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Chief Financial Officer
Willis North America
Sharon Edwards was promoted in March to chief financial officer for Willis North America, the largest business group of Willis Group Holdings P.L.C. Ms. Edwards is responsible for all of the $1.35 billion unit's financial functions, including transactional accounting, financial planning and analysis, reporting and the financial operations of each North American region. In her 20 years with Willis, Ms. Edwards has been the first woman to assume several of the leadership roles which she has held. She is among a small group of women CFOs in the industry. The broker credits her financial and operational expertise with helping to grow the North American unit. Ms. Edwards also mentors many women in the company, recognizing their talents, helping them acquire new skills to advance, and recommending them when she sees them as the best candidate for leadership positions. In 2008, as director of financial operations, she led the post-acquisition financial and accounting integration of Hilb Rogal & Hobbs Co. into Willis. After that she was appointed to the newly created role of chief administrative officer and led the broker's implementation of the Epic client management and accounting system. Ms. Edwards serves on the Willis Chairman's Council, the Willis North America board of directors and the nonprofit Willis Foundation board.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN ENTERING THIS FIELD?
If you bring your passion and your drive, opportunities to move into more challenging roles will present themselves.
WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING THING YOU'VE LEARNED IN YOUR CAREER?
When I was asked to be part of integrating HRH into Willis, I found I could actually do things that I never thought were possible for me to do. No one taught me how to integrate companies, but I used the skills I acquired over the years. I learned that if you bring all the skills you have to bear on a new situation, you can succeed. Never shy away from new opportunities.
DID YOU HAVE A MENTOR EARLY IN YOUR CAREER?
I started my career in public accounting, which at the time was a male-dominated field. I never had a designated mentor. I aligned myself with people who gave me honest feedback and who challenged me to push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM JOB, OUTSIDE OF YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
My dream job would be to go into distressed companies and turn around their operations. I enjoy helping people in other organizations achieve their full potential.
OUTSIDE OF FAMILY AND COLLEAGUES, WHOM DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
There are a lot of people whom I admire. Right now, I would have to say I admire Pat Head Summitt, the head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team, who just announced that she has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Her drive, her passion and her ability to inspire the lives of the girls she coaches is a huge inspiration to me. She pushes herself hard, and she holds people accountable. She is a great role model for young women at the university. I admire the way she is fighting this disease.
WHAT'S YOUR CAN'T-MISS TV SHOW?
Currently, with time constraints and raising two daughters, I don't have a show that I watch regularly. I do like “Dancing with the Stars,” because it takes people who have been successful in one area of their lives and has them compete as dancers. It's interesting to watch people move to a different phase in life and see if they do as well with that as they have done in their previous endeavors.
BEYOND WORK, WHAT ONE THING DO YOU WANT TO DO OR ACCOMPLISH IN LIFE?
There are a few things I would like to do. I would like to play the piano, learn Spanish and do more charitable and philanthropic activities.
DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA? IF NOT, WHY NOT?
I use LinkedIn for professional networking and keeping up with former colleagues.