Business Matters Podcast Volume 4-Maureen O’Callaghan


“Show Notes”

In this podcast, founder of Beyond Money CIC Maureen O’Callaghan talks about the role of AI in business, the current uncertainty for business owners, and how they can play a role in solving global challenges by being prosocial.

“Show Transcription”

It’s time for another edition of Business Matters on Siren Radio, and we’re delighted today to welcome somebody who is currently undertaking her PhD, but she’s also the founder of a phenomenally wonderful organisation called Beyond Money. So we say a hearty welcome to Maureen O ‘Callaghan. How are you, Maureen?

I’m well, thank you, Alex, and really happy to be here talking to you.

Well, it’s great to connect with your good self. And of course, in terms of just a descriptor, I mean, I’ve literally just scratched the surface there in terms of the key things that you’re involved with. So just share with us, what is Beyond Money? What is it in terms of a focus? How did you actually develop it?

So the registered name of the company is Beyond Money Education and Training Community Interest Company and I suppose that says it all really. It’s a community interest company that was set up primarily to help business owners to learn about how they can combine making a profit with also helping other people, society, and the planet , and that actually you don’t have to give up one or the other. They are compatible, in fact they actually support one another.

I’m now out to embark on my fourth year, I think it is, of my PhD and as part of it, I was looking into entrepreneurship and about being prosocial. And it was from there that I recognised there is a need to add something to the current offer in terms of entrepreneur education. That’s not to say there isn’t excellent work being done in that area, but we’re in different times now. You know, the 21st century is certainly presenting lots and lots of challenges for business owners.

What I wanted was materials that could help them engage with these agendas in ways that were relevant and accessible. So that, in a nutshell, is Beyond Money. Have I answered all of those questions?

Perfectly. And it’s opened up, as all the best answers do, a whole avenue of exploration, which we’re going to hopefully spend the next few moments effectively addressing. Because the entrepreneur, as a concept, I’m of the generation that clearly had to be faced with the notion of, well, Richard Branson goes to university and Bill Gates dropped out of university. And of course, Steve Jobs also went around that point of view. These things can make you think that you can’t actually teach being an entrepreneur. Now, clearly what you’ve been saying, Maureen, completely contradicts that because there is a mindset, a skill set that actually says, yes, entrepreneurs can be created. It’s nature versus nurture, really, is what I’m saying. How do we actually address that?

People that might be listening to this saying yeah fine I’m an entrepreneur I do this, we even hear about kidpreneurs these days, generation alpha, how they’re making various business decisions whilst they’re in the year 9, year 10, year 11 etc. Any thoughts on the way that in a sense people perceive the sense of the entrepreneur?

Oh gosh Alex that takes me right to the initial stages of my research where I was looking at the literature and what stood out very loudly and clearly was there isn’t a consensus on what’s meant by this term and in actual fact the more you got talking to people, I think there was in my case the interviews I had with people who were either entrepreneurs themselves or who supported entrepreneurs there were very diverse views. Now me, I see entrepreneurship as a practice, not as a job title, and I think there are lots of concepts that are involved in the practice of entrepreneurship. One is obviously creating and managing a business for profit.

But there are also other things about being opportunistic. Most of the people that I spoke to, that was one of their number one character traits, the fact that they could see an opportunity and go with it. I must say that some of the early stages of my research was looking at the character traits of entrepreneurs. They’re risk takers, definitely.

They tend to be people who are results orientated and will persevere until they achieve those results. And there are people who sort of tend not to shy away from challenges. Now, I would define myself as an entrepreneur.  I’ve been that way throughout my career, I suppose. My number one character strength is bravery.

And I think that more than anything else, it’s the courage to move forward and to have a belief in what you’re doing. But you’re absolutely right. All the Elon Musks and the Richard Bransons present themselves in a particular way. And I think a lot of people are put off by thinking of themselves as an entrepreneur.

It’s interesting that all the aforementioned are white male individuals and maybe we need to actually broaden the diversity approach there. I’m not sure whether Anita Roddick kind of had a different sort of approach to the whole thing or indeed Shirley Conran or other sort of folk that probably, in the sort of way that things are developing, would have actually identified from that perspective.

But we are, as you rightly said, Maureen, in the 21st century. We are dealing with things such as sustainability, the importance of that. We’re also dealing very much with companies in what I define with the students as corporate social responsibility, actually having credentials which do demonstrate that you’re doing good for the community that you’re working within and are seen to be doing good.

Is that something with respect to Beyond Money that you’re also committed to, to ensuring that, you know, in terms of the ethical issues, is that something which is very important to yourself? Or is that a case of well, I acknowledge it’s there, but it’s not necessarily my number one priority.

What was very interesting when you look at the whole area of commercialisation and things like that, and what influences someone to go down that route, role models have a key role. And I would feel very uncomfortable about talking to people about being pro -social if I didn’t walk my talk. So I have stopped printing out research papers. I struggle to read research papers off of the screen, but I know that if I print them out, I’m damaging the environment. It’s the carbon footprint. So I’ve stopped doing that. I recycle, I reuse things, I bank ethically, and I also try to do things to help other people. So I know somebody who is looking to work with the university, and I’ve found a way to help him by introducing him to people. Little things like that. Doesn’t have to be major.

I also do voluntary work for an organisation that works with vulnerable women and girls. So one of the things I’ve been working on is for women leaving prison. Finding employment can be a struggle and some of them were quite interested in exploring how they might set up in business as a way of earning money.

A legal business, probably.

Yes, legal business.

Well, I actually didn’t ask, funny enough, but there you go!

Just a thought, really. Yeah, but that I do voluntarily. I help them with their setting up, and their child and vulnerable adult protection because that was part of my background and I have those skills.

I don’t have a lot of resources. I’m retired and setting up and I’m self-funding my PhD but I am able to give my time to help other people. So that does that answer your question Alex?

I think it does because it addresses the importance of how in a sense you see yourself and also how that has developed within the grounds of some of the constraints that actually work within.

Now business in general can often be said to be not just about people but also about confidence. Now allowing for those two factors, confidence and people, I’m referring to people in the sense of networking, you’ve just very eloquently outlined how you were able to introduce people to the University of Lincoln via networking introductions and so on.

Do you feel as though we’re getting better at that in the social media age or is it something that in some ways maybe we still need to work on, that actually sometimes, a face -to -face contact or a personal phone call can be better than maybe a LinkedIn or WhatsApp connection?

If I may share with you a little anecdote Alex. In my career before I set up in business, I worked for two of the big aid agencies; one was Save the Children Fund one was the Red Cross. So I represented them globally and I guess I felt I had the backing of these large organisations behind me. When I set up in business on my own it was just me and I remember vividly going to the door of two networking meetings and then walking away because I was too scared to walk in. It’s a huge thing for somebody and I happen to think sometimes for women it’s a little bit harder and it certainly was in those days because business and business networking was a very much male dominated domain. But I think it’s knowing yourself, having a high level of self -awareness, and being able to find the ways of reaching out and connecting with people that suits you better and the circumstances.

I studied my PhD at the time of Covid so I didn’t have an option but to go down the social media route and the online networking and that has its place, and I’m increasingly feeling more confident in that place. And the times I get to meet people face to face are now very special and I probably take more care in preparing and following up and all of those things because for somebody now to meet you face to face you realise they’re making quite an effort, rather than just saying, oh, I’ll talk to you on Zoom or Teams or whatever. But I think, yeah, it’s not something I’m confident in, you know, and I’ve done lots of courses on how to be more confident networking.

In a sense, Maureen, we learn by doing, and I think what we’re doing today is a further experience which can further enhance and develop the image and the way in which we actually deal with other experiences. Let’s continue.

Can I just add one thing, Alex? I learned this through my time at university. The most important thing in networking is to find your tribe.  I think I found academia quite alien for a long time. I was in the School of Psychology for most of the time and I think it’s something about if you meet people who share your values, who understand what you’re talking about, and maybe who want to achieve what you do, it makes it so much easier. Yeah, anyway sorry.

It’s a phrase that I’ve heard quite many at a time, find your tribe. Not that we’re advocating tribalism of course, you still have to keep those networks between tribes going otherwise you can have all sorts of challenges. But let’s return back to confidence and let’s look at the broader sense of confidence in so far as you know, we’re well aware that presently the government effectively saying inflation’s come down, Bank of England saying it’s our fault, it’s your fault.

Who knows? There are all sorts of narratives going around. Do you feel as the Britain at present in the post Brexit, post pandemic, high tech era that we’re actually in, the challenges of artificial intelligence, do you feel that actually the confidence is there, or are we basically in a period of uncertainty that actually not just higher education but all institutions and certainly all businesses, whilst there are huge opportunities potentially out there, there’s also an awful lot of concern and maybe lack of confidence in terms of how we go simply because as we said in the in the pandemic, it was fantastic in terms of if you had shares in Zoom, happy days. If you’d actually had experience of Microsoft Teams and worked through what we all went through as academics as scholars, as business people, finding ways of having to pivot I think was the popular phrase we had to pivot. We had to be resilient, we had to adapt, and so on.

Now we obviously have a mixture of both; we’re carrying out this interview via Zoom as opposed to inviting you into the studio which, again, we’d like to see you sometime, face to face from that point of view but in terms of the, the way that that operates, do you feel if we’re using the more you know O’Callaghan finger in the air litmus test? Is there greater confidence now, are we getting more confident, or is that a case of, there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there?

I think there’s definitely uncertainty out there. There’s anxiety. There’s levels of stress. There’s also, I believe, a tendency for people to be more open since COVID about these challenges and to seek help from other people, to be open and say I’m struggling.

Most of the conversations I have with business owners, they’ll talk about the struggles really openly. There doesn’t seem to be a front if you know what I mean.

So we’re currently in an era where let’s throw in those two letters, which have become so popular recently, A and I, artificial intelligence. Clearly, we have love -ins from the point of view of Elon Musk, as aforementioned, and Rishi Sunak and the notion of where we’re going for this, the genie coming out of the bottle, et cetera. Augmented intelligence is another variation that’s been used with respect to that. Is that something which, again, it’s yet another stage in terms of how the technology is developing, how, in essence, there are many cases of very successful online businesses who have effectively managed to expand successfully from what would have been very small, almost cottage industries to large scale operations and so on. Is that something where we can seize the initiative or is it a case of ultimately beyond money, yes, I do have ChatGPT all set and ready to answer any questions that come through?

I’m not very technical with IT and things like that, but I attended a webinar last week where somebody talked about AI and talked about AI in a way that it was a tool that could be used, not to replace you, but one that would harness your performance.

I was convinced by it. I think there is a place for AI in business. I think it frees up the business owner to focus on the things that only a human being can do. And I’m looking forward to incorporating it into Beyond Money in ways that are appropriate.

And there certainly do seem to be regularly within business more and more bureaucratic tasks, which in many cases, education, you think, surely this could be easily handled by a suitable program algorithm or system could effectively deal with this.

Yes, I think I think you’re right. And I think for me, it’s not being aware and realising that I need to be far more open minded about AI. And the importance of talking to people who know what they’re talking about.

Maureen, as we know, you’re a PhD student in the business school, you’re an entrepreneur, you work for some global charity systems, you’ve packed a huge amount into your life experience so far. How do you relax?

Okay. So, lots of things. I’m blessed with having grandchildren that I have the joy of being able to spend time with.

I enjoy gardening, I enjoy walking, I enjoy holidays, and I meditate as well. So that’s a kind of conscious effort to quiet my mind, which usually helps me to relax somewhat. I read. I’m the part -time student at the university, so I have time for myself, and for me that’s really important. Particularly at this stage in my life, I sort of recognise that I need to manage the energy levels.

Yeah. And what advice would you have for, shall we say, the 16 year old version of yourself, the 16 year old Maureen O ‘Callaghan, who might be, you know, through the mists of quantum magic and Einstein et cetera, listening to this particular sequence, what words would you actually have for your 16-year- old self?

Well, the 16-year-old Maureen O ‘Callaghan had just been thrown out of school. She’d been expelled. And so I would have expelled her as well. I was a horrendous teenager. I think what I would say is develop a love of learning. So that has been the joy, I think, more than anything else in my life, the opportunity to learn. and with that learning to change perspective and to engage with life. Learning requires an open -mindedness and yeah, be open -minded and willing to learn.

Following this particular feature we’ll be talking to Professor Ivan Brown from De Montfort University actually, South Star People’s University, and I know Ivan’s very keen on the notion that education is for all no matter what your age happens to be. Is that something which you would also endorse? I mean as a PhD student at present it’s a case of people listening to this, whatever decades or stage of life I happen to be in that actually considering the balance of education, entrepreneurship etc. might well be something they could consider?

Absolutely, absolutely. It’s not without its challenges. I don’t see many people around the campus who look like me.

You’re too busy working during your PhDs. No time to socialise and party.

No, no. I think it can be a challenge, but if you’re up for those challenges, then for me it’s been an absolute joy. I mean, it’s times where things don’t go quite as well and the literature review is not as awesome as you thought it would be, you know, and all those sorts of things, but…

At least it’s your literature review. You haven’t actually used ChatGPT to write it for you, so that’s good.

No, no.

I just enjoyed it so much and I jokingly said to my supervisor as he was then that I thought of it as a bit of a pilgrimage you know and he said oh for goodness sake Maureen don’t tell anybody that, but actually the more the further I go along down this road of the PhD the more I see it that way. I’ve learned so much not just about my subject, but about myself and about yeah all sorts of things. I feel very blessed to have this opportunity.

But I do think that using your mind, I’m now in my 70s, using your mind and your brain as you get older is really important. I can’t get a student loan, by the way, because I think if you’re over 60, you can’t get student loans, but I’m lucky that I could afford to do this.

Let’s circle back to Beyond Money. Again, how can people actually find out more about Beyond Money? How does it provide advice, etc.? What’s the kind of raison d ‘etre of the company?

Okay, so we have a website now and that’s .uk. We’re still involved in the piloting phase of an online learning program for business owners. If anybody is interested in taking part in that pilot, they can get in touch with me and we can have a chat about that. But yeah, that’s where we’re at, at the moment.

Now I’m intrigued in terms of your musical choice. We often invite our guests on Business Matters to effectively come up with one, two or whatever number they’d like in terms of musical aspects that relate to them. And you take us back to the James Cameron movie Titanic and the composer James Horner.

Was that because you’re a huge fan of Kate Winslet? Or is it something completely different? Was it that DiCaprio chap?

No, I’m not a huge fan of that film. I mean, I’ve seen it by lots of people. My partner is a music lover and will have music playing. And I just heard it one day and I just stopped and I listened to it. I’m not somebody who listens to music, you know, if I’m working or anything like that, I need silence. But this piece of music I found so, so beautiful. It seemed there was a sort of simplicity about it. And that kind of reflects how I live my life, I think. It was just a joy to listen to and I think it was the simplicity of it, it’s just the piano playing.

Yes I think it’s worth noting that Maureen was specifically explicit when she said not Celine Dion, so no worry about hearts going on or not from this point of view, it will be the piano version of Rosa’s theme by James Horner. Is music something that you find an important part of your life or is it a case of well you can take it or leave it?

I suppose I could take it or leave it. I was an avid Rolling Stones fan in my youth. They’ve just got a new LP out which is on my Christmas list. But I’m not somebody who would go out of my way to listen to music.

But I wouldn’t be able to pass a book without picking it up and looking at it. I’m an avid reader, I suppose.

Just briefly addressing the Rolling Stones there. Rolling Stones as opposed to Beatles, has that always been the way?

Yeah, always. Yeah, yeah. I was smiling because that was the kind of thing when you were at school, are you a Rolling Stones or a Beatles fan? Yeah, Rolling Stones. I mean, Beatles were okay, but yeah, it was the Rolling Stones for me.

Recent generations have that challenge between Blur or Oasis, or indeed Taylor Swift versus Harry Styles. It’s a different league entirely. A different thing entirely. Maureen, it’s been terrific connecting with you. Good stuff today. I feel as though we’ve certainly just scratched the surface in many ways. Your conclusion, have you set a completion date for your PhDs in the next couple of years or so?

It will be in, I suppose, December 2025, I’m thinking it will be that. But I’m just wondering, what am I going to do then? But there we go. Yeah, I think it will be December 2025. I’ve got an idea for next year or so, opportunities that are coming up. So yeah, I think it’ll be a busy couple of years and of course, writing up the thesis.

Absolutely. So we haven’t quite got AI to actually do that as yet. Although I’m sure it might be just around the corner, but that’s another time for another discussion. Maureen, we’ve got two final questions to ask you before we go into this instrumental version of Rosa’s theme. Firstly, have you had a reasonably interesting and hopefully enjoyable time with us on business matters today?

Oh, it’s been great. It’s been great. The table’s turned a little bit because over the last few weeks I’ve been interviewing entrepreneurs, so the table’s turned on me, but yes, it’s been great. Thank you.

And just in terms of that research you may or may not be able to share with us. Were there any entrepreneurs that you particularly warmed to or you thought were fascinating? I mean, again, if you have to hold the names back to protect it and sources, that’s fine, but I was just wondering.

Oh, so many, so many. It truly was a humbling experience listening to people; everyone from a woman who’d had her own experience of domestic abuse and now is involved in a charity producing bags of kit for children if they find themselves having to be in a refuge. There were so many, so many that, you know, a guy I interviewed yesterday talking about how he, as a business owner, he was encouraged to be very competitive, but he has found the greatest business success from working collaboratively with other health service providers. And I’ve learned so much from each of them.

I’m hoping to have the interviews up on the website, because I think they will inspire people when you hear the stories.

Well, I think your own narrative has also proved particularly inspirational, Maureen. So our final question is, can we look forward to connecting with you again? Would you be kind enough to return to either our studios or certainly via Zoom in the not too distant future?

I would love to. I’d love to. So thank you for the invitation and thank you for a great time.