Welcome to our Trailblazers in Technology series, in partnership with Samsung. Here we'll profile six powerhouse women dominating not just the technology world, but their chosen area of profession. Together with Samsung, IMAGE is serious about championing female entrepreneurs, businesswomen and those who take risks everyday to reap the benefits of success. Buckle up as we introduce you to six leading professional women who are doing it not just for themselves, but for women everywhere. This week we profile Liz Cunningham, director finance with Google Ireland, and co-founder of Compass Leadership event.
After working her way up to one of the most senior positions in one of the largest internet companies in the world, Liz Cunningham says she's more open to opportunities in her career now than she's ever been. Possibly ending up in Plan B is perfectly okay for the EMEA director of finance in Google Ireland.
"When you come from a training background there are stages that you're expected to reach. If one of those stages doesn't happen, and you don't have a Plan B and you haven't considered other opportunities, then you're left very uncertain about what your next step is," she tells image.ie from Google HQ in Dublin's Grand Canal Dock.
"Opportunities were coming at me thick and fast when I was at a more junior stage in my career, and I just wasn't open to them. It's about recognising them when they're actually coming at you.
"I encourage people now. And I check myself to make sure that I'm making the most of the opportunities and I've been more open to opportunities. That way if something doesn't work out, you have other options and you realise your own value. You're much more valuable than a promotion or a job that didn't work out."
But after 10 years at the second largest internet company in the world (Amazon is still number one), Liz is happy to remain in her field, albeit dipping her toe over the fence now and then.
"I was hired in one particular role, but what's great about Google is that you're encouraged to expand your role," she says.
"Nobody is limiting your potential here. Every year I take on wider responsibilities, whether that's more countries, wider parts of finance, and I want to continue in that vein. Finance is where I want to stay, but you never know what what opportunities will come knocking."
Liz Cunningham, EMEA director of finance at Google Ireland, pictured in the Soda Lab in Google's EMEA HQ in Dublin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Liz currently oversees the strategic direction and future growth of Google Ireland's finances in the EMEA region. She manages a team of 300, which has expanded by 100 people just in the last year.
In November 2019, Google Ireland reported profits of €1.68bn before tax in 2018. That's a 26% increase from the previous year. Turnover for 2018 was €38.1bn, up €5.9bn, or 18% on the 2017 figure.
Surely such a large scale operation puts pressure on a director of finance's shoulders?
"There's no doubt I'm in a pressurised role and a pressurised job," says Liz. "But I relish the responsibilities, frankly.
"The way I think about it is, Google continues to offer me huge development opportunities and in my role, I firmly believe that it's really important regardless of targets, that you're happy in your job. And for me, what that means is that you're growing and continuing to learn every day.
"Google expects people to work hard, but we're rewarded for that performance. If you're not happy in your role, regardless of what company you work in, you're not going to succeed," says Liz.
The mum-of-three acknowledges that an isolated day can be "stressful", but when she looks back at her achievements, it's worth it.
The former KPMG staffer says her team knows that she leaves the office at 6pm every evening so she can be home with her nine-year-old boy and girl twins and 12-year-old daughter. She will open the laptop up again when they go to bed, however, and be back in the office for 9am the next morning.
"Looking into a new decade, I look at what I've achieved in the last year, and what the company's achieved, and I'm excited about what we can continue to achieve into the new year and into the new decade,” says Liz.
"Personally, I want to continue to be happy in my job. I know that sounds kind of fluffy, but genuinely, being content in your job and really feeling like you're working with likeminded people who are challenging you and you're challenging them, and you're continuing to grow and develop."
Liz's other work passion is the Compass Leadership event, which she co-founded with other senior women in Google Ireland. "I felt passionately that Google had a role to play in creating that platform for women leaders. In Ireland we have amazing female leaders across all walks of life, and I'm inspired and motivated by females who work in their own business, in charities, in community initiatives."
The Compass event, held in Dublin in 2019, was such a success that Liz is planning another one for 2020. "It's great to learn from and hear experiences of other women from other areas, because sometimes you can live in this multinational bubble.
"I'm really looking forward to having another very successful conference event in 2020. We know from other campus events that women are very inspired by each other's journeys, and what they've learned along the way. So we'll be featuring all kinds of women, from senior leaders to women who run their own companies, women who have start-ups. This is a key focus of mine for Google.
"Google has a culture of bringing your whole self to work, and that is the thing that I most enjoy and value after 10 years. It means that you're not trying to be somebody different. You are valued for who you are, for all aspects of your life that you bring to your role and are respected for that. It's a culture of respect that really resonates with me on a personal level," says Liz.
Liz says the gender balance at Google Ireland is something the company is proud of. "Our CEO is a woman. The senior leadership table that I sit on has a very good balance. We certainly have as many females as males.
"I think it's really important in the diversity and inclusion conversation to include all voices. I did feel a responsibility to bring these voices to a wider audience [with the Compass event]. At Google I have access to and work with amazing leaders, and I wanted to showcase some of those as well as non-Google speakers so that we can all continue to learn."
Main photo: Kyran O'Brien
Follow the Trailblazers in Technology series, in partnership with Samsung, on social with #IMAGETrailblazers. IMAGE has long been a champion of women in business, as seen in our Businesswoman of the Year, Business Summit and Beauty of Business pillars. In Samsung, we found the perfect partner to champion women in tech. For the last two years, we've ran the hugely successful The Pitch competition, where a small enterprise has the opportunity to win €100,000 worth of high-tech Samsung products to propel their business to the next level. For more on The Pitch read here.