emily’s leadership, she has demonstrated that change is possible by developing a business that by the start of 2019 became its own self-sustaining company and whereby she deservedly earned the title, President.

This year alone they are scheduled to deliver “The ELS Experience” in 26 cities, 4 countries, on 2 continents!

In the throes of ELS’s notable growth and evolution, Emily became a mom to a daughter who will undoubtedly be a future leader and change the world.


Emily isn’t ready to begin coasting. She is empowered and excited for what the future holds. She is staying true to delivering a bespoke experience (at every point – every time) and it requires constant innovation and inspiration.

Keeping ELS innovative, fresh and exciting is top of mind for her always. She derives tremendous inspiration from forward-thinking, established brands like Create & Cultivate and Girlboss to boost the quality and delivery of the ELS brand.

Emily has her eye on the rapidly growing number of millennials and Gen Z’s becoming the next generations of EAs. It’s a bit of a challenge to reach and engage them, while simultaneously attracting and retaining other generations. 

With this in mind, they are continually looking for and testing new ways to connect to all generations. They recently launched “Badass Executive Assistants Movement,” or #BAEAMovement, a campaign gaining tremendous traction across all generations.

Inspired and motivated Badass EAs

Emily is steadfast in her conviction that the EA role is here to stay regardless of the technology-enabled world we live in. Technology should be embraced by EAs as efficiency tools to complete administrative tasks and free up time to focus on more complex business projects. Despite all the labor-saving devices and time-freeing technical developments, there’s nothing that can replace the human element that provides support to top-level executives.

I continue to applaud and am inspired by the work Emily and her team does and cannot wait to see where their journey takes them next.

Do you know of a woman of change you’d like to mention? Give a shout out in the comments below.


Michelle is Mariola Unlimited’s Chief Brand Officer and has 20 years of experience in branding and marketing strategy. Her blog is dedicated to sharing her mastery of marketing best practices, insights into building brand equity, and her reflections on creating intentional cultures and the leaders that make it happen.

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