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Careers

Becoming a specialist in a particular sector isn’t reserved for large firms only and is far easier than you might think. Mary Cloonan tells us how. The professional services market in Ireland has changed in the last five years and, after this COVID-19 crisis, they certainly will again. Professionals might be starting to think about pivoting to a particular service or sector, and becoming specialists who know the ins-and-outs of that sector and are better positioned than general practice (GP) accountants to advise their clients. In the past, this may have been an option for large firms only, but the Irish market is small and built on connections and relationships, so displaying your expertise in a particular sector is far easier than you might think. I work with a number of mid-sized practices that focus very successfully on specific expert areas. In turn, they compete successfully with GP accountants. Picking a specialist area When thinking about pivoting to a specialist area, think very carefully about where you want to focus and remember: picking a specialist area does not prohibit you from working with clients and prospects in other areas.   Research in the US indicates that high growth, profitable firms are focused on having clearly defined targets. The narrower the focus, the faster the growth. The more diverse the target audience, the more diluted your marketing efforts will be and, in turn, less effective. Some things you should consider: Is there potential for you in the sector of your choice? Is there already enough support for this sector, or are potential clients looking for professional advice and guidance? What is your commitment level to this change? Are you ready to focus on this sector? Are you committed to building your profile as a specialist? Will you enjoy working with clients in this sector? Experience and connections Since you became an accountant, you have been networking within the industry and have been working diligently for the clients you already have. Take a look at your network to see if you have clients or connections in your chosen sector who can guide you through any issues, become potential referrers of new contacts and provide testimonials, links to associations or groups in the sector. Building your profile Once you’ve established who your target audience is, use these key methods for building your profile with them: Social Media Create a profile on LinkedIn that clearly focuses on your expertise, then connect with stakeholders, follow relevant groups, businesses and influencers of the sector. Website Your website is your virtual 24/7 presence, and the single most important development tool. This is where your audiences learns about what you do. Prospective clients are not likely to choose you solely based on your website, but it is a critical validation point. Prospects will easily rule you out if your website sends the wrong message. Networking and events People do business with people they know, like and trust. So, if you are trying to do business in a particular sector, let the sector know you. Most industry sectors have an association so go along to events, seek to write in their publications, find opportunities to speak at events and exhibit, if that’s an option. Comment Ensure you are well-read and understand the issues of your sector. Set up Google news alerts and subscribe to magazines about the sector. This will ensure you are staying up-to-date on the issues relevant to your potential clients. You can then comment on the latest news on the industry and post via social media and write short pieces. Get connected to the journalists involved and offer commentary. Repeat Most importantly, when establishing your profile in a specific area, ensure you are consistent and repetitive. I see large and small practices start very enthusiastically, but only those who maintain focus will reap rewards. Mary Cloonan is the Founder of Marketing Clever.

Apr 02, 2020
Personal Development

Learning to immerse yourself in that part of the glass that is half-full can act as a buffer to depression and anxiety, and increase your happiness, writes Dr Eddie Murphy. For too long, the science of psychology focused on what was ‘wrong’ with people. Only in the past 30 years has psychology focused on what keeps people happy when they are well. This is called the science of positive psychology, and I, for one, am very influenced by this area and Prof. Martin Seligman’s work on resilience, optimism and interventions that prevent depression and build strength and wellbeing. One tool that is recognised to enhance wellbeing is ‘three good things’. Happier and healthier Those who are grateful tend to be happier, healthier and more fulfilled. Being grateful can help people cope with stress and can even have a beneficial effect on heart rate. This action is easy to do, and its benefits have been scientifically proven. In tests, people who tried it each night for just one week were happier and less depressed one month, three months and six months later. Gratitude From old wisdom to the latest science, gratitude is known to be good for us and those around us. Yet, it isn’t always our automatic response, and we too often take the positive things in our lives for granted. The challenge is to learn to get into the habit of being consciously grateful. Science shows that gratitude is an essential element in how good we feel, both psychologically and socially. It increases our positive emotion and decreases our negative emotion. It raises our overall satisfaction with life and helps us have a positive outlook. It has also been shown to reduce health complaints and help us cope with difficulties. It even appears to reduce the importance we place on material goods and, contrary to what we may think, it may also increase our ability to achieve our goals. Why does it work? We have a natural focus on what goes wrong in our daily lives, often going over and over these things in our head. We are quick to notice even the smallest of problems, yet we rarely spend any time at all dwelling on the good stuff. Things that brought us a quick smile or felt good are all too often forgotten or, perhaps, not even noticed in the first place. Taking notice This action is simple but incredibly powerful. It’s about taking time to notice the good things in our lives and get more from these. What’s more, if parents remember to talk about what they are grateful for, this can help their children learn to think about the good things in their lives and hopefully develop a gratitude habit they can benefit from for the rest of their lives. This action involves consciously spending a few minutes each day focusing on some of the good things that happened to us. By doing this, we start to notice what goes right as well as wrong in our lives. Even on a bad day, some good things happen – however small they might be. Exercise: Three good things 1. Every night: before you go to bed, think back over your day and remember three good things that happened – something that went well, that you enjoyed, or for which you were grateful. These can be small (a smile, the smell of trees and grass, the sun, a juicy orange, watching a child playing) or of greater importance. You’ll probably find that it varies. Try doing this for a week to start.  2. Note them down: this is important. You may want to get a small notebook just for this purpose. 3. Think about why: for each thing you’re grateful for, write down why it happened and why you feel good about it. This may feel a bit tricky at first, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. 4. Look back: after a week, have a look back on what you’ve written. How does it feel when you look at all these good things? Do you notice any themes? 5. Keep it up: try keeping it up for another couple of weeks at least. Many people find that it becomes a bedtime habit. After a while, you may find that you don’t need to do it every night. Three times a week, or even once a week, might be enough. You may also find that you start to appreciate the good things more as they happen. ‘Three good things’ orientates us towards a sense of appreciation and engagement in life. It works because it changes our focus from the things that go wrong in life and things that we take for granted to things that go well. Focusing our attention on things that go well acts as a buffer to depression and anxiety and increases our happiness as we reflect and immerse ourselves in that part of the glass that is half-full. Dr Eddie Murphy is a clinical psychologist, mental health expert and author. Members and students can contact CA Support on 01 637 7342 or 086 024 3294, by email at casupport@charteredaccountants.ie or online at www.charteredaccountants.ie/casupport

Apr 01, 2020
Careers

Orla Doyle outlines the job search activities that reap the biggest reward. The Pareto principle states that 80% of outcomes are borne from 20% of the causes. It is one of the cardinal philosophies in business that ultimately guides business leaders in selecting the most productive inputs to drive maximum efficiency. However, this principle can be applied in many settings, including in the job search. See how you can harness the benefits of the 80/20 rule in your job search strategy to target the right company, the right culture, the right management team, and help you get a job you love. Wasted time The job market is a fickle beast, where the amount of effort you put in doesn’t necessarily correlate with the results you get. Working smart rather than working hard is vital. For instance, many people spend a significant amount of time tweaking their CVs and cover letters. While it is important to spend time on this, people often spend too much time, with any subsequent additions unlikely to move the needle. Interestingly, the majority of job seekers choose the job site route to apply for new jobs. Don’t get me wrong; job sites such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor are great tools to use when searching for a new job. However, churning out 10-20 applications per day on one of these sites is a lot of work that won’t necessarily yield the results you want. The truth is, nobody taught us how to look for our dream job. Most people don’t have a real strategy and as a result, everyone ends up doing the same thing. There are better ways to conduct your job search. It may require stepping outside your comfort zone, but it will ultimately raise your chances of making the right next step for your career. Both approaches described above are passive. There are more downsides to this than the time spent sitting back and waiting for an answer. In many cases, applicants later find that the job isn’t what they wanted or that compensation is too low or, in the worst-case scenario, they get no response whatsoever. Over time, this leads applicants to conclude that the job market is unfavourable, and they adopt a negative mindset. If you have been cranking out a large volume of applications daily without much luck, then you need a catalyst – a change in mindset, approach or methodology that places you on the path to career success. The psychology of spending time on inefficient job search tactics When you read the above, a fair question may be: “Why do people choose to put themselves through that?” The most common answer is that it helps people feel productive. Sending out ten applications a day across four job sites may not be the optimal way to land an interview, but at the end of the day, it helps the sender feel that they have done something or that they have put adequate effort into the job search. It’s a flawed perception, but a satisfactory outcome nevertheless for most job seekers. The other reason is that most people love passing the responsibility to someone else. The thought process here may be that if they want you, they will come back to you; if you spoke with a recruiter, they will come back to you when a relevant role comes in. In a competitive and globalised job market, though, this is rare. With the advent of technology, talent is now available across borders and the labour pool is larger than ever. Hence, if candidates are not accountable for their job search, it is an uphill battle to find suitable employment as hiring managers are likely looking at a dozen profiles that are similar or even identical to yours. To achieve success, you must be willing to do what the others won’t to achieve what they can’t. Applying the 80/20 principle So, what are the things that most people don’t do? Below are three things that you can inculcate in your job search. 1. Get specific Do you know what you want to do or, are you merely seeing what you can get? After some rejection, many people throw in the towel too early and start working their way down in terms of the jobs they are willing to accept. To prevent this from happening, get specific about the type of job you want, the size and the culture of the company, and the particular industry in which you would like to work. And then, do not deviate from that. Do you know the types of companies that hire for these jobs, the exact ones for whom you would like to work? Once you have this clarity, you will automatically be inclined to work harder to source those types of jobs and apply accordingly. You will increase your chance of getting results as your whole approach – from your CV to your references – is streamlined for the position you want. This is not to say that you should be rigid in your job search and operate within this one defined box. It is merely a tip to ensure that you are not aborting the search for your dream job before the appropriate efforts have been expended. Second, get specific about the goals of the particular job search tactic you are using. If it doesn’t work, stop and try a different channel. Many people continue to do an activity without ever stopping and asking: is this working? They adopt the attitude of “try harder” rather than analysing the results of a particular method. Set yourself a goal. For example, aim to secure five interviews through a specific channel. This could be achieved by utilising three different recruiters – but if it isn’t working, stop and take a fresh approach. 2. Network Relationships go a long way in the job market. The best jobs are often snapped up before they are even advertised on a public platform because the candidate had a good relationship with the hiring manager (or at least someone that knew them). A CV is a piece of paper that outlines your experiences at a high level. But, if you can have a conversation with someone where you articulate your expertise and ambitions, they now have a ‘face to the name’ on the CV and can understand your value proposition at a more holistic level. Start by developing a networking strategy (i.e. identify who can help you get to where you want to go and go to them directly). Other people won’t even know what they are looking for, making it impossible to know whom they need to talk to, or what they need to ask. As with all things, practice makes perfect – but it all starts with the first step. 3. Show, don’t tell The next time you have an interview, add an additional dimension to your preparation. Try to understand some of the problems the company or unit you are applying to is facing, and formulate a solution. This could involve producing a one-page document at interview, which outlines what you would do in the first 30, 60 and 90 days in the job to remedy the situation. Make no mistake: this is much easier said than done. However, a lot of successful applicants employ presentation materials where they can demonstrate what they bring to the table. Words are easy to say but tough to back up. Hence, if a hiring manager can concurrently see your work along with your words, you are automatically better than almost anyone else competing with you for the same job.   Orla Doyle is Head of Marketing at Lincoln Recruitment Specialists.

Apr 01, 2020
Ethics and Governance

Aoife Newton assesses the prospects for gender pay gap reporting legislation as negotiations continue to form a new government. The outgoing Government made limited progress in introducing gender pay gap reporting legislation in the Republic of Ireland, and it remains to be seen whether the next government will echo the same commitment. Two separate Bills were initiated in the Houses of the Oireachtas in the past three years. First, the Labour party initiated a private members bill titled The Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap) Information Bill 2017, and this was followed by the Gender Pay Gap (Information) Bill 2019. The latter progressed to the third committee stage of the Dáil, but as with the 2017 bill, it lapsed upon the dissolution of the Dáil in January 2020. Although the timing of this legislation is unknown, the next government will be under pressure to advance such legislation. The European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution on 30 January 2020, which called on EU member states to strengthen their efforts to definitively close the gender pay gap by strictly enforcing the equal pay principle and adopting legislation increasing pay transparency. The European Commission reports that the overall gender pay gap in the European Union is 16%. In her political guidelines for 2019-2024, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen committed to addressing the gender pay gap within the framework of the upcoming Gender Equality Strategy. The Commission has previously called on member states to close the gender pay gap and address barriers to the participation of women in the labour market.  As there is an emerging consensus from the European Union to close the gender pay gap, there is, therefore, a strong possibility that the next government will introduce gender pay gap legislation to comply with the proposals outlined at a European level. Against this backdrop, employers should start preparations at an early stage. Those who fail to act will find themselves addressing issues in the public domain under the scrutiny of the media, trade unions, their employees, and their customers. Organisations reporting a high gender pay gap may be viewed as being less than fully committed to pay parity, promotion, and development opportunities for women. Where a gender pay gap exists, this may negatively impact an organisation’s brand, employee relations, public reputation, and its ability to attract and retain talent. Organisations operating within a pyramid workforce structure when it comes to gender creates a pay gap, and if such a difference is greater than that of an organisation’s peer employers, it may have some uncomfortable explaining to do to its stakeholders. The all-important narrative The size of the gender pay gap is important, but the accompanying explanation could distinguish progressive employers from those who are merely observing a compliance obligation. Under the Bill, employers would have been required to publish – concurrently with the percentage results – the reasons for such differences and whether they had taken any measures to eliminate or reduce the disparities. This requirement must be replicated in any new legislation, as the mere reporting of data could lead to a compliance complacency while defeating the spirit of the legislation. In contrast, employers who take the opportunity to analyse and explain their gender pay gap are likely to benefit from such transparency. The narrative for any gap is a particularly important opportunity for employers who have a relatively large gender pay gap. The media and the public often confuse the issues of the ‘gender pay gap’ and ‘equal pay’, even though the two are very different concepts. Employers should use their narrative to minimise the risk of confusion and take the opportunity to explain the nuances or legacy issues in their organisation, which may have led to a gender pay gap. This should encourage a level of transparency that enables employees to question and challenge reward models and packages, and employers to highlight their efforts to achieve gender pay parity.   Aoife Newton is Head of Corporate Immigration and Employment Law at KPMG Ireland.

Apr 01, 2020
Spotlight

Six influential Chartered Accountants in business and politics share their stories. Chartered Accountants are in many ways a driving force in the economy. With more than 16,000 members working in industry, and many in C-suite roles, our colleagues are found in every sector and at every level. In the pages that follow, we meet a number of trailblazing Chartered Accountants at various stages in their career. Each has had a significant influence on Ireland Inc. and continues to exemplify the very best aspects of the profession. From Sharon Cunningham, Co-Founder of Shorla Pharma to Michael Cawley, former Deputy Chief Executive at Ryanair, these profiles offer a snapshot of the talent and influence within the membership – qualities that will be in high demand in these uncertain times. Senan Murphy The CRH Group Finance Director discusses his journey from technical subject matter expert to general manager and leader. CRH Group Finance Director, Senan Murphy, divides his career into five chapters, beginning with his education and training as a Chartered Accountant and culminating in his current role. “I was interested in maths, business and science in school and did a BComm in UCD,” he recalls. “You could take a number of routes after that, but Chartered Accountancy looked the most interesting to me. I did a Diploma in Professional Accounting, which took the first three years out of the accounting exams at the time.” Senan joined Arthur Andersen in 1990 when it was one of the so-called Big 8. “I stayed there for five years and it was a very good place to work. It was a great transition from college into the real world. I moved into industry in 1995.” That saw him move to GE and begin chapter two. “Practice is a great experience, but you are an adviser. I wanted to be part of the execution and implementation; not just give advice and come back the following year to see how it worked out.” His GE career took in finance, acquisitions and business development in Europe and then the US, before moving back to Europe to what became GE Money. But the call of home was loud, and he moved back to Ireland with his wife and children in 2003 to begin the next chapter with Eddie O’Connor in Airtricity. “I stayed and helped grow the business until it was sold to SSE in 2008,” he said. That saw the beginning of chapter four with Senan moving into banking, first with RBS Ulster Bank and then Bank of Ireland. “2008 was an interesting time for the sector,” he noted with at least a hint of humour. “When something is in a crisis, you learn more than when things are going smoothly. It was a tough time for the banking industry but an interesting time to be part of it.” He sees the transition from subject matter expert to general management as quite natural for a Chartered Accountant. “The move from accountancy to financial leader to general management happens naturally. You start off learning about the financial side, but most of the job is about managing people. It’s about collaborating, working in teams and leading teams. As a financial manager, you get more and more involved in the commercial and operational sides of the business. In Airtricity, I became more and more involved in growing the business. “In some ways, it’s good to leave the numbers behind,” he continues. “As you go on, it’s about building good teams around you. The expertise around you comes from them. You become an orchestrator in a way. Accountants all start off the same way, and a lot of Chartered Accountants own their own business or end up running businesses. We don’t all stay in the financial world.” His fifth chapter sees him back in the role of Group Finance Director with CRH. “It’s a large organisation with lots of operating companies around the world. My job is to help drive performance and improve the business, but I also help to recruit, develop and promote talent globally. I also spend a fair amount of time talking to the owners of businesses. We have lots of shareholders around the world who want to hear from us.” For Senan, the people agenda is the most enjoyable. “That’s the part I enjoy most. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the people coming through the system who are more capable than their years might suggest. I also enjoy meeting shareholders. Some are supportive; some are quite challenging. Those two parts are very enjoyable.” He believes Chartered Accountancy has provided a good grounding for his career. “When you come out of college, you have to decide if you want to go into a business or go into practice and train as an accountant there. Practice is a good place to start with people of a similar age. You have to be a team player and learn to work with others. You have a number of clients and you have to build relationships with them. You’re not quite in a sales role, but you are really.” Michael Cawley Michael Cawley recalls his unorthodox path to Chartered Accountancy and life as the second in command at one of the world’s most successful airlines. With the candour we’ve come to expect from people associated with Ryanair, Michael Cawley says his reasons for becoming a Chartered Accountant were mostly materialistic. “My sister had a few boyfriends who were accountants and they had cars,” he says. “That was quite impressive, and it stuck out as most people didn’t have cars at that time.” Having never studied accountancy in school, Michael chose to pursue a commerce degree in UCC. “I liked it, and I went to Coopers & Lybrand afterwards. I spent three years auditing, and I hated it with a passion! The moment I qualified and finished my training contract, I walked out the door.” After a year teaching in UCC, he went into industry with the Cork-based motor dealer, Frank Boland. “I wanted to be in the middle of the action rather than just recording what had happened. I worked there until 1981 when I moved to Dublin to work for Kodak for five years.” His next move was to Athlone Extrusions as Managing Director. He led a management buy-out (MBO) of the company in 1990, the biggest such transaction in Irish corporate history at the time. The company later went on to a public flotation. After that, he moved back to the motor industry with Gowan Group in 1993. “I enjoyed my time there, but it was a family-owned company, so there was no prospect of a stake in the business,” he says. His move to Ryanair in 1997 as CFO and later, Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer had its roots in the Athlone Extrusions MBO. “I worked on it with Gerry McEvoy in KPMG and Tony Ryan was one of his clients. I stayed in contact with him and he knew I had ambitions beyond the Gowan Group. I was 42 or 43 at the time and I wanted to really have a good lash at something. Ryanair was about to float at the time.” That connection led him to join the airline at a crucial stage in its history. “Incredible as it may sound, I got on with Michael O’Leary from day one. I had a good few rows with him over the years as well, of course. It was always exciting, sometimes frustrating, but I was extremely lucky to be involved. It suited me from the outset.” He describes it as a phenomenal opportunity. “Low fares were in their infancy back then. We transformed air travel across Europe. I have dealt with more than 300 airports across Europe; lots of them were a bit like Knock back then, small with a few connections. We breathed life into many communities and helped them build up tourism industries. Bergamo in Italy had 130,000 passengers when we started there; that increased to 13 million by 2014. Charleroi grew from 30,000 to 7.5 million.” He stepped down from his executive role with Ryanair in 2014. He took up several non-executive directorships with a wide range of organisations including the Gowan Group, Kingspan plc, Fáilte Ireland and, of course, Ryanair. “I was 60 and grandchildren had started to come along,” he explains. “When I joined, we had 3.5 million passengers, and when I left, we had reached 83 million. It was 142 million last year. I’m delighted to still be on the board. I’m in and out every five or six weeks to catch up, so I haven’t really left. I’ve also been lucky enough to have become involved in a number of very fine businesses.” Michael concludes by   emphasising the need to keep pace with change. “You have to be open to change. Despite the advent of artificial intelligence and so on, accountants will still be able to master their environment. But we have to stay up-to-speed and be flexible and humble about the need to change. You can be top of the pyramid today, and irrelevant in six months’ time.” Ronan Dunne Ronan Dunne, the self-declared “accidental accountant”, has taken opportunities as they arose – and to great effect. A stellar career that has seen Ronan Dunne become Executive Vice President and CEO of Verizon Consumer Group, the largest division of the world’s biggest telecoms company, could have been very different if not for a teachers’ strike back in 1981. “I was all set to do Law in UCD, but there was an examiners’ strike the year I did the Leaving Cert,” he says. “The papers couldn’t be marked and there were no college offers.” And then fate took a hand in the form of intervention by Terry O’Rourke, Managing Partner of Touche Ross, and a past pupil of his school. “He contacted the Dean and said if anyone was interested, they had three to four unfilled slots for trainee accountants. I was one of those kids who was always fascinated by finance. My dad worked for Shell in a finance role and I was always interested in it.” A phone call from the Dean and a chat with O’Rourke sealed the deal. “It sounded like an interesting opportunity, so I decided to give it a go. I am an accidental accountant.” Six years later, the newly qualified Chartered Accountant was about to experience his next encounter with fate. An injury in his final year at school had put paid to a promising rugby career, but he was also an excellent soccer player and went on to play at senior level for the Mount Merrion club in south Dublin. “We were playing in a soccer tournament in Wales, and I visited my brother in London as part of the trip. I was sitting in his apartment when my mother rang, saying a lady had called about a job interview. The job was in London so I borrowed a suit and tie from my brother, went for the interview that afternoon with BNP and by 4.30pm had a job offer. It was 1987 and the markets were on fire. They couldn’t recruit fast enough. I signed a contract, went back home and packed my bags, and returned to London three weeks later.” Rapid promotion followed, and by the age of 25 Ronan had become the chief accountant at the bank. He then switched to the banking side of the operation where he dealt mainly with major US corporates with operations in Europe. And then came a call to jump the fence. That saw him switch to senior finance and treasury roles, first with Waste Management International and then with transport and logistics group, Exel. Dunne’s next move saw him follow his former boss at Exel into BT Mobile, which was about to become O2 and de-merge from its parent. “In 2005, O2 was acquired by Telefónica and I became CEO of Telefónica UK in 2007,” he says. “That was an interesting back story. When I became CFO in 2004, my boss gave me responsibility for legal and regulation, then procurement, and then asked me to take on HR as well. After a while, I pointed out that I was doing all the heavy lifting and doing three jobs instead of one. He said I had missed the point. I clearly had the capability to be a general manager, and he was getting me ready to be a success in such a role. I still thought my future was as a big public company CFO. My boss and my chairman saw my potential before I did.” Dunne’s departure to Verizon followed a blocked sale of the business to Hutchinson in 2015. “I had decided to leave once the deal was closed. I had a fairly extensive non-compete agreement, so I had to move sector or move geography. Verizon is the largest telecoms company in the world and when I got that approach, there was no way I would turn it down. In late 2016, we headed off to New Jersey.” “My training as a Chartered Accountant has been incredibly valuable at every stage in my career,” he adds. “It really is best-in-class, and I don’t think there is a better skillset out there. In my opinion, a good Chartered Accountant is better than any MBA from any business school in the world. It’s the best business qualification out there.” And he has some advice for his fellow accountants. “The biggest challenge and opportunity for accountants is to realise that your success is measured not by what you do, but by what you can make happen and the influence you have on people. Building teams, coaching and developing them, and bringing them on a journey with you is what’s most important.” Sharon Cunningham Ambition and tenacity helped Sharon Cunningham forge a path from practice to the cutting edge of pharmaceutical innovation and entrepreneurship.   Award-winning entrepreneur, Sharon Cunningham, learned about business and accounts literally at the kitchen table. The Shorla Pharma founder was interested in business from a very early age. “Both of my parents owned companies, and it was ingrained in us from a very young age. They did the books on the kitchen table. I used to go to the accountants with my mother and was fascinated by the questions the accountant would ask. My mother was focused on things like sales and cash and had her own goals. The accountant was asking about things like profit margins, inventory management and so on.” That early inspiration led her to a degree in finance in UCC. “I wasn’t 100% sure what I was going to do when I went to college at first, but by the time I finished I knew I wanted to be a Chartered Accountant and wanted to get a training contract, preferably with one of the Big 4.” Sharon went to work with PwC in Waterford initially but soon found herself travelling to Dublin, Chicago, New York and London. “It was fun but difficult; it was lots of hard work, but it was great. I went on an international secondment to an investment fund in Manhattan. That was a great experience.” Her move to industry came about almost by chance. “At the height of the recession in December 2010, I was working on a very challenging audit. A colleague of mine got wind of a job going in a pharmaceutical company I had never heard of in Waterford. I met with the co-founders of EirGen, Tom Brennan and Patsy Carney. They are very inspirational people, and I joined the company.” Having spent seven years with the company, initially as a management accountant and later as Head of Finance, Sharon decided that it was time to start her own venture with her colleague, Orlaith Ryan. “EirGen was sold to a multinational in 2015 for $135 million in a very successful exit,” she explains. “After the takeover, the company started to change and was no longer the entrepreneurial organisation that we knew and loved. The excitement wasn’t there anymore, and both of us knew it was time to move on.” Their idea was to establish a speciality pharmaceutical company based in Clonmel, which would develop a pipeline of innovative oncology drugs for women’s and children’s cancers. “We spent two years planning Shorla at night and in our spare time, and we launched the company in January 2018,” says Cunningham. “Both of us would say that at no point were we scared. We believed in ourselves and our vision for what we wanted to do; we never thought it would fail.” That confidence was well-founded. “We don’t have billions of dollars and 20 years to wait like major pharmaceutical corporations. We are not a major corporation, nor are we a generics company. We are somewhere in between. We take existing active substances and do something novel with them. We put them to different uses and make them less toxic to the patient. The time to market is much quicker. Business is great and we are very busy. We are in the middle of multi-million euro ‘Series A’ funding round and we are growing and scaling up for the US market launch of our first product, a breast and ovarian cancer drug.” It is a bit unusual for a Chartered Accountant to set up a pharmaceutical company, she concedes. “But accountancy is a very useful skill to have in any industry. The Chartered Accountant qualification gives you a certain degree of confidence when you talk about numbers; people listen to you and don’t tend to probe too much. They accept and trust what you say. The profession as a whole has a very positive impact on society.” Sharon’s experience has taught her the value of planning. “It’s much more beneficial to work smarter, not harder,” she says. “Everyone should sit down and decide what they want to do and what they want to be, and then map out a way to get there. Don’t get bogged down in small details; don’t sweat the small stuff.” Michael McGrath Having moved from practice to politics via industry, Michael McGrath has brought his training and experience to bear in his role as Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesperson. One of the most prominent faces in politics in recent years has been that of Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson, Michael McGrath. The Cork South Central deputy has earned plaudits for his work on tracker mortgages and the regulation of so-called vulture funds, among other pressing issues. And he attributes at least part of that success to his training as a Chartered Accountant. “There is no doubt about it, the training I received as a Chartered Accountant has proven to be far more valuable than I ever thought it would,” he says. “It equipped me with the skills to get to grips with the finance portfolio. It also makes you comfortable with numbers and reaching informed decisions. The analytical skills you acquire are hugely valuable when it comes to problem-solving.” He started out on his professional and political journeys at a very young age. “I was the first member of my family to go to college when I went to study Commerce in UCC having just turned 17,” he recalls. “My first election was a contested role in the Commerce and Economics Society, and I won.” Having completed his degree in 1997, he joined KPMG in Cork. “I wanted to stay in Cork and was keen to get a professional qualification. I stayed for four years and was fortunate to work with a number of companies and organisations in a variety of sectors.” Then came the move into industry. “Following the end of the training contract, an excellent opportunity came up to join Red FM, a new start-up commercial radio station in Cork. I joined as Financial Controller in late 2001. The station had yet to go on air, and I was involved in helping set up the processes and systems to run it. It was great working for a station with a youth focus. I was reporting to the CEO and the board, and I enjoyed the diverse range of responsibilities. It was very nice having a company car as a 25-year-old, of course. I didn’t think things could get much better.” He left Red FM for a relatively short stint in the UCC finance function. “It was quite a senior role and a step up for me,” he notes. But the call of politics was loud. “I always had an interest in politics in parallel with my working life,” he explains. “I was fortunate to live in a town that still had a town council. That provided a fantastic platform for a young person to contest an election. A few hundred votes was all you needed to get elected. I ran in 1999 at the age of 22 and managed to get elected. My heart was set on politics after that.” Michael was elected to Cork County Council in 2004 and quickly realised he couldn’t continue working full-time. “I resigned from UCC in 2005 and found some part-time work to tide me through the next year and a half.” Election to the Dáil in 2007 followed. Re-election in 2011 was an altogether more difficult proposition, however. “It was an incredibly tough election. Fianna Fáil lost over 50 seats. At a time when the party vote collapsed, I managed to take the fifth and final seat. I focused on playing my part in rebuilding the party after that. Brian Lenihan passed away in June 2011, and I was appointed spokesperson on finance.” He enjoys his role as a public representative. “It is an enormous privilege to be a member of Dáil Éireann, and I still pinch myself walking in as a member. As a T.D., I am juggling a number of responsibilities. I have the finance portfolio and at a local level, I try to serve people to the best of my ability. What I get most out of it is being able to help people. Very often, people come in with difficult and sensitive issues. Sometimes they need guidance; sometimes they need someone to fight their corner.” Serving in government remains an ambition, of course. “Having spent nine years as finance spokesperson and four years involved in confidence and supply, to present a budget as Minister for Finance would naturally be an ambition,” he says. Fergal O’Dwyer Fergal O’Dwyer is one of the driving forces that helped turn DCC into the industrial powerhouse it is today. DCC is one of those quiet Irish success stories. Since its flotation in 1994, it has grown into a significant force in the energy, electronics and healthcare sectors with a substantial presence in 17 countries. From an investor perspective, the company delivered returns of nearly 7,000% up to the beginning of 2020. One constant throughout that success has been Chief Financial Officer, Fergal O’Dwyer, who joined the company in 1989 when it was still a venture capital firm. “Shortly after I joined, the company decided to change its colours and become an industrial group,” he recalls. “That required a complete transformation. We had a number of minority investments and had to decide which ones fitted in with the new strategy and which did not. Between 1990 and 1994, we spent our time moving out of some of them and moving to ownership positions in the others. I am not aware of other companies that made that strategic change.” He began his accountancy career with Craig Gardner (now PwC) almost straight out of school due to a natural aptitude. “I did maths and accountancy subjects at school and was always going to head towards finance or accountancy. I didn’t have a burning desire to be an accountant or anything, I sort of gravitated towards it.” O’Dwyer qualified as a Chartered Accountant at the age of 21 with a year or so of his training contract remaining. Ireland was in the depths of a recession at the time, and the search for opportunities took him overseas. His search took him and his wife to South Africa. “After we got married in 1983, we headed off to South Africa. I worked for three years there for Thomson McLintock, which represented KPMG at the time, and came back to PwC in 1986.” That move back led him indirectly to DCC. “I had clients who were looking for development capital, and I had worked on a number of deals on their behalf with DCC and they had worked out well for everyone. In 1989, I got a call from the founder and former CEO of DCC, Jim Flavin, who asked me to join the firm.” That was a major change. “I became an associate director of a venture capital company. I was dealing with entrepreneurs and building relationships with them. I learned about the venture capital focus on return on capital employed. That’s still the same mantra in DCC to this day. What is the return we are going to get on every euro? We aim to get a circa 15% return because we want returns well in excess of the cost of capital.” He describes the transformation from venture capitalist to industrial group as “very exciting”, but the flotation in 1994 was not without its challenges. “The flotation was a success, but we didn’t raise any capital, and our share price didn’t perform for quite a long time. We wore out a lot of shoe leather explaining our business and strategy. It has been all about constant delivery over the years, getting investors to listen and building a following. We were growing revenue, growing profits, growing cash flow, but still were having to work hard to sell the story. It was frustrating, but we had to accept that the market is always right.” His advice to other Chartered Accountants starting out on their careers is to keep learning. “The qualification equips you to do much more than just the numbers. You’ve got to interpret and advise on them. I still learn every day and you have to try to learn all the time. And you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. You can find business to be stressful, but if you put in the work and effort, it can be rewarding and fulfilling.”

Apr 01, 2020
Careers

Dr Annette Clancy lays the ground rules for a successful spell of remote working. The work restrictions and social distancing introduced by the Government in response to COVID-19 may prove to be a watershed moment for flexible/remote working. The immediate shut-down of many workplaces forced hundreds of companies and thousands of workers to get creative about how to work and deliver services to clients and customers while observing public health protocols. As many are finding out, however, working from home presents a whole new set of challenges. So, how can we make flexible/remote working work? Keep going to work Not everyone has a home office or even their own room. Yet, you must still go to work. First, acknowledge the change in your work situation. It is not the same as going to the office. You may, for example, have to juggle childcare so be realistic about what you can achieve given the current circumstances. Discuss this with your employer and work around it for the time being. Then go to work. This is as much psychological as it is physical. Your home is an obstacle course of exciting activities, which throw themselves into your path before a deadline looms. Laundry, dish-washing, reorganising books (by colour, author or topic?) all seem to take on an urgency previously unheard of as the clock ticks closer to the dreaded deadline. You must defend yourself against this distraction before you begin. Create a workspace at home. This could be as simple as defining part of the kitchen table as the place where you put your laptop, phone charger and papers. Keep this clear of all other personal items. When you sit down at this space, you are at work; when you leave, you are at home. Maintaining this boundary is essential, otherwise work and home will become blurred. This is important when you work from home because it’s easy for work to bleed into your personal (psychological and social) life and before you know it, you are on your computer at 11pm and again at 7.30am. Keep communication channels open People go to work for myriad reasons. Obviously, there is the work itself, but we also develop our sense of identity through work; we make friends and develop relationships (some life-long). These relationships can feel threatened when we are no longer close to our work colleagues. People who work at home (even those who are used to it) can feel isolated and lonely. If your business uses technology such as Slack, Google Hangouts or Skype, for example, these are probably your go-to communication tools. But if not, it’s crucial to build in times when you check-in with your colleagues by phone, text or WhatsApp – whatever method works for your group of colleagues. Managers who have no experience of managing teams remotely will need to take particular care to check-in with their people as it is easy to lose contact in a remote working context. Keep things normal Social distancing can quickly turn into social isolation unless we keep some semblance of normality. We may not be able to go to the pub on a Friday with friends or go out to dinner with colleagues, but we can organise ‘virtual coffee dates’ or ‘remote lunches’ using Skype, Zoom or Facetime. This means organising specific times to be together online, but away from work. Of course, it isn’t the same as being in the same room. And yes, it’s a bit ‘weird’. But the main point here is to maintain social contact to ensure that workers do not succumb to loneliness, and for managers to engage in non-work conversation with their colleagues. Once you crack it, we may look back on this time as the research and development phase of a new way of working. Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy.

Apr 01, 2020