07th Nov 2013

New Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon takes the helm in uncertain times

Recently released figures from the Central Statistics Agency show that the unemployment rate in Ireland decreased this October, dipping below 400,000 for the first time in four years. While certainly good news, at over 13 percent the current unemployment rate is still "unacceptably high". The rate is of course linked to the large number of eligible workers emigrating the country. In 2012, more than 50,000 people left Ireland to seek employment over seas.

This week Julie Sinnamon starts in role as the first female CEO of Enterprise Ireland - the Government agency focused on helping Irish businesses to develop and grow in world markets. As the new chief of EI these are figures that Sinnamon is no doubt concerned by.

At the moment hopes are high that Ireland's economy is finally moving toward recovery. Sinnamon is taking the reins in uncertain times; she has a tough job on her hands with many challenges ahead. Nobody in this country has escaped the shadow of unemployment, so the entire country's eyes are on her.

She has held many senior executive roles with both EI and the IDA, gaining considerable experience, and a reputation as somewhat of a straight talker. In her most recent position Sinnamon was director for global business development at EI, where she worked closely with her predecessor, former CEO Frank Ryan.

Originally from Co. Down, Sinnamon has a degree in Business Studies from the University of Ulster and a master’s degree in International Business from Fordham University, New York. She is also a graduate of the Stanford Executive Program.

At the announcement of her appointment in August, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton voiced his support for Sinnamon, saying “I believe Julie will bring strong leadership qualities and expertise in enterprise development to her new role, and will make a major contribution to the growth of Irish businesses, which is so crucial to our recovery".

To boost growth Ireland needs to focus on expansion in emerging markets. As it stands we are doing well in our traditional markets (the UK and Europe) but for real growth, expansion outside these areas is vital.

In line with this, in August, Enterprise Ireland revealed plans to recruit new people in key markets such as Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC); a push to increase exports by Irish businesses and to create more jobs at home.

Yet, though this is what we need, it can be a struggle getting personnel out to these countries - people can be reluctant, or unable to move.

Last week The Irish Exporters Association third quarter review showed that exports to the lucrative BRICs countries has decreased. The report also revealed a dip in total exports of 1.3 percent for July, August and September, while exports to our neighbours in the UK grew.

As Ireland's economy teeters on the brink of recovery, Sinnamon will need to make an impact in her new role, and fast. Enterprise Ireland needs a great leader now more than ever. Sinnamon has proven herself to be a leader in the past, and her leadership effectiveness is about to be tested again. She will need to bring all her skills to bear as she embarks on this new role. She will need vision - and the ability to execute this vision and deliver tangible results. Ireland is watching.

Hilda Goold

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