Una Fox, Vice President, The Walt Disney Company - CITATION
The late 1980s were fairly dismal in Ireland. For graduates it was not a time with plentiful opportunities. For an arts graduate with a Degree in French literature and English, it would not be surprising if a career as a secondary teacher or perhaps the owner of a language school would have beckoned - depending on the level and extent of entrepreneurial zeal of the graduate.
But the heights of corporate America might have been thought to be more the province of our business or law engineering graduates. How refreshing then that those dizzy heights are graced by the presence of just such an arts graduate, a humanities scholar, a linguist – from UCC.
Proof positive -if it were needed- of the truth if what we oft proclaim as self evident - that the humanities are essential, relevant even in the world of technology, and critical for the sustainability of the world in which we live.
Martha Nussbaum calls it narrative imagination- that quality nurtured by exposure to the arts; Una Fox herself in talking about the qualities of the humanities grads with which she works terms it empathy. Whichever term is used, it is a quality which when honed in the Irish perhaps has a particular richness as we have a natural affinity for engagement and curiosity about the people around us. It therefore can provide a heady and effective mix in the challenging world of corporate management.
Nussbaum argues that: “…narrative imagination… means the ability to think what it might be like to be in the shoes of a person different from oneself, to be an intelligent reader of that person’s story, and to understand the emotions and wishes and desires that someone so placed might have. The cultivation of sympathy has been a key part of the best modern ideas of democratic education, in both Western and non Western nations. Much of this cultivation must take place in the family, but schools, and even colleges and Universities also play an important role. If they are to play it well, they must give a central role in the curriculum to the humanities and the arts, cultivating a participatory type of education that activates and refines the capacity to see the world through another person’s eyes.” (at pp95-96)
Nowadays we aspire to make our graduates globally and culturally fluent. As is often the case there is nothing new in the world and our aspirations as educators today in UCC or what Nussbaum was referring to might well be demonstrated in the very path taken and life led by Una Fox.
Una Markey now Fox graduated from UCC with a BA in 1989. She gained 9 years of international experience with Dow Jones, Thomson Financial & Cisco Systems in London and Paris before moving to KPMG Consulting where she worked with global brands such as Microsoft, Qwest, Google, and AT&T. She became a Director at Yahoo! in 2006 and now works as Vice President Retail and eCommerce Technology for The Walt Disney Company.
Self evidently Una Fox is a global technology and business leader, hugely accomplished at global business technology management, operations and the delivery of large-scale business transformation programs. She has focused her career on linking technology capabilities to business models and creating new revenue opportunities. She has managed and motivated successful business and technology teams in complex environments to deliver rich and flexible enterprise services at Fortune 100 companies.
Commitment to Cork Ireland and to humanities graduating classes was evident this week in her ready and enthusiastic availability to speak to our students about her journey from the BA to Disney. Her enthusiasm for communicating opportunities to young humanities graduates of today is important as they need a champion in the cacophony of voices talking up science and maths. Una has been a member of the external board of advisors to the College of Arts Celtic Studies & Social Sciences since January 2013, and as aspire to educate our graduates for the world of work - and are mindful of the challenge involved- we have already started conversations with her regarding our curriculum and her input will be a lasting legacy of the influence of Dundalk & California, on Cork.
This generosity is not untypical. Una is a frequent commentator and speaker on technology education for children, particularly girls and young women. She is a member of the board of the Hello World Foundation, a non-profit organization with a mission to inspire young coders and in 2012, founded the Los Angeles chapter of CoderDojo, which has grown the outreach and program from 50 to 500 students in 18 months. She is an advocate for the advancement of women in technology and in corporate leadership roles. She partnered with Irish Technology Leadership group in March 2013 to launch a Women’s Technology Leadership group, which is a global organization dedicated to networking, mentoring and enabling the promotion of women to senior executive and board leadership roles, as well as the encouragement of investment in female entrepreneurs.
But Una is much more than the sum of that demonstrable leadership. Her achievements are self evidently remarkable and a cause for celebration in their own right but why her success is so significant for a University at this point in time and for us as educators is because of what it represents: in terms of education, the importance of values and the significance of crossing disciplinary boundaries with career trajectories.
The lessons humanities scholarship teaches us help identify global challenges, those technology poses to privacy for example, when we are all only two seconds away from a camera phone or a tweet, so that not just governments but other individuals pose a challenge to our private lives; and highlight how the inequalities in our world could grow greater in scale and significance as the children of the better off become digital natives from a very early age, while the cost of access to technology ensures others face a newer different kind if illiteracy. Those issues can challenge the very sustainability of our democracy. Here again the insights of the arts are critical as in Nussbaum’s words:
“It is easier to treat people as objects to be manipulated if you have never learned any other way to see them.” (Martha Nussbaum Not for Profit at p.23)
There is a grave danger in a world that fails to recognize or articulate those issues, neglects their inculcation in the young, or provides no recourse in the wider community to those with those very skills and values to influence the way in which we manage our world: - not because they are the high priests on the side, but because they are the managers, they are the VPs, they are the corporate giants.
In that light it is notable that in 2012, Una was named one of the “Silicon Valley 50” and the “Hollywood 50” by the Irish Technology Leadership Group, based in San Jose, Silicon Valley. She is a board advisor to the US-Ireland Alliance, founded by the US Senator George Mitchell, and was recently requested by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs to participate in the Global Irish Economic forum 2013, a gathering of the most influential members of the global Irish Diaspora with the Irish Cabinet to formulate approaches to Ireland’s economic recovery.
ecent European debates regarding Horizon 20:20 evidenced the need for scientists and scholars of literature and the arts to sit down together to implement inter-disciplinarity and an integrated scientific approach in order that Europe will benefit from wise investment in research and innovation.
The Vilnius Declaration recognized that if research is to serve society, a resilient partnership with all relevant actors is required. A wide variety of perspectives will provide critical insights to help achieve the benefits of innovation. The effective integration of SSH requires that they are valued, researched and taught in their own right as well as in partnership with other disciplinary approaches.
(Vilnius, Lithuania declaration of Sept 24th 2013)
All of this purveys a simple truth- we need each side of the divide and we need to be able to talk to one another – It is that ability to translate- to overcome the borders- to merge the worlds of hard and soft science that we celebrate today- Una Fox is important in her own right & in what she represents at this juncture- important for the Humanities but also to technology and the sciences, to say nothing of business, critically representative not only of our College but of the entire spectrum of what we hope to do as a University.
Perhaps in that sense it is truly appropriate that she is now in Disney- a company where the fairy tales of our youthful and childlike imagination find expression dressed up in colour and gloss which sophisticated technology makes appear simple: translated onto the digital world with a grace and eloquence which is the result of the very highest of technical expression, coupled with the best of imaginative and narrative gifts. Those are the very qualities which probably also best describe Una Fox- alumni award winning recipient of the CACSSS 2013.
Thar ceann an Uachtaráin Ó Murcadha, agus thar ceann Choláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh, tugann sé an-shásamh dom cuireadh a thabhairt do Una Fox glacadh leis an ngradam mar Chéimí Gaisce ón Coláiste na nEalaíon, an Léinn Cheiltigh agus na nEolaíochtaí Sóisialta i gcomhair na bliana dhá mhíle is a trí dhéag.
Go raibh maith agaibh go leir.