A magical enterprise

6 Mar 2012

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Una Fox, Disney vice-president for technology (Client Relations)

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Disney vice-president for technology (Client Relations) Una Fox says joining the ITLG has given her the opportunity to do something positive for her native country.

Data has always been the thread that interweaves Disney VP Una Fox’s career and at a time when digital media is transforming traditional media, in particular entertainment media, with an explosion in apps, mobility and new online experiences, this is her time.

The University College Cork graduate who now lives with her young family in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, is spearheading many of the enterprise IT strategies that are helping organizations like Disney stay on top of major technology trends, such as the consumerization of IT and the thirst for big data.

Fox is a member of that generation of Irish professionals who at the time had no choice but to make the world their oyster and she has always worked with US multinationals. She began her career in Paris, initially working in financial services with companies like Dow Jones and Thompson Reuters.

“I began looking for a change and friends I had who were working at Cisco at the time became fascinated with a new technology called customer relationship management (CRM).”

Fox joined Cisco’s sales operations and helped develop its CRM offerings. “Cisco was a big investor in Siebel at the time and we worked on its first release.”

This led to her moving to work with KPMG in California during the late 1990s, when the dot.com boom was at its peak.

“I found myself working with lots of start-ups. It was a crazy time because you’d come across a company that would have attracted a lot of funding and within months they’d be shut down.”

However, CRM was a space that Fox had made her own and she focused on aspects such as sales force automation, business-to-business (B2B) technology and helping companies embrace the business-to-consumer (B2C) potential of CRM to improve their marketing efforts.

This was during a time when KPMG itself was going through major changes, transforming from a private firm into a public company in the form of BearingPoint. “That was a very interesting time for me because I was becoming fascinated with internet search technology and I was part of an incubation group around enterprise search. I was fascinated with the whole online space and felt it was time to go and work in industry.

“I really wanted the experience of working in a technology company and running a revenue team so I went to work for Yahoo!, which was a great learning experience.”

Fox went to work initially for Yahoo!’s search group and then its online display and advertising and billing divisions.

“My role there was partner relationship management. Yahoo! has lots of relationships with various online publishers and they shared advertising and results. It was a fantastic experience and I really think Yahoo! is a fascinating company with so much potential,” she said.

“From the inside looking out, Yahoo! really is an amazing place to work and learn.”

In late 2008, an opportunity to come and work with Disney. Today, Fox as vice-president of technology (Client Relations) at Disney describes her role as providing shared services to support the enterprise.

“I am focused on business technology, including the consumerization of IT and a key facet is ensuring that consumers have easy, seamless experiences.. The important thing is to make sure we are leveraging all the new, innovative technologies that have emerged in the consumer space and bring them into the enterprise.

“There’s definitely a focus on technologies like big data. We want ensure that people who experience a Disney product or service have a truly amazing experience.”

Diaspora

As a member of that professional class of Irish people dispersed across the world, Fox came to realize that at a time when the Irish economy was struggling she felt there must be more she could do to help her native country.

“About a year ago, I just sat up and realized I wasn’t connected to any kind of Irish community in America at all. While I’m still very connected to my own network of Irish friends around the world, locally in the US I wasn’t that connected. Watching what was happening in Ireland I became motivated and began to wonder if there was some organization I could get involved in to volunteer my time and make some contribution to help Ireland get back on its feet.

“Knowing what family and friends were going through and reading the newspaper coverage was a strong motivation.

“I started to reach out to people and I got introduced very quickly to John Hartnett. I’m also involved in the US-Ireland Alliance.”

Fox feels that one of the most important contributions she can make is helping to share network connections and offer guidance on new technologies.

“From what I can see, the biggest challenge is talent. Ireland has a good reputation for educating young, talented people, particularly in the technology space, and we just need to continue to perfect this.

“This means continuing to invest in education and encouraging the talent we have to continually take up new skills, particularly in areas like HTML5, big data, mobile apps development and gaming.

“If Ireland continues to invest in these areas, it will pay off.”

While the skills shortage issue is very real in Ireland, Fox stresses it is very real elsewhere in the world, too. “It has become a very big focus in America, too, because talented, skilled IT people are in short supply.

“The world is going through a sea change regarding technology. We are now in the world of smartphones, tablets and other smart devices, which are ways of presenting and gathering information.

“We need to inspire young people to be interested and excited about technology careers.”

Silicon Republic has joined forces with the Irish Technology Leadership Group to bring you The Silicon Valley 50 most influential Irish-American people in the tech world ahead of the ITLG Innovation Summit in California on 12-13 March.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com