At A+F Recruitment we are constantly inspired by the success stories of all of the incredible Accountants we have met along the way. We really enjoy getting to know people, and we thought you may like to too! Kicking of our #AFTalks series we have Sharon Cunningham who is the co-founder of Shorla Pharma.

Sharon has an incredibly impressive background and career to date. Sharon was awarded the title of Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur 2019 and was included on a list of 50 people to look out for in 2020 by the Irish Times. She also won the prestigious Worldwide Association of MBA’s Best Entrepreneurial Venture Award (Private Sector) 2020. In 2019 she led an international team to win the MIT-Harvard Medical School Healthcare Innovation Bootcamp Pitching Competition in Boston, US.

Having graduated with an MBA from University College Dublin Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School in 2015, Sharon went on to co-found Shorla Pharma with her EirGen Pharma colleague, Orlaith Ryan. Sharon is also a PwC qualified Chartered Accountant and holds a BSc in Finance from University College Cork. She is a current board member of Irish Rule of Law International.


1.Why did you choose a career in Accounting & Finance?

Growing up, my parents both had their own businesses that were very much integrated into our daily lives as children. I can remember going to the accountant with my mother and being intrigued by the way he would interpret the numbers and offer a different perspective. I could see from a young age the value an accountant could add to decision making in business.

Accountancy wasn’t an option in my school for Leaving Certificate but I selected Business and Economics knowing that it was the path I wanted to take. I graduated from UCC in 2006 with a BSc in Finance and secured a training contract with PwC Waterford in the assurance department. I was afforded many great opportunities including international assignments and a secondment to PwC New York.

2. Why did you pick Pharma as your chosen industry?

During my time at PwC I gained exposure to companies in the pharmaceutical industry in the South East of Ireland. Given that the country was in a deep recession in 2010, I wasn’t considering leaving PwC but an opportunity presented via a colleague to join a relatively early stage pharmaceutical company in Waterford. I was instantly inspired by the co-founders of EirGen Pharma (‘EirGen’) when I met them. I was fascinated by their entrepreneurial journey and knew there was something special about the team and the company and I was excited to join as management accountant.

3. In your opinion, what attributes do you need to stand out in the Accounting profession?

There are three key skills in my opinion: 1) problem solving; the ability to recognise solutions to problems quickly 2) scenario analysis; the ability to present multiple scenarios succinctly and 3) report writing (often overlooked since accounting is considered numbers based); it’s essential to be able to get your point across in as few words as possible.

Above all, being well balanced and possessing a ‘can-do’ attitude always makes a professional stand out.

4. What advice would you give to female accountants who are on the career ladder?

Concentrate your efforts on working smarter and not necessarily harder. Never underestimate the power of your network – take time to grow it and engage with it consistently. Identify your personal brand – what makes you unique and stand out from the crowd and embrace it.

In a negotiation scenario – be confident, know your worth and stand your ground – if you’re determined enough you will succeed.

5. Why would you recommend the accounting profession as a career?

I’m genuinely passionate about the accounting profession and the positive impact it has on society on the basis that when we can trust the information we have and the structures we put in place, we can achieve more. Being an accountant enables that confidence and accounting is a sought-after skill in every industry. I acknowledge I’m biased but I couldn’t recommend it highly enough as a career; the opportunities are endless.

6. Do you have any tips for Accountants early in their career?

Find an informal and confidential mentor you trust and admire and ask for help when you need it. You’ll be surprised at how willing successful people are to help when you seek it.

7. What is your number one tip for success – professionally and personally?

One thing that a mentor once said to me was ‘you’re only as good as your last performance/success’ and embracing that mindset has helped me to strive for continuous improvement and achieve my potential.

8. What is the proudest moment of your career to date?

Being named Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur 2019 was a career highlight. There were over 1,600 entrants, it was an intense process and it felt fantastic to win on behalf of Shorla Pharma.

9. What are your key motivators?

I’m motivated by the prospect of creating positive change and having a wider impact on society. Shorla Pharma is a speciality pharmaceutical company and my co-founder, Orlaith Ryan and I are both mothers of young boys. We are a driven and compassionate company with the patients’ needs at the heart of our innovation guided by our vision of delivering more effective, less toxic drugs. It is incredibly rewarding to have used the skills we have acquired and the opportunities we have been given to create superior products that will make a meaningful difference and bring affordable and accessible products to those in need.

10. Someone you look up to or aspire to – professionally or personally?

Personally, my mother has been a huge influence on me and she continues to inspire me every day. She has illustrated the true meaning of equality as a strong, independent business-woman and taught me that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Professionally, a female entrepreneur I admire for pursuing her passion relentlessly to achieve success is US based Cindy Eckert who built and sold two pharmaceutical companies; notably Sprout Pharmaceuticals for in excess of $1bn.

11. What lessons have you learnt from the Covid crisis?

I’ve found myself working smarter; asking myself what’s truly worth pursing. I’ve grown to accept video conferencing as a very effective networking tool and way of doing business. That said, there’s no substitute for face to face meetings and I realise how critical they are now. I think it will be about finding a balance in the ‘new normal’. I think companies will have learned from this crisis and that it will bring about positive change. I hope that we’ll emerge out of it a better global society with systemic vulnerabilities exposed and priorities reset accordingly.

12. Any advice to start-up business in Munster?

Spend enough time planning and developing your business plan. Seek the appropriate mentoring, advice and financial support (explore both dilutive and non-dilutive options). Surround yourself with people who have a proven track record and an industry network to ensure your idea gets funded, developed and commercialised. Never overlook the basic fundamentals required for a company to function optimally; creating agile business systems, covering legal and taxation bases and paying extremely close attention to the numbers is essential.

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