Microsoft lifer embraced risk and change to reach the top
Cathriona Hallahan: "I think Microsoft has realised that we need to be able to move faster." photograph: maxwells
The new MD of Microsoft Ireland says an ability to multitask and a drive to succeed were key in her rise up the corporate ladder
Cathriona Hallahan is no stranger to high profile roles. The new managing director of Microsoft Ireland was previously the head of the company’s Europe Middle East Africa (EMEA) operations centre, the single largest organisation in the region.
But it took a lot of hard work and determination to get her where she is today, along with a willingness to embrace change.
Hallahan started out as an accounting technician with Microsoft some 27 years ago, and has worked in a variety of roles within the company as she worked her way to the top. In 2009, she was named businesswoman of the year by O2.
Hallahan describes her years of service as an achievement in itself. After leaving school, she went straight to work, and only returned to further education when she started with Microsoft, training as an accountant.
“Microsoft was expanding very rapidly back then. We were growing 100 per cent and we were adding staff,” she says. “I was fairly quick to multitask and take on new challenges to push myself; to not be afraid to experiment and take risks. The risks paid off, I progressed quite quickly in the early days as the company was expanding more and more, and was given new scope of work and new books of business to take on.”
That is one of the pieces of advice she offers to younger women coming up through the company now – don’t be afraid to take risks.
“I was sponsor for diversity and inclusion for Microsoft for the last number of years here in Ireland, and what you find is women are a lot slower to take those risks. They feel like they have to be over qualified for the job before they’ll put themselves forward,” she says.
If evidence was needed that challenging yourself in new roles pays off in Microsoft, it’s Hallahan’s own career. She has long since left the accounting role behind and held multiple EMEA-based roles, local roles, as well as global roles within the company.
It’s encouraging to see another female face in the boardroom of a major multinational firm, and it’s becoming an increasingly common sight in an industry that is often thought of as male-dominated.
On a global level, Facebook’s chief of operations is Sheryl Sandbergh; Yahoo appointed former Google executive Marissa Mayer as its chief executive. Closer to home, Vodafone Ireland has just appointed Anne O’Leary as managing director of the Irish operation.
But Hallahan says it’s still not balanced. “I know over my career I’ve seen it shift. Is it equally balanced? I’d say no, definitely not,” she says. “I’ve seen the unique perspective that women can bring to the boardroom. I think they have a different thought process, their style is much more inclusive, they like to listen to different perspectives before they’ll make a decision.