Facebook exec checks out to front Tech City

A TOP Facebook executive has fled the social network to head the government’s Tech City project, in a boost for Number 10’s plans to build a Silicon Valley rival in East London.

Joanna Shields, Facebook’s vice president in charge of the social network’s European, Middle Eastern and African operations, will become chief executive of Tech City in January, the organisation announced yesterday.

She is tasked with encouraging more tech firms to set up and grow in London, following the lead of Facebook, Google and Amazon.

The Tech City initiative, which also aims to foster encouraging small companies, has recently begun to show signs of success.

Facebook developer iPlatform was sold last month to Irish marketing firm Betapond, while Moshi Monsters creator Mind Candy saw a six-fold profit leap to £7.4m last year.

David Cameron welcomed Shields’ appointment yesterday. “The success of Tech City shows just what can happen when we back some of our most innovative and aspiring companies to grow, helping the UK compete and thrive in the global race,” the Prime Minister said.

Cameron has expressed his desire for tech firms to migrate from the “Silicon Roundabout” area in Shoreditch to offices at the Olympic Park in Stratford, a plan given a boost by the recent decision to award the park’s 1m square-foot media centre to business incubator iCity.

Silicon Valley veteran Shields said: “Working in the UK for the past decade has proven to me that this country has the potential to become a major force in digital innovation.”

Facebook said it has not appointed a successor.

JOANNA Shields has gained many plaudits as Facebook’s EMEA head, being named Wired Magazine’s “Most influential person in European technology” last year, although she enjoyed a glittering technology career even before joining the social network in 2010. Pennsylvania-born Shields left Deloitte’s Washington DC office in 1989 to pursue a career in Silicon Valley, where she worked through the ranks at printing firm Electronics for Imaging before in 1997 becoming chief executive of Veon, the video technology company that was sold to Philips four years later. Following a stint at media streaming outfit RealNetworks, Shields was hired by Google in 2005 as managing director of its European, Middle Eastern and African operations, although she lasted just two years there. In 2007 Shields was brought in by the social network Bebo as chief executive. Bebo was sold a year later to internet giant AOL for $850m (£531m), with Shields heading AOL’s People Networks division. However, she stayed only 14 months there before returning to London and then being picked up by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, in April 2010.

As Facebook’s top European executive, the 50-year-old, married to Formula One team Force India’s chief Andy Stevenson, is set to take with her a sizeable chunk of the company’s shares when she leaves in January.

Opens Covent Garden office and “Campus” startup centre this year

Will open a digital research and development hub in Barbican in July

Facebook app maker sold to Betapond last month in first Tech City exit – leaving behind its Featherstone Street base

The Tech City darling and creator of Moshi Monsters is based on Bethnal Green Road in East London

Recently acquired by Microsoft, it bases its European operations in London on Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch

Has joined with UCL and Imperial College London for a Shoreditch research centre, in addition to its Finsbury Circus offices