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Joanna Shields, Facebook’s vice president and managing director of its Europe, Middle East and Africa operations is leaving the company and will become the chief executive of London’s Tech City Investment Organization (TCIO) and she is also going to be come the chairperson of the Tech City Advisory Group and Business Ambassador of Digital Industries. TCIO is group that was established by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) in April 2011 to give boost to the tech cluster based in East London and helping to make it Europe’s center of innovation an location of choice for technology and digital companies and investors.
Shields will start in her new job in January 2013. She replaces Eric van der Kleij in the chief executive’s office. He had resigned in June 2012. Shields is an accomplished technology executive who in the past decade has worked for Google, Bebo and AOL, before signing up with Facebook. Her appointment is being lauded by The Kernel Mag, one of TCIO’s self described “fierce critics.” They write,” With Shields’s appointment, TCIO has effortlessly inherited something it previously lacked: credibility.”
There is no doubt she has the wealth of experience and a rolodex that makes are ideal fit for the job. Wired called her the most influential person in European technology. That said, even though she in amazing sales person, Shields has her work cut out in making London an epicenter of technology in Europe.
As our European writer Bobbie Johnson has pointed out in the past, the Tech City hype has been ahead of reality. Having traveled in rest of the Europe, I would say right now if you are a startup founder, Amsterdam, Helsinki and Berlin are three cities that come way ahead of London as European startup hubs. There is access to better broadband networks, better mobile networks, rents, both commercial and residential, are moderate and their is good access to engineering and other talent. Yes, there is less venture capital, but where they are startups, money will follow. Plus, these other cities are friendlier compared to London. We had a choice to do our Structure Europe conference in any city in Europe. Instead of London we picked Amsterdam, which is equally well connected, has a friendlier environment and one doesn’t have to deal with Heathrow Airport.
One of the biggest problems I have with all these cities wanting to become the next Silicon Valley is that they actually ignore their own actual inner strengths and core competencies. New York, today, is succeeding because it is focused on industries that are its core strength — media, commerce, fashion and finance — and coming up with interesting ideas (and thus interesting startups) for the Internet age.
United Kingdom has to think of its technology and innovation base as more than London and TCIO. There is Cambridge, UK, home of ARM. And there is legendary inventor James Dyson, who is trying to jump start innovation in well designed physical products that are inclusive of technology and connectivity around us. It is important for UK to think about technology from the lens of their own strengths and not be some random definition that stops at web and mobile apps.
But having known Shields for a while, all I can say, she really is an ideal pick for the job.