'Getting ahead: my story so far' - Sinéad Heaney

'Getting ahead: my story so far' - Sinéad Heaney

Sinéad Heaney is partner in charge of the corporate investment department at BDO Ireland.

BDO Ireland is part of the international BDO network. Established in 1963, it is the world’s fifth largest accountancy network. In Ireland, BDO employs more than 500 people in Dublin, Limerick and Belfast. Its services include audit, taxation, advisory, outsourcing and consulting. Heaney is responsible for the management and investment of the BDO Development Capital Fund and the Davy BES/ EII Funds.

Tell us about your career to date.

I graduated from Dublin City University in 1998 with a degree in accounting and finance.

I interviewed with a number of accountancy firms while I was a student, as part of the milk round. I chose BDO, because I was impressed with the entrepreneurial culture of the firm.

My training within the audit department was a fantastic learning experience. I obtained a professional qualification while, at the same time, gaining direct client exposure and a broad grounding in business at an early stage in my career. After a number of years in the audit department, I decided to join the firm’s corporate investment department in 2002. My day-to-day role involves working with ambitious, growth-oriented SMEs. Our team has doubled in size in the past three years, reflecting changing market conditions and the ambitions of these companies.

To date, I have been involved in raising, investing and divesting more than €200 million in midsized growing and expanding indigenous companies.

Are you where you expected to be in your career?

I have always been focused and have used short and medium-term goals to help me achieve my objectives. I decided at an early stage that I wanted to be an accountant, which led me to college and, ultimately, to a training contract in an accountancy firm.

My guiding principles have been to work hard, work smart and stay flexible. I believe that you have to be agile in order to grasp opportunities when they present themselves. This philosophy has led me to where I am today.

What was the best career advice you got along the way?

  • Ask for help: as a working mum, one of the best pieces of advice I received early in my career was that you must have the appropriate structures to support you - if you want to have both a successful career and a family.
  • Invest in people: in order to grow a solid team, you have to be prepared to invest time and energy in developing those around you.

Based on your own experience, what are your top career tips?

  • Don’t be impatient with your career. At times, you may have to wait for that promotion you are working towards.
  • A professional qualification is a great springboard to a successful career.
  • Be prepared to listen and take feedback. We all have blind spots!
  • Don’t let yourself get stale. You need to remain open to newer learning experiences - the world is changing quickly.

How would you define your work style, and how has this evolved over the years?

I am a pragmatic, outcome-oriented person. I like to see things progress quickly. I have learned over the years that delays are sometimes inevitable. Also, I am now more aware that people learn in different ways and at different paces. When leading a team, you need to be flexible.

In terms of managing teams and individuals, what are your insights?

Recruitment is key: the make-up of a team is critical to its success. You have to work hard to get the right mix of individuals and skills together to create a high-performance environment.

Values matter: you are better able to motivate people when you understand their values.

Play to people’s strengths: we all have strengths and weaknesses. Where possible, I play to people’s strengths while giving them the opportunity to work on their weaknesses.

Be flexible: it is important to flex your style when managing people. There is no one-size-fits-all.

What about communication and negotiating the typical ups and downs of working life?

Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship. This is built up over time and by demonstrating that you can deliver. My motto is under-promise and over-deliver. You have to be clear in your communication, both with colleagues and clients. Preparation is key and you should always make an effort to know your audience.

Has networking played an important part in your career?

Yes, I think networking has been important in my career to date. Be selective about the events you go to. One tip is not to keep going to the same annual events where you know you will meet the same people. Try something new.

If you had to choose another career tomorrow, what would it be and why?

I thoroughly enjoy my current role and a huge part of what I enjoy is working with entrepreneurs. If I had to change career, I would start my own business. One thing I’ve observed it is that all successful entrepreneurs are passionate about then businesses - a characteristic I admire and share.

Originally published by the Sunday Business Post.

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