Saturday 21 September 2019

Oath promises to be here for long haul

Patrick Scully is confident that the Irish operation of Yahoo has staying power despite challenges, writes Fearghal O'Connor

Patrick Scully, Vice President of Oath in Ireland, at the firm’s headquarters at The Point, Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin
Patrick Scully, Vice President of Oath in Ireland, at the firm’s headquarters at The Point, Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin

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When Oath moved into its fancy new European headquarters at the Point Village at the far end of Dublin's north docks earlier this year, it still felt as if the US tech multinational was, in many ways, on the edge of things. That has all now changed insists Patrick Scully, who runs Oath's Europe, Middle East and Africa operation from Dublin.

"We're now right in the middle of things," says Scully, gesturing out of the huge windows at a forest of cranes and construction activity that is rapidly reinventing a previously drab urban wasteland at the furthest publicly-accessible end of Dublin's north quays.

The whole area is beginning to take on the same look and feel that has so transformed the nearby Grand Canal Docks area, where Oath's huge competitors Google and Facebook have built their own European headquarters on the south bank of the river. Now, says Scully, coffee and salad outlets are opening as footfall increases around a once-forbidding end of the north quays with the opening of each new gleaming building.

Oath, of course, is the new name for the combined entity that now holds Yahoo and AOL, two companies that have been around since the World Wide Web first became a global phenomenon. Both have lived turbulent existences, as they were eclipsed by Google and Facebook who dominated and became verbs that would define the industry.

Both Yahoo and AOL had operated in Ireland for quite some time. In the middle of 2017, Oath was formed as the result of the acquisition of Yahoo by US telecommunications giant Verizon. It now serves as the business-to-business face for a host of well-known internet brands in the Verizon stable. Yahoo and AOL form the backbone, but it also includes Huffpost, Engadget, Techcrunch, Tumblr and other web brands that account for a billion users.

"We are like a shoal of fish that comes together in the sea - some big ones, some small ones - to fight off the bigger predators. Our collective rounded mass gives us a bit more clout and fighting power in the big ocean that is out there," says Scully.

He is convinced that the new structure is the ideal way for brands that have been around for some time to become newly disruptive, pushing themselves back into the centre of things.

"There is no question that there have been challenges along the way and invariably there still are," he says. "I would argue that there isn't an entity out there that hasn't had its challenging moments across the digital ecosphere. It's a journey for everybody and there is no question it has been for Yahoo and AOL and our other properties. But we find ourselves now in Verizon, which is a super-interesting place."

The new structure under the Verizon umbrella has created a whole new set of possibilities for each of the brands, says Scully. For example, Verizon is making major investments in 5G technology and previously bought Irish vehicle technology player Fleetmatics (which it has rebranded as Verizon Connects). "It opens doors for us in terms of the internet of things, gaming and the digital experience that we weren't even thinking about even two or three years ago. It's a new landscape."

Scully joined Yahoo in 2014, but was part of the original wave of Irish employees to begin their career in Irish-based US tech companies. His first job was with Digital in Galway, which, although it eventually shut its doors, was a famous incubator for indigenous tech talent.

"It was one of the most wonderful university companies of all time and a fantastic place to get experience. I've spent all my time since working at US tech headquarters here in Ireland."

After moving on from Digital, Scully held leadership roles at Siebel Systems and Wood Group, before becoming international director of sales operations at Ballsbridge-based Nuance Communications, which produces Siri for Apple's iPhone.

At Siebel, Scully had worked with Ken Goldman who would go on to become chief financial officer at Yahoo. So, in 2014, when Yahoo decided to move its European headquarters from Switzerland to Ireland, Scully was hired by Goldman to set up the new Irish operation.

"My job was to make Dublin work," he says - no easy challenge at a time when Yahoo was struggling to find its place in the rapidly changing web universe. "Yahoo's profile in Dublin has changed several times over the years. To the credit of people in the organisation here, they withstood a lot of uncertainty and change, as well as some positives too. It has been a fairly dynamic experience for those people who have been here since the early 2000s."

There has been no let-up and the pace of change is as crazy as it has ever been, he says. "I have been involved in the tech industry for the best part of 30 years. My view is that, with all the work happening in 5G, we are entering another period of dynamism that folks haven't seen in a while."

The office has about 360 employees and the company has a data centre to the south of the city, employing engineers, research and development teams, business services, advertising, finance, IT, legal, as well as customer care and support. Taking the wider Verizon group as a whole, it employs up to 900 people at various facilities across the city.

"We have capacity here for another 100 employees and more capacity around the city at other Verizon facilities. It is up to us to identify the opportunities and deliver on them. There are no free passes though. It is all about value. If you deliver value you get the opportunity."

The Dublin operation - one of Oath's largest globally - has lots of potential, not least because Verizon is "super keen to see what it can do internationally", he says.

Over the past 18 months Oath's Dublin-based 200-strong engineering team was heavily involved in the development of the company's new advertising platform, one of the biggest technology developments Oath has undertaken, says Scully.

"I want to see us engage further and deeper with Verizon because our parent company brings a whole lot of opportunity that we didn't have when we were separate independent companies."

In his role he has started to meet more often with key people in other very different Verizon operations also based in Dublin who do not sit under the Oath structure. "We share similar opportunities and challenges. We are constantly asking ourselves how we can add further value. As a local Irish management team who live and work here we obviously have an aspiration to expand here in Ireland, but our ability to deliver on that will be down to whether we can do things that add value, the traction we can get in the market and whether we can leverage some of the 5G stuff that the wider Verizon group is involved in.

"We have a few ideas. We have already done some really cool things here on augmented reality and virtual reality that can make a big difference to the advertiser experience."

Engineers in the Dublin office were recently heavily involved in a major campaign for HP's Instant Ink product that allowed people to use augmented reality to view how individual photographs would look if printed, framed and hung on their wall. Another campaign was developed by the Dublin-based team collaborating with others in Oath's global organisation with US furniture company Pottery Barn that allowed shoppers take a 360-degree video of a room and then add in a furniture item to see how it looks and fits before they bought the item.

Much of that work is carried out in collaboration with other units of Oath in the US and elsewhere. So ingrained is that collaborative environment in Oath that every one of the Dublin office's plush meeting rooms and breakout spaces is equipped with video-conferencing equipment to allow for quick and easy meetings with colleagues in the US and elsewhere.

It makes for an exciting and varied role for Scully, but it is not without its challenges. The internet industry globally faces increased scrutiny on many fronts. In Ireland that plays out most with regard to taxation and what many see as the very cosy deal the industry has had in this regard. Few doubt that there will be change and, with powerful European competitors pushing the issue, there have been concerns that a new taxation system could undermine one of the foundation stones of the sector here.

But Scully is sanguine about the threat. "It doesn't keep me awake at night. We have a lot of capability within Oath and within Verizon that specialise in those areas, be it public policy, taxation or data protection. All of those things are definitely moving pieces and tax is important because businesses like certainty to allow them to plan and execute. So any kind of noise in relation to things like tax creates the need for activity in observation and effort," he says.

Oath - like the Irish Government and many other Irish-based multinationals - believes that OECD plans to reform the overall global taxation system are the right way to go, even if countries such as France are pushing for more rapid localised change that could hit the multinational sector in Ireland much harder.

"Whatever comes through those processes we will manage on, but the Government has been very supportive driving for that OECD approach and that gives collective certainty," says Scully.

Data protection is another key challenge. Yahoo has its own tortured history on that front and has just agreed to pay $50m in damages to 200 million people who had their personal data breached in two huge incidents in 2013 and 2014.

"Those of us who have come to Oath from the Yahoo side of the house have significant experience in this," says Scully. "The legacy data breaches are a matter of public record and we clearly learned a lot from that period. Thankfully now with Verizon's corporate footprint we have a whole lot more capacity, expertise and skill and we are in a much different place having come through all of that."

Overall, Scully does not believe that big regulatory change in Ireland or Europe - on tax, data or anything else - would cause American tech companies to abandon Irish shores. Oath, he says, remains in Ireland for the long haul.

"I like to think that the structure that we have set up here is future-proofed," says Scully, looking out the huge window at Dublin's windy and rainy docks beyond.

"Because of our track record here and the trust that has built up with corporate headquarters," he says, "no matter what wave height comes in - be it tidal or otherwise - I feel good about our ability to withstand and to sustain our activities here and that they are sufficiently robust."

CURRICULUM VITAE

Name: Patrick Scully

Age: 50

Position: Vice President of Operations and MD Oath EMEA

Lives: Galway

Education: Engineering GMIT, Post-Grad HDip International Selling DIT

Family: Wife Kathleen, son David, daughter Sarah

Pastimes: Rowing, Connacht Rugby

Business inspiration: Tom Siebel, founder of C3, an AI software platform and applications company

Favourite book: Who Moved My Cheese? - Dr Spencer Johnson

Favourite movie: The Shawshank Redemption

Favourite holiday destination: South of France

 

Business lessons

A favourite piece of business advice?

Improve, don’t perfect.

A lesson you have learned in your career?

Business as usual is a myth.

How have the Irish activities of US tech companies changed in the decades since they first started coming here?

Back in the dinosaur days you were looking at manufacturing activity, relatively low to medium-end value services, logistics, transportation, distribution... that sort of stuff.

Then came a move into more business services with customer-facing operations. That has further now morphed into production, engineering, development and even further into research and idea generation.

I think most the successful operations now based in Dublin find themselves operating across that full value chain and have a direct link back to the company headquarters at a more advanced level than they would have had five or 10 years ago.

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