The name might not be familiar, but the controversy over the salary he earns most probably will be. Just as the futuristic dome of Scotland's largest entertainment venue, the £125m Hydro arena, began to really take shape, there were also plenty of column inches dedicated last summer to the £190,000 salary and £85,000 in bonus payments paid to the boss of Glasgow's SECC complex.
"The chief executive is always going to have to take quite a lot of stuff on the chin; it's just the public-facing part of your role," admits Sharkey, who in 2008 progressed from finance director to head a company which is 90.86% owned by Glasgow City Council.
"If I was in a totally private company with shareholders, you would be treated with confidentiality. But that's the nature of the beast. Like it or lump it," adds the 47-year-old.
The public scrutiny of his P60 wasn't the end of last year's negative news coverage. Just a few months after the furore over his remuneration came the discovery of the body of a female conference delegate from Thailand in the toilets of the Clyde Auditorium. Sharkey says: "You've got to be sensitive, there will be a time for dealing with the branding issues around it, there will be a time for dealing with the commercial issues around it, there will be a time for dealing with the legal issues, but, first and foremost, you've got to recognise there are personal feelings and personal tragedy."
If those two episodes from 2012 are the downsides to his role, the upsides are difficult to miss when sitting in the CEO's first-floor office, with its east-facing window framing his biggest responsibility to date. His desk overlooks the 410ft-wide structure of The Hydro which is due to open in early September, bringing with it acts including Peter Gabriel, JLS, Bruno Mars and Jessie J, not to mention up to one million patrons a year and an expected £131m annual boost to the city's economy. It was the promise of playing a part in delivering Scotland's answer to London's O2 arena that 10 years ago lured him away from the public transport industry.
He points to the outline of construction workers fixing the roof tiles, tethered to safety supports and balancing at a height of 148ft above the ground. It seems the novelty of his vantage point still hasn't worn off. "There's my view this morning," he says, showing off an image he captured on his smartphone. "I keep calling it Albert Hall meets the Colosseum."
Although less impressive architecturally, another nearby landmark visible from his office has an equally emotive hold, albeit one he'd forgotten until he joined SEC Ltd as financial director in early 2003. When he was a youngster growing up near Airdrie, his father Frank, who died when he was 13, would take him on Saturday mornings to the construction site of the Clydeside Expressway where he operated an excavator.
"Whenever he was servicing the machinery at the weekend, I'd be taken in as a kid," says Sharkey. "I remember a night where I was standing at the Exhibition Centre train station and having the hair go on the back of my neck realising I'd been there about 30-odd years before. I used to mess away there, little realising 30 or 40 years later I'd be spending quite a lot of my time so close to where I was playing about as a kid."
Nowadays, overseeing the future business of the concerts, exhibitions and conferences – which each make up roughly a third of the SECC's turnover – form his main focus.
The gadgetry going into The Hydro is like a fantasy for boys and their toys. Customers will be greeted by digital totem poles and by the glowing, translucent skin of its ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) cushions, which can either transmit light or have images projected onto their surface.
Inside the 12,000-seater arena, there will be 145 digital screens dotted around the venue, plus a 450ft-long high definition screen. Ergonomically-designed seating with extra legroom should prove a welcome relief to those accustomed to the plastic seating of Hall 4, while the steeply-raked, 270-degree amphitheatre bowl is designed so there isn't a bad seat in the house.
The technology is a far cry from the interaction required for Sharkey's first SECC experience, when he and wife Linda popped into a city centre ticket shop to buy briefs for Chris de Burgh, who was performing that evening. "I remember one guy that night kept repeating: 'You're number one in my book, de Burgh.' He was absolutely caught in the moment. I continue to this day to see the transformational effect a night out can have on people."
Sharkey had no career experience of the consumer entertainment industry when a head-hunter friend, with whom he played five-a-side football, suggested he apply for the post of the SECC's financial director. "I went along and had a conversation with the guys," he says. "I didn't realise about the project here, but was massively impressed by the management team and the culture of the business."
Yet those early plans for an overarching £460m masterplan to create a 64-acre leisure, commercial and residential complex have altered dramatically since the recession. Private sector backers pulled out following the banking collapse and the city council stepped in with a £40m bridging finance arrangement to secure the future of The Hydro.
Instead of shoring off land wholesale, SECC chiefs have instead developed the land on a more piecemeal basis, generating £7.5m from the sale of a 1600-space car park and they are planning to announce an adjacent hotel development to open after the Commonwealth Games in 2014, both to the east of the SECC. Some 18 acres of the 20 owned by the company to the west of the complex is earmarked to be sold for a residential development of 1000 homes.
The Hydro, meanwhile, has hit the ground running: it has attracted commercial sponsorship in the region of £2.5m – a figure almost eight times the original target – from the likes of naming partners Scottish Hydro, plus Coca-Cola, Heineken, Sony and First ScotRail. The main thrust of programming is expected to be entertainment, supplemented by occasional sporting events, including netball and gymnastics at the Commonwealth Games and the 2015 World Gymnastics.
It was a great-uncle, John Carey, a Second World War pilot turned chartered accountant, who first sparked Sharkey's interest in numbers. "I'd go up to see him on a Friday night," he recalls. "He was a font of considerable knowledge. He said make sure you do the right thing. I apply that in business practice. If we think of doing things the way consumers would expect, rather than thinking about how much money we're going to make, then the money will fall out at the bottom."
A Glasgow University honours graduate in accountancy, Sharkey joined Ernst & Young (then Arthur Young) with whom he completed a MBA at Strathclyde University. He went on to financial roles in Scottish Enterprise and then spent three-and-a-half years in senior management with bus company First Group, a time when he says he'd "never worked as hard in all my life".
That work ethic appears to have rubbed off on his three children: his eldest is a graduate of the London School of Economics, his only daughter is in her final year of a law degree in Edinburgh and his youngest son is studying dentistry at Glasgow University, although he attributes their success to his wife of almost 25 years, Linda. "She's sacrificed her career to basically push the kids on and they're a credit to their mother," he says.
A keen marathon runner, Sharkey has completed races in Chicago, Berlin, Amsterdam and twice in New York. The pursuit of fitness has meant he's adopted a variety of novel approaches to commute from his home near Cleland, Lanarkshire. "My routes to the SECC have been by car, they have been by train, they have been by bike and they have been by foot," says Sharkey. "In my marathon running days, I would park the car in Hamilton and get the train in the morning and then run home at night. It's 13 miles. It's a half marathon on the way home. That's when I was fitter. I'm going to try and see if I can get back into doing a marathon this year. I'm slowly building myself back up."
john sharkey Chief executive, secc