Veuve Clicquot Award shortlist: Facebook's Joanna Shields

The head of Facebook's EMEA operation talks to MT about the company's transformative potential - and how to help women 'stay in'...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

This week, we're going to bring you exclusive interviews with all four of the women short-listed for this year's Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year award - and an impressive bunch they are too. Yesterday it was winner Michelle McDowell of BDP; today it's Joanna Shields, the former Google exec and Bebo boss who's now running Facebook's European sales arm. Like McDowell, she's knows a lot about succeeding in a predominantly male environment, having spent her whole career in the technology sector.

Shields was instrumental in persuading AOL to pay a cool $850m for Bebo back in 2008, when she was also the subject of the MT interview (and our cover star). After working for AOL in New York for a year to oversee the transition, she came back to the UK, and - after a short spell setting up a digital media venture with Shine boss Elisabeth Murdoch - she wound up at Facebook as head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In the memo announcing her departure from AOL, Shields was described as 'a start-up executive at heart'. And although she now works for one of the biggest brands in the world, a company that now employs some 2,000 people worldwide, she still subscribes to that view. 'Oh Facebook is still a start-up,' she insists. 'It's still privately-held, it's still in that really exciting growth phase where I think my skills are best utilised.'

It's fair to say that Shields is rather excited about her job. 'Facebook is on a totally different level from any company I've ever been involved with, including Google. It's not just about its growth, although that's exponential. It's about its impact on society and culture, its potential as a medium. It's changing the way we interact with each other. And it's transforming marketing - it's giving brands a way to develop an ongoing dialogue with consumers that's isn't just about selling products. We haven't seen anything this transformational since the invention of TV.'

Although Shields is technically in a sales role, with revenue responsibility, she admits that Facebook is a much easier sell than most. 'It's not really a sales role. People just want to understand how to unlock that value.' So her job is all about building 'mutually satisfying' partnerships - an area where she's famously adept. Is this a skill more common in women, we wonder? She's reluctant to generalise, but suggests women 'can be more sensitive to the needs' of the person on the other side of the table - which certainly helps.

A renowned networker, Shields believes awards like the Veuve Clicquot are a great way to meet high-achieving women: 'Over the years I've developed a small but very good network of highly accomplished women that I can draw upon my times of need,' she says – including the likes of Murdoch, Claire Enders and Silvia Lagnado.  But what does she think is the best way to ensure there are more senior women within UK plc? 'Past 35 lots of women stop working, particularly in the UK. We lose a lot of women at that age. So it's about being flexible and giving them opportunities to stay in, because it's so hard. I've missed so many school events; but I was a single mum until a couple of years ago so I didn't have much choice. And I'm so grateful I did hang on in there because the experiences can be so rich and rewarding.'

Like Veuve winner McDowell, Shields is a big believer in the value of mentoring, and provides informal advice and support to various young women in the industry (she tells MT proudly about one former protégé who's now making great strides in her own career). Sounds a lot more useful than our Facebook friends…

MT is on the hunt for contenders for its annual list of 35 Women Under 35. To submit a nomination, just email Hannah Prevett by Monday 18th April, including a full biog of the person concerned, an outline of their job responsibilities and details of any outstanding achievements both inside and outside of work. Nominees must be aged 35 or under on the 1 July 2011.

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