BCL '94, DipEurL '95, DipMktgPrce '97 & MBS '02
Attracted to early-stage ideas, initiatives and organisations in need of structure and direction, Nicola Mountford’s very varied career has brought her back to UCD, where she is director of the Connected Health programme. She is also currently working on a PhD in emerging markets in connected health and was a Fulbright TechImpact scholar at New York eHealth Collaborative in 2016.
About Nicola Mountford
Tell us about your educational background and early career
After school I did a law degree in UCD but, although I loved doing it and had always wanted to be a lawyer, I wasn’t so sure by the time I’d finished. While it was really interesting it seemed very retrospective.
So I worked for a while in the services department in UCD and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was asked to do a survey of the student population and how they interacted with buildings and estates. I found that really interesting and decided to do the marketing development programme in Smurfit.
When I finished that, I spent a year as marketing manager with a small Irish start-up. Then I joined Coopers and Lybrand. I didn’t know it when I went in, but the firm was about to merge with Pricewaterhouse so it was an incredibly exciting time to be there in the marketing realm. I was made brand champion for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Ireland and my job was to make sure everything that left the buildings adhered to this new brand. It was a massive opportunity for someone just out of college.
After a couple of years I went on to the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and was marketing manager there for about three years. While I really enjoyed it, I felt it wasn’t very strategic and could see that might be a problem further down the line for me.
So, I did a master’s in strategic management and planning on a part-time basis, again in UCD. When I finished, I did a little stint in Smurfit School as marketing manager. Then I went to work with Opera Ireland as development director.
In 2006, I was made manager of Synergy Centre, a business incubation centre that was being set up in the Institute of Technology in Tallaght. I was attracted by the opportunity to get in at the ground floor to something that looked very interesting and exciting.
During my time there I noticed that a lot of the technology in the companies we were trying to grow had originated in a university. I didn’t understand how you make good research and how you spin that out and that interested me.
So that’s what brought me to UCD. I started in 2010 as research programme and support manager in UCD Research, working with the major programmes team.
I did that for about three years and towards the end of that time was focused on how the programmes intersect with industry and on creating avenues for industry to access and engage with research in UCD, which was very close to where I had wanted to be when I left the incubation centre.
Then, in 2013, Prof Brian Caulfield was setting up the Connected Health research programme and invited me to come in and help with that from a non-academic perspective. It sounded very new and I like to get in at the ground floor!
What is connected health and what is your role?
At its heart, connected health is about how we change the way we deliver healthcare and use technology to do that. It’s about many things, including moving from curative care to preventative care, from the hospital out into the community, and from the directed model of care where the doctor is king to a more empowered and self managed model of care.
And we really want to see the whole care model shift around these new capabilities we have that are enabled by technology.
As director of the Connected Health programme, my job is to bring together all the different pieces at UCD that might help us to do that. One of the things I’ve been very involved in is building our European profile. For example, I spearheaded a proposal to set up a network for connected health across Europe that is now run from UCD with 27 countries involved. That’s really positioned UCD as a leader in connected health on a European scale.
Building on that, we now run three huge training programmes across Europe. We have over 40 PhDs across Europe working on connected health research all led out of UCD.
Tell us about your PhD and Fulbright scholarship
I started working on my PhD in 2014 and plan to complete it next year. It’s based in the marketing department in UCD Business School and is focused on emerging markets in relation to connected health.
My interest is in how networks of organisations come together to try to establish some of the norms and ways of doing things in the connected health market. More particularly I’m interested in how governments can help accelerate those networks. It occurred to me that government plays a very specific role in healthcare delivery in Ireland and a very different one in other countries, particularly the US, where it’s much more privatised and commercialised, but there’s also Obamacare.
So I applied for the Fulbright to go and investigate that in the US and to try to understand how the two systems compare and how government’s role might be changing. I was hosted by the New York eHealth Collaborative and went to study it and its ecosystem for a month last October. I did 29 interviews while I was there and I am now analysing all the data.
What motivates you?
I’m not motivated by money, that’s for sure! I’m motivated by doing things really well. I like making sense of things: coming into things that are pretty messy or unformed and trying to put a structure on them and bring them forward. That’s what I get a real kick out of.
What is your leadership style?
I think it’s quite macro and I’m quite hands off. I’m really lucky: I work with incredibly smart people and I love that. I try to find really smart people and let them do their jobs with as little interference as possible. When you have a lot of different things on you need people to take ownership of their own piece. I’d like to think I’m pretty developmental in my leadership style. I like to see people grow and develop themselves and take on more things and move up the ranks.
Who or what inspires you?
There have been people who have inspired me but there’s no one person who stands out. I certainly don’t look to people I read about as my inspiration. It’s more people I’ve worked with over the years. Ken Johnson in PricewaterhouseCoopers was a huge influence on me as my first real manager in a professional sense. His style was very developmental and hands off and I’d like to think I’ve taken something from that. Triona McCormack in UCD Research really showed me how to work with academics and understand the research process. And Brian Caulfield and his vision of what connected health is has also been a big influence.
But really my inspiration comes from looking out and seeing mess and trying to fix it and find a way through it. I think that’s more inspirational to me than any one person.
What’s your biggest achievement so far?
I don’t think I’ve had it yet. There have been lots of milestones along the way, but I don’t really see them as massive achievements yet. Yes, we have a connected health network across Europe, we have a programme in connected health, I have a Fulbright, and Synergy Centre was very successful and Enterprise Ireland’s benchmark for what an incubation centre should be. But I don’t tend to look backwards.
Any failures you’d like to talk about?
There are lots of things that go wrong but one thing does stand out. When I was about 23 and in PricewaterhouseCoopers I was given responsibility for producing a newsletter and all the communications around the Budget that year. Everything had to be ready for a breakfast event the day after the Budget so it was a very tight turnaround. I ended up being at the printers, proofreading at 3am, when someone spotted what they thought was a wrong date. I agreed and we changed it. It turned out that the date had been correct so all the newsletters had the mistake and therefore incorrect tax advice.
It was a huge blow from a confidence perspective and caused a massive problem within PwC. But it really taught me about understanding when you’re the expert and when you’re not. Even when you’re running something and managing a process, there are experts within that that you can never replace. I think that has really helped me in working with academics and even with my PhD.
What are your tips and advice for success?
Obviously to work hard but I think you have to do things you enjoy. It’s a bit clichéd but that has been my experience. Do something you love, something you find interesting and exciting and challenging, and work with people who are smart and challenge and push you. As soon as you get bored with something, you need to move on to something else. When you find yourself bored you’re in real trouble.
Any plans for the future you’d like to share?
At the moment, my focus is just on getting this PhD done. Beyond that, I’m trying to write a few interesting articles and just growing our profile and our network. I don’t tend to look way down the line. There’s enough on the plate for the immediate future and I’m just enjoying that while it’s happening.
What are your interests outside work?
I play a lot of badminton. That’s my key sporting interest. And I bake. And I have two small kids and a husband and a cat and they keep me very busy.
How have your degrees benefited your career and/or personal life?
Some of my closest friends are those I made in college – even 20 years later, they are still in my life. My degrees gave me confidence, friends and qualifications that opened doors.
What is your fondest memory from your time in UCD Smurfit/Quinn School?
Going to Tsinghua University on a scholarship as part of my MBS – I spent a month there studying international management with two Smurfit students and 20 other from around the world – it was an amazing experience.
Tell us one thing that most people don’t know about you
I am a very slow reader – I can write very quickly, but really reading something through takes me quite a while. I passed my grade 5 singing exam at the age of 36.
What piece/s of technology can you not live without?
My iPhone and, more recently, Endnote to manage references within my research papers.
What would you bring with you to a desert island?
I know I should say my family. Probably pens, paper, water and a huge box of Tayto cheese and onion crisps.
What is your pet hate?
I find it very difficult to deal with people who are consistently negative.
Who’s your favourite writer and/or what’s your favourite book?
I am highly eclectic in my reading so don’t really have one I’m afraid.
What’s the last gig/play/film/exhibition you went to that you loved?
The last gig I went to was The Divine Comedy playing in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre last month. My husband and I went to see them on our first date so they hold a special place in my heart.
What is your favourite dish to cook?
Something fast and tasty – pizzas with my kids, chicken Caesar salad if it is just me. I’m more of a baker than a cook.
What team do you support?
Ailesbury – my badminton club!
What is your favourite place in the world to visit and why?
I am getting to see more and more of the world now with our expanding research programmes and each time I visit somewhere beautiful I realise how many more places there must be to see.
Name three things on your bucket list
Learn to play the piano, visit Istanbul and get my PhD!
What charities or causes are closest to your heart?
I support a range of charities including the Irish Heart Foundation, Concern, the ISPCC, and Outreach Moldova.