'Irish networking has helped me personally and professionally'
Working Abroad: President of IN-USA Steve Lenox on the importance of making connections
Steve Lenox: ‘I know the experience I have gained and contacts I have made through Irish Network USA will prove to be invaluable.’
As a “transatlantic commuter”, staying connected to Ireland is important to me, from a personal as well as a business perspective.
In 2008, my wife and I made the decision that she would move back to Cork, where she was raised. While my career in US politics would keep me “home” in the US, I’d have the flexibility to get back and forth. Long school holidays would offer her and our two sons an opportunity to keep a base in New Jersey where she had spent most of her adult life. With no long-term plan, we thought we had found a way to have the best of both worlds.
It wasn’t long until reality set in. The traditional US workplace and the desire for time off on a bimonthly basis, especially while serving in a supervisory capacity, just didn’t sync. From a personal perspective, as soccer games, Christmas shows, birthday parties and other important milestones - including the birth of our third son - became more prevalent, so did the disappointment of knowing that the schedule wouldn’t allow me to be with them.
To better accommodate our living situation, I decided to leave my job and venture into self-employment, utilising my diverse set of contacts and ability to network to serve as of then undiscovered clients with their strategic communications needs. I’d no longer be restricted to working within the walls of an office, or forced into an arbitrary 9-5 schedule.
Armed with an iPhone and wifi, preparing a press plan, writing a speech, developing social media content, or completing other client-driven tasks could be done from anywhere; my office, whether I was overlooking the Hudson River or the River Lee, would be in my pocket. My schedule, subject to at least a five-hour time difference for US clients, would be my own.
It was around this time that I discovered Irish Network USA. Staying connected to other members of the Irish community in their own cities was no longer enough; this effort was bringing together people with an interest in, and connection to, Ireland on a much larger scale, encouraging members to “invest” in Ireland through business, culture, education and sport all across the US.
Irish Network makes a special effort to unite all Irish, Irish Americans and “friends” of Ireland, not divide them based on arbitrary categories. It doesn’t matter how far back you trace your roots, how old you are, what profession you work in. If you consider yourself a part of the “Global Irish” community, Irish Network USA has a spot for you.
I was drawn to the inclusiveness of the organisation, and immediately enlisted in efforts to help grow it in New Jersey. Now, five years later, I serve as president of Irish Network USA.
There is no doubt my involvement in Irish Network has helped me grow, professionally and personally. Opportunities to participate in great events like the Global Irish Civic Forum and the Belfast Homecoming, interact with political and business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, and, develop an understanding of issues affecting families with a variety of backgrounds have made me more valuable to my clients.
I also value the meaningful connections, and more importantly the friendships I have made. I am proud to call myself a member, and to be a part of efforts that continues to bring people together, all across the US and throughout the island of Ireland.
With 22 chapters and a further presence in cities and regions as diverse as Chicago and Oklahoma City, Boston and New Orleans, Irish Network USA continues to grow. Driven through the efforts of volunteers, the organisation serves as a critical platform for our members to grow within their careers and develop their own set of contacts, as well for Irish companies, artists, non-profits, and others to tap into the knowledge and expertise that exists within our diverse membership.
High on the list of accomplishments of Irish Network USA has been the hosting of an annual conference, bringing members together in different cities each year to hear from speakers, strategise for future growth, and, most importantly, build relationships that lead to important exchanges of information, best practices, and ideas.
For four days last month members, friends and supporters came together in San Francisco to attend and participate in the fourth annual Irish Network USA national conference. As has been the case with the previous three, participants, this year representing 15 cities across the US, as well as Cork, Belfast and Dublin, left asking where we’d be meeting in 2017, and how we’d top this year’s gathering.
Minister of State for Diaspora and International Development Joe McHugh’s keynote address touched on a wide variety of issues including Ireland’s diaspora policy, the ongoing recovery and growth of the Irish economy, efforts to match Irish abroad with skills needed within Ireland’s job market, results of the recent Brexit vote and the Apple State Aid case, the ongoing conversation on immigration reform, and Ireland’s firm commitment to continue playing an outsized role in helping the most vulnerable in areas of conflict and need all across the world.
Panel discussions allowed attendees from a variety of professional backgrounds to interact with Irish and Irish-American thought leaders on a wide range of tech and business related topics.
An evening networking cruise allowed for more informal, comfortable and personal conversations, as well as Instagram moments featuring the Golden Gate Bridge and McCovey Cove. Visits to two Napa Valley vineyards, whose owners themselves are part of the “Global Irish” family, offered a bit of culture, as well as a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. Irish Network USA’s mission is a straightforward one: to encourage “investment” in Ireland through business, culture, education and sport.
By doubling down on efforts to engage our members online and increasing opportunities for them to meet in person, we will continue to move ahead as our growth takes hold in places beyond traditional Irish-American hotbeds of New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and others-maintaining a connection wherever the trídhathach na hÉireanne flies proudly on homes and businesses, while energising a passion to be contributing members of the Irish diaspora.
As I look forward to continuing to grow my own business, and offering my service to clients in both the US and Ireland, I know the experience I have gained and contacts I have made through Irish Network USA will prove to be invaluable. I am hopeful for what the future brings for our organisation, our members, and for the ever-strengthening bond between the US and Ireland.