Thursday 20 September 2018

McCooey looks to connect LinkedIn to future Irish growth as tech sector booms

At its €85m European headquarters Linkedin boss Sharon McCooey tells Adrian Weckler that Dublin is now the place to be if you want to work in a top firm and that the Microsoft-owned platform has 'large plans' to expand

Sharon McCooey, Linkedin’s senior director international operations and head of Linkedin Ireland, says she would love to get more involved in the platform’s core product
Sharon McCooey, Linkedin’s senior director international operations and head of Linkedin Ireland, says she would love to get more involved in the platform’s core product

According to Sharon McCooey, it's a good time to be in Dublin.

She reels off the reasons why. We're approaching full employment. Brexit is having little real impact on business here (so far).

Then there is her own company. LinkedIn, she says, has "large plans" for its Irish operations.

"Growth is something that we think about all day, every day," says McCooey, sitting in the canteen of the firm's advanced new European headquarters by Dublin's Grand Canal.

"LinkedIn has lots of large plans, but I'm not making any announcements about that right now."

What she will say is that the online networking giant, bought by Microsoft in 2016 for €21bn, has 100 job openings to fill as part of its existing cycle. This would add to the 1,200 it already employs here.

"See this building here? It's the only one in the LinkedIn world where we own the land and the building. It's an €85m investment. We started a strong investment case in around 2011, opened it last year, and are still making a case."

She describes herself as being "bullish" on the Irish facility's future, echoing similar sentiments from the bosses of Google and Facebook, which already employ almost 10,000 people between them and which are both located within a 10-minute walk from LinkedIn.

One reason for McCooey's optimism for hiring and retaining more people in Dublin relates to a phenomenon that she noticed (through LinkedIn data) some months ago: Irish people have stopped emigrating to Britain.

"What has happened very recently is super interesting," she says. "A few months ago we suddenly noticed that the UK was not where the Irish were going anymore. This is a big change.

"For as long as we've looked at the data, the UK has always been, in good and bad times, the single largest source of talent out of Ireland.

"But when we looked at it in January, and then at the end of March, it had fallen like a stone."

The same thing, she says, is happening with other countries around Europe. Brexit has started to turn off the tap for desirable employees into companies located in Britain.

Combined with the economic employment boom happening in Ireland's capital city, it adds up to the most benign effect on LinkedIn from Brexit, McCooey says.

"We haven't seen a macro problem that has caused us any problems."

But aren't there pinch points that have come from an economy - and an employment ratio - hurting at full steam? Housing? Recruitment?

"We will be at full employment before the end of this year," she says.

"But I think that's actually great. As for housing, half of our people walk or cycle to work every day and accommodation doesn't seem to be a particular problem we've seen."

LinkedIn's Irish operation revolves primarily around sales and back-end responsibilities. The facility sells to 55 different countries, making it the company's largest operation outside the US.

"Nearly 70pc of our staffing for Europe in here in Dublin and most of our growth plans are for the team here in this building in terms of both investing and in member engagement," she says.

Does she ever wish that LinkedIn designed and developed products in the same way that they do in the US?

"I mean yeah, I'd love to get more involved in the core, core product and that's something that's always in discussion," she says.

"We do have an engineering team and there are about 20 in the team at present. We also have an amazing economic graph team who work on our insights."

And being taken over by Microsoft? How has that been?

"From LinkedIn's perspective, it's gone very well," she says. "We're two years into it now. We're being run very much as an independent company."

For a company that has transitioned into something more closely resembling a social media service, LinkedIn has avoided virtually all of the controversy around the use and misuse of personal data and third party APIs, while rivals - particularly Facebook - was mired in it. Is this just luck or does it reflect a fundamentally different service to users?

"Well, our marketing solutions business is a small portion of our overall revenue model," she says.

"Our talent solutions product are where we make the vast majority of our monetisation."

Even still, are we in a new era of sensitivity when it comes to the biggest online services in our lives?

"I think social media and its use in all of our daily lives has maybe crept up on us and is probably something we need to probably take a more of a roving brief on than we may have had in the past," she says.

"That says, I think the whole social media landscape, and how we use applications or social media, is something that I regard a force for good in the world.

"We just need to be educated as members, as people, as parents and as children on how to use social media."

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