For Russ Shaw, BSBA ’85, the founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, achieving the honorary title Commander of the British Empire (CBE) was a shock. “When I received the congratulatory email last November, I fell off my chair,” he says.
The highest Order of the British Empire award below knighthood or damehood, it is a high-water mark for Shaw’s storied tech career. “It inspires me,” he says. “I’ve been given this honor, and I’m humbled, but I need to keep building.”
Shaw’s professional career began after graduating from WashU in 1985. He worked for two years at Ernst & Whinney (now EY) in Los Angeles before earning an MBA at Harvard, where he met his wife, Lesley Hill. In 1992, the couple moved to her native London “for a few years.” Three decades (and three sons) later, Shaw is engrossed in the London tech ecosystem.
He first moved into tech at Virgin Media, before becoming the CEO of later-stage tech-startup Mobileway.
After favorable exits from executive positions at UK mobile operator O₂ (which was acquired by Telefónica of Spain) and Skype (which was acquired by Microsoft), Shaw was ready for a change. So he decided to become a champion of the professional community that he had been such a big part of. “The London tech sector was expanding; what was missing was a group of diverse leaders coming together to support the startups and scaleups,” Shaw says.
In 2013, he founded Tech London Advocates (TLA) to fill this gap. A volunteer network of over 12,000 advocates across the UK and in over 70 countries, the group supports London’s tech sector by drafting policy reports and hosting seminars, workshops and networking events for its community. Inclusivity and openness are at the center of TLA’s mission: “Anyone can become an advocate,” Shaw says.
Recent TLA projects include the London Tech Manifesto, in which advocates presented 12 policy recommendations for London’s mayoral candidates, and its “tech for net zero” campaign, which highlighted the importance of tech in combating climate change ahead of the UN COP26 conference. TLA also organized critical support during the London COVID-19 lockdown, instructing tech businesses on how to manage cash flows.
Within the network are more focused TLA working groups for fintech, blockchain, robotics and more. TLA also organizes the largest UK women and Black women in tech organizations.
“London is quickly becoming a center of startup innovation,” says Shaw, citing London’s over 100 “tech unicorns” (startups with valuations exceeding $1 billion).
Yet London is no longer Shaw’s sole focus. Since 2015, Shaw has replicated his advocacy organization in over 20 tech hubs and regions under the umbrella of Global Tech Advocates (GTA). GTA groups operate across the UK and Europe, the Americas, China, India, Japan and Australia.
In 2019, Shaw organized the first GTA Summit in China. Most recently, Shaw has begun talks to establish a tech advocates group in Africa.
Looking back, Shaw sees how important networking is: “No matter what your age or where you’re at in your career, build your network. There are others always willing to help.”