Taking time out of a busy day for a press interview is always challenging. But managing it as a financial director on the day your company is having its first IPO takes it to the next level. That Sharon McCooey ACMA, FD international at LinkedIn, did just that by talking to CIMA’s online communities executive Deirdre Molloy, says a lot about her and the fast paced business culture she operates in.
Social networking seems to be on a high at the moment, with Facebook and Twitter grabbing many headlines, and taking market share from rival social networks once dominant in other regions. However, what distinguishes LinkedIn (and its 100 million members) from other mega brands in the social media space is its focus on business networking.
Based in their Dublin office since she joined them in May 2010, Sharon heads up the finance team that looks after LinkedIn’s non US territories. With over 9 million members in India, 5 million in the UK, and fast growth in countries such as Brazil, Canada (3 million each), and Australia (2 million), the international division occupies a critical strategic place in the company’s future.
Though in the same place geographically, Sharon has come a long way from her bachelor’s degree in commerce in Dublin in 1985. The connecting thread across the decades is an undimmed entrepreneurial focus.
‘I had always planned to own my own business and it was as a result of this that I did a BA in commerce (with a dual focus on accounting and IT) at University College Dublin,’ recollects Sharon. ‘I discovered CIMA as part of the milk round process. I figured I needed some further education after my degree and was weighing up my career opportunities.’
Never stop learning
Sharon began CIMA in 1988 and became a member in 1993. She gained her first senior role in her sector of choice – the software industry – as manager of finance EMEA at Informix (now part of IBM). Since then she has worked at a senior level for several enterprise software companies, including Business Objects (now part of SAP) and Siebel Systems (now part of Oracle). Have the skills she gained from CIMA impacted positively and supported her in this career progression?
‘I’m a believer in education and in learning and development as a career long activity. Initially a lot of it has to be around technical skills – that’s a key stepping stone to career progression. The combination of my business degree and CIMA gave me that technical specialism which means I not only got a job in a company and a foot in the door, but a seat at the table.’
Not one to rest on her laurels, Sharon adds that for her – and others – CIMA is just the beginning. ‘Although I officially finished education in 1993, I’ve been on learning and development programmes practically every year since then. I’m very thankful to CIMA: the foundation upon which the rest of my learning has developed.’
For Sharon, her career is also about going beyond a purely technical perspective. ‘You have to find your real interest in life and I found my interest in the technology industry. It was like a huge door was opened from a career and opportunity perspective.
‘Since I’ve been in this industry I’ve wished to be nowhere else. I love technology, the pace, the dynamism, the multiculturalism of the organisations. I love the change and change management, the business and business dynamics, and the people you meet.’
The move from CRM focused software companies to a social networking platform in May 2010 seems in tune with the zeitgeist. So what does she feel is the impact of social networking on business?
‘Our company’s mission is to create economic advantage for all the world’s professionals. LinkedIn and other social networks are brilliant in that they allow you to stay connected in a very fast moving world.
‘We move careers, we move jobs and we move countries, and it’s a great way to be able to stay connected to other people through all this and to share information, best practice and your latest thinking on something.’
Sharon draws parallels with the professional network of CIMA. ‘Networking in the professional context has always existed, and CIMA is a network in itself. That’s one of the key advantages of CIMA: it makes it easy to share ideas because it gives you a common ground and a connective tissue.’
She cites LinkedIn groups as an example of social media used well, from the perspective of a finance professional. ‘The CIMA group is a great way of sharing ideas, as is the LinkedIn answers section. If you want to find out something, you will trust the answer from someone who has the same qualification as you, as an example. I think that’s a great way of using social networking.’
With technology moving ever forwards and driving customer expectations, LinkedIn is keeping in step by adding new services for its users (like its recent Android app) and supporting innovation.
‘There’s a huge amount of change happening in all social networks and I think as they progress you’re going to see more sharing of information among trusted sources. They are people who might hold the same qualification as you, or have worked at the same company. You will see more use of online groups and the group dynamic in which to share ideas.’
This relentless pace of change only seems to spur Sharon on. ‘Mobile usage of LinkedIn is very important and it’s an exciting time,’ she says. ‘We’re only at the emergent part of the social media phenomenon right now. We’re only getting started.’
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