By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
“Advise and evangelize, that’s what interests me,” said Niamh Bushnell, North American Senior Vice President at MoneyMate, a provider of investment data management solutions to global asset managers. Bushnell, who’s worked throughout Europe and now in the US and was recently named one of the 50 Most Influential Irish-American Women in 2010 by the Irish Voice, has made a career of helping technology companies strategically position themselves and their products.
She continued, “I meet a lot of executives – I’m very often impressed by their focus, ambition, and understanding of their industry.”
But, she said, everyday things inspire her just as much as her work. “I’m inspired by unexpected good humor – a bright smile from the server at the deli or the newspaper guy I bump into – the people watching the morning chaos who have the time and the interest to connect with you.”
“When I have that experience I feel it’s a lucky day.”
Choosing a Career in Technology
“I was brought up in Ireland and came to the states when I was 28. I did my degree at the University of Limerick, a tech and engineering focused school,” said Bushnell.
She continued, “When I graduated, many multinational American technology companies, like Microsoft and Intel were investing in Ireland. So when I finished, I thought why not take advantage of these large companies at my doorstep?”
“These companies were selling into Europe and were looking for marketing and sales people with languages. I had studied in France and Italy while in college so was a good fit. I found myself at a Silicon Valley based company called Frame Technology, in their European sales and marketing HQ in Dublin.”
Bushnell stayed at the company for two years, learning, she said, “how important it is for a software company to get its strategic positioning right.”
Then, Bushnell said, she caught the travel bug. She continued, “Still in my early 20s, I wanted to get on the road again. I went to Barcelona, knocked on a few friends doors, and spent 12 months teaching English freelance to executives and lawyers. I loved the challenge of trying to help very smart and accomplished people understand things that have no logic – like phrasal verbs.”
After about twelve months, she got a call from her father. “He said the Irish economy had finally woken up and companies were starting to recruit. And he was right. Two or three weeks later, I was back in Dublin and had joined another American multinational, called World Merchandise Exchange, based in Connecticut. The company offered a business to business intranet solution for large retail purchasing. It was a very efficient way to purchase wholesale but was also maybe a few years before its time. The technology was leading edge, so it was a great learning experience for everyone there. ”
Two years and a lot of airmiles later, Bushnell prepared for another new start.
She recalled, “My father was the managing director of an Irish company and was always frustrated at how difficult it was to find good market research companies in Ireland, particularly for mystery shopping. He suggested to myself and my brother that we set up a company to fill the gap. So I co-founded PAN. I stayed in the company for 6 months and helped bring in the first key deal. The company is still going strong today”
She continued, “But I had wanderlust again.”
Irish Companies in America
“I saw an ad in the Irish Times for the Irish Trade Board (now Enterprise Ireland) looking for experienced executives to fill roles at a number of international offices. I saw the words “New York,” put my finger on them and said, ‘I’m going to get that job.’”
She joked, “My friends used to call me the 200% European, and there I was, all of a sudden, moving to the US. I worked as VP of Software for Enterprise Ireland for six years – which I loved.”
She explained, “I worked with young Irish companies that wanted to build their US business. Ireland and the US are culturally very close and, given the size of the Irish market, the US is the obvious first step for a company looking for growth, whether they’re selling technology into entertainment, healthcare, financial services, or ebusiness markets.
“This was my first experience working in the US,” said Bushnell. “I had never heard the term ‘elevator pitch’ before but I loved the idea of it and the philosophy behind it”
“I helped guide companies on how to sell, hire, market and position themselves – basic Marketing 101 stuff, the same stuff that’s still important today.”
She continued, “I worked at Enterprise Ireland during the peak of the Celtic tiger. It was boom-time for everybody and everybody had an idea. I left Enterprise Ireland when my contract in the States was up – I had to either go back to Ireland or leave the organization so I jumped ship to stay stateside.”
She explained, “I loved New York, and and had just gotten married to an American. At that stage, I thought of setting up my own company, but wasn’t quite ready. I went to work for Orbiscom, a young and dynamic Irish company in the payments business (recently bought by Mastercard Worldwide). I managed our clients, which included Citibank, MBNA (now Bank of America) and latterly Paypal. I learned a lot about online payments, online banking, and the value of online real estate.”
Striking Out on Her Own
Then, she said, “Two and a half years later I started my own company, Bushnell Solutions, in March of ’06. The idea was to get out on my own and consult with young technology companies trying to enter the US market. I had 15 years experience in the technology world, and had built up a good network of contacts with Irish companies so that’s where I started.”
She continued, “It’s the professional achievement I’m most proud of so far – creating and marketing my own product. I loved the challenge to flex my muscles, deliver to my client’s expectations and learn new things every day. I typically worked on a couple of different projects at a time – business development, market feasibility, market entry strategy for young, ambitious companies. I also ran some group client projects for Enterprise Ireland and published a number of industry reports for them in areas like Information Security and Payments. It was during this time that I was engaged by MoneyMate to research their opportunity in the US market. ”
“They were anxious to get a better understanding of how asset managers market their funds and what the competitive and regulatory trends were in the market Bushnell explained.
“A few months into the engagement we discussed me taking on a more full time role and I found the offer compelling. There were some big and exciting changes taking place in fund data management so I decided to dive in and help them to capitalize on them.”
Bushnell is, at heart, a networker. She explained, “I’m good at building networks. I connect with people easily but the difficulty is nourishing those connections – keeping in touch with them even when our business paths stop crossing.”
She continued, “Networks are not just important for your bottom line – they constantly enrich your personal and professional life with other perspectives and ways to accomplish your goals,”
She said, “I moved from network to network when I was younger and lost a lot of people along the way. I’ve been rebuilding these contacts for the last few years and it’s been great to get back in touch.”
Looking forward, she said, “I know life goes faster the older you get. I don’t like to plan too far ahead – I like to keep an open mind and a few questions going. The world is a wide open place. I like to travel, but I have a young son now so, I’m traveling less.
She continued, “In terms of work, I see myself probably working for myself again or with a small group [in the next five or ten years]. I’d like to be with a young company again, bringing technology to life.”
Or she said, “Maybe working for a non-profit or a for profit philantropic company. I really like the 360 degrees of companies giving back, being socially aware and their bottom line benefit ting as a result.
Currently though, Bushnell said, “I’m particularly interested in fulfilling my asset management clients’ goals around managing their data in the streamlined, competitive and defensible fashion.”
“Apart from that I’m curious to watch how asset management companies are figuring out social networking and social media.”
She continued, “It’s not necessarily a game changer, but it offers a lot of opportunities and challenges. It can open doors wider even within an investment management firm.”
Bushnell has just joined the the strategic advisory board of Rising Tide Capital, a Jersey City based non profit focused on “helping entrepreneurs from minority backgrounds build successful businesses.”
“These entrepreneurs have an idea and RTC gives them the support and business training they need to bring it to fruition.”
She continued, “It’s fantastic to see the determination of people to build something and work for themselves, become independent.
Women in Technology
Bushnell said that when she was starting out in Ireland, I had a lot of female senior managers. She said, “I took it for granted at first, but realized as I moved around corporations that my early experience was the exception rather than the norm”
she said, “I still don’t see a lot of women in technical roles. I don’t know why that is. I’ve been in the industry for 20 years and I don’t think I’ve met one female CTO yet. It’s something I would love to see.”
But there are increasing numbers of women on the business side, she said. “I haven’t had any challenges as a woman in the industry. If you’re a good communicator, you like people, understand their motivations, and can think creatively you’re going to deliver results. And that’s what people care about.”
“I had my son in May ’09. I worked up to the day I went in to have the baby. I brought my laptop with me in fact. It didn’t make sense to my husband at the time, but it made sense to me,” she joked.
“[Work/life balance] is always a challenge.” She explained, “I have a home office that’s pretty much soundproofed. And I work there any time I can. It’s a very focused environment. The great thing is that at the end of the day’s work I can walk from the office right into the playroom.”
Now that she has a child, Bushnell says, her life is consumed by work and family. “Unfortunately friends and hobbies take a backseat. I think back to before I had kids, about how often we [friends] saw each other, and wonder, ‘what did we talk about all the time?’. Now if I see them once a month it’s good..”
Advice for Women
“It’s very important for young women in business not to lose their ability to think independently and follow their gut feeling. Listening is very important, of course but then you need to think about what you’ve heard and form your own opinion about it, that’s equally critical to success.
She continued, “the higher you go in an organization the more important listening and independent judgment calls become.
The best advice she’s ever received, she said, is “think properly, but not too much – a friend said that very casually to me, one day while waiting for the subway.
She explained, “It suits me so perfectly. Think properly because it’s essential to making healthy decisions – but not too much, never brood! That advice will always be in my little box of treasures.”