SVBThis special corporate sponsor spotlight features Barry O’Brien, Managing director within Silicon Valley Bank (SVB)’s Venture Campital and Private Equity Group in San Jose, California. O’Brien is responsible for globally developing and fostering long term relationships with the venture units and innovation teams of Fortune 500 Companies in the context of enhancing their access to the world’s most pioneering start-ups. Preceding his career at SVB, O’Brien was a Diplomatic Officer in the Irish Foreign Service. There, he served as Vice Consul of Ireland to the United States having previously had postings in Dublin and Belfast.

Barry O'Brien

O’Brien and Silicon Valley Bank helped sponsor the Sister Cities International’s 58th Annual Conference in San Jose in 2014.

When did you personally first get involved with the sister cities movement?

Five years ago.

Is there a Sister Cities program/exchange that particularly attracted/affected you or that stands out as significant? Why? 

I’m from Dublin, and given that San Jose and Dublin are twinned, it’s rewarding to work on projects with my hometown. Seeing the link between Dublin City University and San Jose State University because of sister cities has been a tangible result and very powerful to see along with the graduate exchange. The education systems in Ireland and the U.S. are different, so to pull it off and have the exchange be such a resounding success each year is something rather fantastic.

How does the mission of SCI coincide with the priorities of SVB as a corporation?

SVB was created for the innovation economy. We are always very forward-looking with the people we hire, the things we do, and the initiatives we undertake. A large part of that is growing internationally with operations in Dublin, China, London, and Israel. No other bank does what we do.

Connectivity is huge for us. The entire bank is driven by relationships – who we know, what we know, how we know. That’s very similar to sister cities. It’s one thing twinning cities like San Jose and Guadalajara and it’s another thing having people in those two places know each other and having the ability to pick up the phone and talk to each other. I’m a relationship builder. You’ve got Dublin and San Jose’s relationship that’s over 30 years old. These things take time to build, but you do see results. That’s something SVB and our corporate culture very much understands.

As a member of the SCI Eisenhower Circle, how can the sister cities movement better support and benefit Silicon Valley Bank’s corporate social responsibility goals as well as its business strategy?

The more we can do to bring diverse groups of people together is something we very much like to focus on when it comes to corporate social responsibility. We want to help people access innovation and technology, and find ways of doing things that improve the lives of other people.    

What has motivated you to continue to support the Sister Cities movement over the years?

As a retired diplomat I understand the power of citizen diplomacy. Being an Irish diplomat is very different than being a diplomat to a country such as the U.S. or Russia or France which are Security Council members and major global powers. They can affect foreign policy very directly. The way small nations like Ireland affect policy is very different. That’s why connecting with groups through diaspora is very important. I resonate with the idea of the citizen diplomat — the idea of educating people one-on-one on what you do and why do you do it. 

What is it that you think makes Sister Cities’ community relationships as important today as they were when Eisenhower founded Sister Cities International in 1956?

The world Eisenhower created SCI in is fundamentally different than the world we live in today. Today the world is presented with threats that are less linear and more difficult to understand. Using sister cities and communities to educate people about other countries, other cultures, other ways of doing things, and encourage people to travel and exchange, we’ll be able to go a long way to achieve what Eisenhower originally wanted to achieve. 

What did you most enjoy in participating in the 2015 Diplomatic Gala?

I enjoyed the whole thing! Getting to spend time with people like Norm Mineta and Senator Lugar – meet these guys, as a diplomat, these are names you know and read about, they’re not necessarily someone you get to have a martini with and talk to. So for me, that was an amazing experience. Also, going to Washington, DC and seeing firsthand the power this organization has is another thing that was very special for me. 

What did you most enjoy in participating in the 2014 SCI Annual Conference?

I really enjoyed the panel I spoke on. The group was very open to discussion. It even got a little heated at one stage, which I took to be a sign of progress. We were in the room for three hours discussing rather than the allotted hour and a half. My first job as a foreign officer was working in Northern Ireland with community groups and I learned that when you see people arguing you’re actually making progress. People seemed to be open to ideas, and there was a positive ending. 

In Summary, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) has helped innovative companies and their investors move bold ideas forward, fast for more than 30 years. SVB provides targeted financial services and expertise through its offices in 123 innovation centers in 60 countries around the world. With commercial, international and private banking services, SVB helps address the unique needs of innovators in the technology and wine sectors. Forbes named SVB one of America’s best banks (2015) and one of America’s best-managed companies (2014).