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More HR professionals can expect to reach boardroom level Back
Catherine Corcoran is not an accountant but she is a partner at Baker Tilly Ryan Glennon. Corcoran says HR professionals can expect to increase their number at the executive level in Ireland and have a greater presence at boardroom level.
What is your educational background?
I went to boarding school in ‘Our Lady’s Bower’, Athlone. I did a Social Science degree in UCD followed by a two-year diploma course in HR Management with NCI.

What has been your career path to date? I began my career as a Graduate HR Trainee in the Dunnes Stores Head Office in Stephen Street, Dublin. From there I went to ‘Arnotts’ as a Manager in its HR department for a number of years. Then I moved to the Coombe Women’s Hospital as a Job Sharing HR Manager – job sharing was most unusual at the time at that level but it worked really well. In the middle of all this I was a part-time lecturer with NCI on their HR degree and diploma courses. In 2000 I moved to Baker Tilly Ryan Glennon (then Ryan Glennon & Company), as HR Manager. I started up a HR consulting unit in 2003 and this has grown from strength to strength. I became HR Director in 2005 and a Partner in 2006. We merged with Baker Tilly O’Hare in 2007 to become Baker Tilly Ryan Glennon and I now sit on the firms’ executive board with responsibility for People and also head up the Firms HR/Strategic Planning consulting unit. In 2007, the firm won Overall award in the CIPD/Watson Wyatt HR excellence award.
Catherine Corcoran

Are your peers from similar backgrounds?
I’m slightly unusual in that I’m a partner in a top 10 accounting practice but I’m not an accountant. However, the mix of HR and finance professionals at a senior level works really well. We bring different elements to the partnership table and respect each other’s views. In the consulting environment, HR expertise rooted in financial rigour is a sought after service particularly in our downturn advisory services.

Have you worked abroad? If so where and what did you do?
Would you do so again? Baker Tilly Ryan Glennon are members of Baker Tilly International, a network of accountants with 145 members in 110 countries around the world and has 25,000 people. I travel regularly to Baker Tilly UK and have been an assessor on their Partner Development Programmes.

How would you compare career prospects internationally to those in Ireland?
I think career prospects in the accounting environment are excellent and on par with those internationally. Obviously, things have slowed somewhat in the downturn – but good people are needed now more than ever. In respect of HR professionals, I’m not sure we are represented at boardroom level as much as our counterparts internationally - this is something that will change over the next ten years.

Have you undertaken any additional professional training since assuming your current role?
I’ve become very interested in using psychometrics at senior executive level to facilitate coaching and ‘real’ conversations about development needs. So I’ve had a good deal of professional development in that area particularly.

What skills/aptitude would you identify as being key/beneficial to a career in your sector?
At a senior level one of the key skills that differentiates the great from the good, is the ability to influence people and drive through change initiatives that are embedded in well thought out business imperatives. The concept of ‘fairness’ is one that I use to influence my decisions and thought processes.

What aspects of the job do you like most?
I really enjoy being part of a decision making process that is multi-dimensional and linked in the overall strategy of the business. A business is like a complex web with the marketing, finance, operations and people functions totally interrelated.

What aspects of the job do you like least?
I’m not the most structured person in the world, so I have to work at that but I’ve got some great help on my team to keep me on track.

How do you define success in your sector?
Success as a HR professional is defined by your ability to link the people agenda with the other functional agendas of finance, marketing and operations – all rooted in a well thought out strategic direction – and achieve buy-in to this. Success as a partner is defined by your ability to form ‘real relationships’ and deliver a service that has a tangible impact on their business.

Is there anyone in particular you admire in your industry?
Dr. Mary Redmond is someone I have always admired throughout my career for both her professional rigour and the depth of her knowledge in the whole area of employment law.

What advice would you give to others who might like a career in your sector?
In the first instance, make sure its what you really want to do and specialise in the area that really interests you. Get into the detail at an early stage in your career whether it is in Accounting or HR, keep your head down and work hard. Be straight and honest in your dealings with people, don’t think you know it all - ever. Be prepared to learn from others, the rest will follow.
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