13 Irish people shaping science and technology on the world stage

17 Mar 2021

Image: © Denys Rudyi/Stock.adobe.com

Ireland’s international influence is apparent in the number of Irish people taking leading positions in science and technology around the world.

To mark St Patrick’s Day, we at Silicon Republic are shining a spotlight on Ireland’s influencers in science and technology around the world.

These 13 innovators have vital roles in shaping the future of science, technology, business and society. Ireland has produced people who are influencing international health and transforming financial services. We are driving innovation in space travel and semiconductors. And, while wearing the green jersey, Irish people are taking up key roles in driving us towards a sustainable future.

Dr Mike Ryan

There was no national fanfare when Dr Mike Ryan was appointed executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme in 2019. Indeed, his prominence in public health may well have gone largely unnoticed by most if not for the Covid-19 pandemic. But, over the course of last year, Ryan became a household name and a recognisable voice on the WHO’s Covid-19 response.

Hailing from the west of Ireland, Ryan trained in medicine at NUI Galway and earned a master’s in public health from University College Dublin. He first joined the WHO in 1996 and has been at the fore of managing global health risks for around 25 years. He is also a founding member of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, which has aided the response to hundreds of disease outbreaks around the world.

Emer Cooke

Late last year, Emer Cooke took up the role of executive director of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), a decentralised scientific agency of the EU tasked with evaluating and approving medical products for its member states, including Covid-19 vaccines.

Cooke joined the EMA from the WHO, where she was the head of regulation of medicines and other health technologies. In all, she has more than 30 years’ experience in international regulatory affairs, more than half of which was spent in leadership roles.

Educated in Trinity College Dublin, Cooke’s early career involved a number of years working in the Irish pharmaceutical sector.

Mairead McGuinness

Fine Gael politician Mairead McGuinness is the European Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and the Capital Markets Union. In terms of science and technology, this position holds significant influence.

Among her responsibilities is the development of a fintech strategy to support new digital technologies in the European Union’s financial system. She is also tasked with finding a common approach for cryptocurrencies across member states. For sci-tech entrepreneurs, she will lead development of a new private-public fund specialising in initial public offerings for small and medium enterprises.

Perhaps most significantly, though, McGuinness takes the lead on the EU’s green financing strategy, which will underpin the implementation of the European Green Deal, the set of initiatives aiming to make the EU climate neutral by 2050.

Donie O’Sullivan

Irishman Donie O’Sullivan found himself in the global spotlight for his political news coverage during the most recent US presidential election. But O’Sullivan’s brief at CNN is on the intersection of technology and politics.

He came to CNN with a political science master’s from Queen’s University Belfast and a few years’ experience at Irish company Storyful, the agency verifying news on social media. As part of the US media network’s business team, O’Sullivan conducts investigative reporting on online disinformation campaigns. He previously helped uncover several major campaigns linked to the Russian government which were targeting US voters.

O’Sullivan’s journalistic work has been used by investigators in the US Congress to examine the extent of Russian meddling in US elections.

John and Patrick Collison

Irish brothers John and Patrick Collison have had phenomenal success with their payments company Stripe, which has most recently been deemed the most valuable private tech company in the US at $95bn. In 2017, the pair were listed among the world’s youngest billionaires and this latest valuation has now doubled their net worth.

Since establishing their company in Silicon Valley, the twosome from Tipperary have turned their attention back to Ireland and, more broadly, Europe. Stripe is now dual-headquartered in San Francisco and Dublin and this base in the Irish capital is set to expand significantly as Stripe sets its sights on further expansion in Europe.

The Collisons are also using their entrepreneurial influence to push for change in the European start-up ecosystem. Patrick is among many prominent signatories to a campaign asking EU policymakers to make it easier for employees to own part of the companies they work for.

Adrienne Gormley

Adrienne Gormley spent six years at Dropbox in Dublin where she served as VP of Global Customer Experience as well as the head of EMEA for Dropbox. Last year, though, she relocated to Berlin to take up the role of chief operating officer at challenger bank N26.

N26 is among the biggest players in digital banking, having reached 7m customers across Europe and the US this year. In her new role, Gormley will work to bring her expertise in customer-focused culture to the organisation.

It may be a great time to get involved with digital banking, as the trend towards these services has recently been accelerated by the global pandemic. And when it comes to personal finance, customer relationships are paramount, making Gormley’s position all the more significant in its potential to shape future banking experiences.

Sinéad O’Sullivan

Aerospace engineer and economist Sinéad O’Sullivan is unafraid of complexity. In fact, she gets elbows-deep in it through her research interests.

The Armagh native is currently based at MIT, where she is trying to model the complexity of democracy, technology and regulation as part of the AI Policy for the World project. A self-described lifelong fan of space exploration, she has also conducted research for NASA, helping develop the technology to take spacecraft and even humans to Mars.

O’Sullivan is also a research fellow at the US Center for Climate and Security, where she is exploring how space-tech can play a role in monitoring the climate crisis and climate-related risks. Most recently, she started a column exploring her broad sci-tech interests for Irish publication The Currency.

Vincent Roche

Analog Devices CEO Vincent Roche was awarded this year’s St Patrick’s Day Medal from Science Foundation Ireland, recognising his contribution to the research and industry ecosystems in Ireland.

Originally from Wexford, Roche has been with the US semiconductor manufacturer since 1988. He became the company’s third CEO following a career journey that has taken him from Limerick to California and company headquarters in Massachusetts.

Considered a leader in the field of semiconductors, Roche was named on Forbes’ 2019 list of America’s 100 most innovative leaders.

Roche has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from what is now the University of Limerick. He also serves on the board of directors for Acacia Communications, a developer of high-speed coherent optical interconnect products for communication networks.

Dr Ann Kelleher

Cork’s Dr Ann Kelleher was last year’s St Patrick’s Day Medal awardee. She’s also a highly decorated pioneer for women in STEM, as the first woman to receive a PhD from the National Microelectronics Research Centre (the forerunner of Tyndall National Institute) and the first Irish woman to be named a vice-president at Intel.

Now a senior vice-president and general manager at the company, she is leading the development of Intel’s 7nm CPU project. While this project to deliver a next-generation computing component has suffered significant delays, Intel revealed in January that it’s now on track for delivery in 2023. This marks a significant turnaround for Intel, which is fighting to hold its position among the world’s top chipmakers amid a worldwide shortage.

Ronan Dunne

Born in Dublin, Ronan Dunne moved to the UK in the ’80s. During his time there he became CEO of Telefónica UK, better known as O2, one of the UK’s largest mobile network operators. Today, Dunne is executive vice-president and CEO of Verizon Consumer Group, where he leads teams providing Verizon services to more than 100m consumers every day.

Dunne recently spoke at Silicon Republic’s Future Human event about his role in rolling out 5G across the US. To achieve this, his division has been striking deals with some of the biggest tech companies in the world, including Apple, Samsung and Qualcomm.

The need for 5G is another future tech development accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and Dunne has stressed the importance that access to these next-generation wireless networks is both socioeconomically and geographically inclusive.

Pat O’Doherty

In December 2020, ESB chief executive Pat O’Doherty was named president of Eurelectric. He previously served as vice-president for the European group of electricity companies pushing for low-carbon objectives.

Eurelectric represents the interests of the more than 3,500 energy companies and has 34 full members from 32 European countries. The group looks at development and competitiveness in the electricity industry, and promotes the role of a low-carbon electricity mix in the advancement of society.

Under O’Doherty’s presidency, the organisation will continue to focus its efforts on leading a quick transition to a carbon-neutral future driven by electrification, delivering a decarbonised electricity system of the future, and increasing social acceptance and involvement of citizens in the energy transition.

PJ Hough

Irishman PJ Hough has been working for decades in the US, with most of that time spent at Microsoft. During 17 years in the Microsoft Office division, he was responsible for the planning, design, research, engineering and creation of the Office suite of applications that have become a benchmark for digital workplace tools.

Now, Hough is executive vice-president and chief product officer for Citrix, the US multinational best known for its virtualisation software. The importance of virtualisation became ever more apparent under Covid-19 restrictions, which saw vast swathes of office-based workers switch to remote working.

Virtual apps and virtual desktops give employees fast, secure and reliable access to company resources from anywhere and on any device. And with Hough responsible for directing Citrix’s technology focus, he has a crucial role to play in the future of work.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.