The future of TV in Strong hands

There’s nothing like kicking a football to learn how to play the corporate game. Soccer was Dana Strong’s passion in her teenage years and provided her first introduction to being a team player.

“I played a lot of it all through college,” says the chief executive of TV and telecom company UPC. “I was one of the founding members of the women’s soccer team and I played in defence. I was a sweeper so, even then, I liked to be in control.”

She is only half-joking.

Born in Ohio, Strong, 42, spent the previous 12 years in Australia running satellite operator Austar. Before that, she was a principal at Mercer Management Consulting, a leading strategic management consultancy in North America and Europe.

She is now the CEO of the Irish branch of UPC, the European division of Liberty Global, a Colorado-based international cable operator. She is responsible for overseeing the strategic planning, operational management, and corporate development of both UPC’s residential and business divisions in Ireland.

Dana was no mean defender for her college team. This time round, though, she heads the forward pack, determined that UPC — created by the merger of NTL and Chorus — will continue to lead the way in the evolution of television and broadband in Ireland. Like the Ireland soccer team manager Giovanni Trapattoni, she doesn’t see working here as small potatoes.

“I like being in a country this size,” she says. “It is intellectually challenging but also quite fun. It means you have to be nimble and incredibly efficient because you don’t have the luxury of having 10m customers on your doorstep. It also makes you more aware of the social and political context in which your operate.

“In large countries, like the US, every state is different and can be isolating. So far in Ireland, I have found myself invited to participate in a much broader set of dialogues, like the National Broadband Task Force, and to consider the importance of broadband for business and society. That gives companies like UPC the opportunity to show leadership and I relish that.”

Her business focus is on the national rollout of UPC’s fibre-optic broadband and on-demand TV. From today, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, and several other areas nationwide will have the service, which has been operating in Dublin for the past 18 months.

The launch has been enabled by UPC’s €500m investments in its fibre-optic network. The service is on schedule to reach over 600,000 Irish homes by the end of the summer.

“On-demand TV opens a new world of TV for UPC customers where they can schedule their viewing when they want it,” says Strong. “It’s the only true on-demand TV service in Ireland.”

She uses it herself, too, as she relishes her downtime with her two children and her husband Mark, who flits between the couple’s home in Dublin and his production work in the US and Australia.

“Mark does a lot of travel and it is fortunate that he is as supportive and as flexible as he is. He has a business that he has control over and he has been very gracious in helping me and in supporting me in my role as CEO of UPC Ireland.

“I would not have come here and taken the job without his support or if he had objections to it but we both felt it was the right thing to do and we both enjoy adventures and, for the past 16 months, this has been a great adventure.”

Midweek, it’s all about work and occasional chats with her husband in the evening over the internet. At weekends, though, it is family time.

“From Monday to Friday I am pretty devoted to my job but the weekends are for the family and I am a firm believer in a proper work-home balance,” Strong says.

“At the weekend, my husband and I tend to stay in to spend time with them and with each other and maybe watch a movie on TV. Like lots of couples with young children, it is not always easy to get out in the evening and we both cherish family time.”

Although her first name is pronounced Day-na, it sounds a bit like the ancient Irish priestess Dana, the pre-Celtic goddess and founder of the Tuatha De Danann who, according to legend, ruled over the realms of wisdom, rivers, magic, and prosperity.

“I am very honoured at the comparison. I do have some Irish in me but I had no idea about your Dana. Maybe that is why I feel myself fitting in so well here,” she exclaims.

Part of that is her attitude and willingness to engage, not just on a business level, but in social activities as well. Having enjoyed watching Wimbledon and following the European Cup, her next corporate seat will be in Croke Park for either a hurling or football All-Ireland.

She has an insatiable curiosity, and it is not all confined to spotting the next business opportunity, either.

“Now I want to learn about the GAA,” she says. “These are brand new sports to me. I have seen a bit of hurling and I am getting schooled — I need to know more.”

Multi media

115,400 growth in subscriptions to TV, broadband and phone services.

Total of 945,200 service subscriptions.

14% year-on-year growth. Broadband year-on-year:

283,400 broadband customers.

25% year-on-year increase in broadband subscriptions. Phone year-on-year:

205,800 phone customers.

69% year-on-year growth in home phone subscriptions. Digital TV year-on-year:

333,200 digital TV customers.


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