Barry Phillips Meets... Mary McKenna MBE

Posted in : Podcasts on 23 March 2018

Mary McKenna MBE co-founded successful Northern Irish e-learning company Learning Pool following a long public sector career and a spell as a Silicon Valley dot-commer. She now invests in early-stage tech startups, is Entrepreneur in Residence at Catalyst in Belfast and she was recently voted into the Maserati Top One hundred entrepreneurs currently disrupting the business world.

Her journey is fascinating. Her weekly work schedule exhausting. Never one to hold back, this interview is a must for anyone wanting advice on how to start a business and make life a success.

Famed for her presence on social media (she tweets an average of 25+ times a day) she explains she was person No.5 in the UK to own a mobile phone whilst working for BT. “It had a battery that took up most of my car boot” she explains. But that was her hooked on mobile communication. “I live my life online” she says “online is the real world”.

And guess what she had to do to get that selfie with Michael Dell? Listen to find out…

Listen to the podcast here:

Transcript

Barry: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Barry Phillips Meets. My name is Barry Phillips and my guest today is Mary McKenna. Mary was born just outside Duncannon, where she was brought up in Doncaster and graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in business economics. She now lives between her two homes in County Tyrone and another in Greencastle, Donegal.

Mary co-founded Northern Irish e-learning company Learning Pool following a long public sector career and a spell as a Silicon Valley dot-commer. She exited from this world in 2014 so that she could return to working with early stage startups and also focus on angel investment. To date, she has invested in six early-stage tech startups with three female founding teams.

She is one of the entrepreneurship experts at the Said Business School, University of Oxford, Entrepreneur in Residence at Catalyst in Belfast, formerly known as the Northern Ireland Science Park and she was recently voted into the Maserati Top 100 Entrepreneurs Currently Disrupting the Business World. Mary was awarded an MBE by Her Majesty the Queen in 2014 for services to digital technology, innovation and learning.

I might start by saying we're recording this today in the Titanic Hotel Belfast right next to the comms office, which I assume is where someone way back over 100 years ago and more first received news that the Titanic was sinking. So, it's a very iconic and special place to be interviewing someone who is a very important part of the world of modern technology.

Mary McKenna, welcome to the podcast.

Mary: Thanks, Barry. It's a delight to be here.

Barry: Mary, I'd like to start by asking you something which I find very curious about your career to date. When I was composing your bio, I noticed that you spent quite a bit of time in the public sector. Then you came out of the public sector and you were immediately entrepreneurial and immediately a very successful entrepreneur. For me, those two things don't really sit together very well. One doesn't normally follow the other. Can you explain how that came about?

Mary: I think there's actually a bridge in between. I moved back to Northern Ireland in the year 2000 and I went to work for one of the spinouts from Queen's University Belfast. It was a semiconductor IP company called Amphion Semiconductor, which was founded by two academics. Brian Keating was the Chairman. I went to work for Brian as the FD. Somewhere along the way, I spent three years there. Somewhere along the way, I moved from being a finance person to being a salesperson, just through happenstance.

I had an opportunity and through necessity joined the negotiating team at Amphion and found that I could sell. So, when I then set my own business up later on. I didn't really go that far from the public sector. Learning Pool was an online learning solution for local authorities was the first market that we sold into. We sold the Learning Pool service to 350 local authorities. We would never had been able to do that if I hadn't had a public sector background and network. So, I suppose I went from working in the public sector to becoming a supplier back to them.

Barry: Okay. But the transition between when you were in the public sector, you were working in finance as an accountant. You've gone from an accountant to a sales marketing role very quickly. That's a big transition. How did that feel?

Mary: I was never a great accountant really, Barry. I was always a bit of a back of an envelope person. For me, everything in life and business is about people and every opportunity is attached to the person. That's the thing that interests me about business. It's the people aspect of it. I was never a person that sat away in a back room with a calculator. I was a finance director that was very much people focused.

Barry: Okay. Do you think perhaps you were always an entrepreneur but you just hadn't discovered it in yourself?

Mary: Kind of. I have another saying that I live my life by, which is that nothing that you ever learn is wasted. So, all the jobs that I did up until the point when I was 43 years old and started my first business, all of that comes in useful. You don't lose anything. I'm sure you're the same, actually.

Barry: When you look back now, do you recognise early signs of entrepreneurship? For example, were you selling sweets in the playground, selling raffle tickets at lunchtime?

Mary: No. I didn't do any of that. My sister and I were brought up in a bit of an Irish diaspora bubble in Yorkshire. We didn't know anybody that had their own business. Our dad worked for somebody else. Everybody that we knew worked for somebody. Everybody that we were at school with, their parents worked for somebody else. There were no entrepreneur role models in our world at all, I don't think.

Barry: Right. Okay. Moving on to Learning Pool, which many people associate you with Learning Pool more than anything else that you've done—can you explain how the Learning Pool opportunity first came about, when you first noticed it? What happened?

Mary: It's kind of a fascinating story, actually, Barry. I'll try and compress it down to a very short story for you. My former business partner and I already had another business. We had a management consultancy business. It was called Agility Consulting. It was a great business. We both lived—my business partner lived in Donegal. I lived in County Tyrone. But we worked four days a week in central government in London—big day rates, great business, full audit book, very nice.

But we talked a lot about how difficult it was to scale that business. You will know this, that management consultancy is virtually impossible to scale. When you do scale, it turns nasty. It's one of those horrible pyramid models where you've got the junior people down at the bottom and whatever. So, we never really found anybody else to bring into the business. So, we couldn't really scale it. We talked a lot about how great it would be to have a scalable business, particularly to have money while you sleep and a repeat revenue model as sort of the Holy Grail. So, we were sort of like working away but kind of looking out for something.

One day, we finished work and we were in a friend's office in South London, just beside Borough Market. We were just [inaudible 00:08:13]. The two boys whose office it was discussed an opportunity that had come to them and it was an opportunity to buy Learning Pool from a government agency. The two of them discussed it and one of them said to the other, "Are you interested?" And he said, "No, I'm not bothered about it." So, the other chap scrunched the piece of paper up and threw it into the waste paper bin.

I had kind of like half been listening to this conversation. I leant across from the desk and I pulled this bit of paper out of the bin and I straightened it out and I scan read it. The thing that jumped out to me was Learning Pool already had 80 local authorities as customers. So, there was an existing bones of a community there. The fact that there were so many things wrong with it was the reason the other two were not interested in it.

But I, because I worked in the government myself, luckily, I saw the opportunity. I knew the chief exec of the agency. I knew the person that headed up Learning Pool and I knew the person that was tasked with selling Learning Pool. So, as part of my own network, I knew those people.

Barry: Okay.

Mary: 30 minutes later, we were sitting in a coffee bar in Farringdon Station chatting to the guy that was proceeding with the sale and who issued the information memorandum. A month later, we'd bought it from them and started training.

Barry: That's an amazing story. You emphasised there that you knew key people. So, that was key to what you had to do. So, already networking was a very important part of your business development.

Mary: I used to just think that I was a party girl, but actually what I was doing was collecting people from a very early age. I think that's one of the things that entrepreneurs do. They collect people.

Barry: Yes. Okay.

Mary: Your network grows and grows. You never know when you need somebody.

Barry: Okay. So, you acquired what was a fledgling project, you [started a 00:10:24] company.

Mary: It was a disaster. It was a money pit.

Barry: Okay.

Mary: A government agency didn't have a clue how to run a technology project. They were burning cash. They had poor relationship with their customers. Everything was wrong with it.

Barry: What did you see that they couldn't? What convinced you that this was the big thing that perhaps you were looking for?

Mary: Well, it was 2006. Learning Pool was one of the very, very early knowledge sharing platforms. You can't forget how quickly technology has moved on in the last ten years. But back then, people were using what was called computer-based training. A lot of it was on DVDs. The internet arrived. All of the planets were lined up in the right way for something like Learning Pool to be a great success. Was that your vision or was it your co-founders or did you both share the vision of where you would go?

Barry: We shared the vision. My co-founder was a lot more technical than I am. I'm very salesy, a salesperson, really. He's more technical.

Mary: Okay. At the time, did you have the funds immediately to put in the company to build it? How did you fund it? We had a bit of money from our consultancy business. We'd been doing that for a couple of years and we had some cash from there. We used that to get the new business going. There was a whole list of rules that went with the sale. We had to take two people from the agency under [TUPE 00:12:04]. We had to have an office in London, which we didn't have at the time.

There were a lot of things that needed to be done in order for us to succeed. We had to work out a lot of arrangements with existing suppliers to Learning Pool. A lot of it was a lot of hassle and a bit expensive. The two people that came across to us were a nightmare. One of them stopped answering the phone to me after three days.

Mary: But we bootstrapped, which is painful, but it's great when you sell.

Barry: When you say you bootstrapped, what did you do? You went anywhere and everywhere to get some money to fund it?

Mary: It wasn't really like a startup. In some ways, it was better than a startup because we had customers. In other ways, it was worse than a startup because we had angry customers that weren't happy with what they'd been receiving. But we did have a product that we could sell. So, we focused on getting to revenue very, very quickly and then revenue generated cash flows to do the other things that we did.

Barry: Okay. But initially, was it a bank loan that started the whole thing off? Were there any equity angel investors involved at the early stages?

Mary: No, we bootstrapped. We didn't ever take on any investment at all. We had a bank loan in the early days, which was a great godsend, but took a long time to get. We got rejected by many, many banks. A lot of the banks in Northern Ireland couldn't get their heads around what we were doing. They were far more familiar with construction projects or something that was a tangible product. They couldn't understand why anybody would pay money for an online subscription to something that you got off the internet.

Barry: Okay. Your business plan was probably a good one, but it was just landing in front of the wrong bankers, the wrong people.

Mary: Yeah. So, eventually somebody in what's now the Danske Bank took a flyer on us and he decided that he would lend us some money, thank goodness. We had to put up our houses as personal guarantees, but that's what we did.

Barry: And when you did that and put that sort of security into the business, how did that make you feel as an entrepreneur building this business? Did it put extra pressure on you to think, "I've got to get this right?"

Mary: For a couple of seconds, yeah. I thought about it. Then I put that fear away into that little box in my head, turned the key, threw the key away, never thought about it again.

Barry: Have you always been able to do that? Are you like that by nature? Are you just not worrier? You just do something, no point in worrying?

Mary: Yeah, I think.

Barry: Can you always be that clinical?

Mary: Yeah. Once, my husband I bought a house and the mortgage fell through at the very last minute, literally the day before. We had already exchanged contracts and the mortgage fell through the day that we were due to move. I went into another bank and managed to convince somebody to give us a mortgage. It was all solved by midday. I think if you take a pragmatic approach to life, most things can be figured out.

Barry: I think I read somewhere that when you were initially bootstrapping the company, you had to take out various arrangements. You hadn't told your husband, putting fully in the picture what was going?

Mary: I hadn't told my husband about the bank loan. That would have tortured him.

Barry: Okay. Does he know now? Has he found out?

Mary: He does. He saw me talking about it on an online video. That was quite a bad day, yes.

Barry: So, a bit of explaining to do after he finished.

Mary: He's got over it.

Barry: You mentioned earlier, Mary, about the two employees you had to take and one of them started litigation and so on. What have you learned from the Learning Pool experience? What are your big lessons from it?

Mary: Honestly, I would never take people into TUPE again from anything. That's one of the rules that I did. That would be a red line for me now if ever I bought another business. I wouldn't take the people under TUPE. One of the great pleasures in building Learning Pool was recruiting and growing the team. It was a great pleasure. These days, every year Learning Pool is on the Sunday Times list of best small companies to work for. I'm not claiming that that's anything to do with me. But I do think that the founder sets the culture and grows the way you grow the business from that very first day onwards is what will happen further down the line.

Barry: You must look at it and think, "But for me and my cofounder, that place wouldn't exist and all those jobs wouldn't be there." So, you're a very important part of its history.

Mary: Yeah. When the company was about five years old, we had an approach from a very large global e-learning company, a US company that wanted to buy Learning Pool, but it was very clear that they would have just closed that office in Derry down and the 60 people or whatever that worked for us would have been without a job.

That is one day that I did go home and have a sleepless night, actually. I worried that my business partner may wish to take the offer. I didn't want to take the offer because I couldn't bear the thought of all those people being out of the job. The next day, when I saw him, he said to me straightaway, "I don't want to take that offer." It was a great relief.

Barry: Did he realise that you'd be in exactly the same opinion? Was he surprised when he said, "That's exactly how I'm feeling?"

Mary: I think it's a very interesting relationship that people have with their business partners because it's somebody that isn't a friend, isn't a spouse, but it is somebody that you spend an awful lot of your waking hours with. Fortunately, we used to agree on an awful lot of things. I think we were both of the same mind.

Barry: Mary, when you started Learning Pool, what sort of hours were you working in the week?

Mary: I used to take Christmas day off. But I would say the first years in a startup are full-on, in a startup where your payroll is never the same two months in a row because you've got new people starting every month. I don't know how people do it on their own. Even with a business partner, there's far too much for everybody to do. You do get to a stage where you actually think—I can remember thinking to myself one day, "Is there any way that I can get up an hour earlier in the morning just so that I can get more done?"

Barry: So, how many hours a day on average do you think worked? What time were you getting up?

Mary: I don't know. There was a lot of travelling involved. Our office was in Derry. I live in Duncannon. So, I used to get up every morning at half-past 5:00. I would either turn right to go to Derry or I would turn left to go to the airport because all of our customers were in GB. That takes its toll, two trips a week to England, Wales or Scotland or on a bad week, maybe three. You're out of the house at half-past 3:00 in the morning. You maybe get home at midnight. You don't remember driving back from the airport because you're so tired. That's hard to function.

Barry: This leads me to this question. I know you're heavily involved in startups, particularly tech startups and particularly for women. If there was this notion out there that to start a business and get it going successfully, you have to throw everything you have at it and you have to sacrifice your social life, your private life, your family life, you're never going to get an awful lot of females into that space because it's just not attractive.

Indeed, a lot of males too would think, "If that is a sacrifice that I have to make, it's too much." Do you think it's possible? Have you seen startups become successful headed by CEOs who work what you might call normal hours, 9:00 to 5:00? Is that possible?

Mary: I don't think it's possible. I also don't think people realise what the commitments are going to be like. Eighty percent startups are gone by the end of year one. I think that there's a certain—you've kind of rolled the dice. If you're six months in, it's very difficult to turn back. I think you don't really realise how all-consuming it's going to be until you're in a position where it's going to turn back.

Barry: Okay.

Mary: I've invested in a business in Derry that has two female founders, Jennifer and Leeann, Elemental Software. They both have two children. They work incredibly hard. They do a lot of travelling, but they still manage to work around their home lives, but it means being back online and doing more work after the kids have gone to bed at night. I don't think you can do it without a very supportive partner.

A lot of what I've achieved I wouldn't have been able to do if my husband didn't do an awful lot of things for me and indeed my sister. My sister did a lot of heavy lifting for me in the early days of Learning Pool, things like organising getting my house cleaned and doing my dry cleaning and things like that. If she hadn't done those things for me, I wouldn't have been able to. I just didn't have enough hours in the week. So, it is a consideration.

Barry: But also deterrents from certain people coming into that space and giving it a go if they realise or they think it's total commitment and you have to throw everything that you have at it?

Mary: Yeah. A lot of people have lifestyle businesses. They're never going to scale into anything, but it keeps them going and it's enough. That's a completely different thing.

Barry: I read quite a few autobiographies of businessmen and I've heard quite a few businessmen at big conferences and they always start with the story that, "My business started in a garage with one chair and a desk," and so on and so forth. They finish by saying, "I've now sold it and I have financial independence and I have a yacht somewhere and so on and so forth." It makes for a wonderful story, but it would be nice to challenge the notion that to be a successful businessperson you have to sacrifice everything else. I'm just curious whether that's right.

Mary: I think you do have to sacrifice. My mom used to say to me that she saw less of me when I was starting Learning Pool and she lived 20 miles down the road than she did when I lived in London.

Barry: Okay. Mary, I just want to take you on to your work that you do investing in startup companies. How important is it for you to like the person that's running the business that you want to invest in? If you came across somebody with a really good business but you didn't really connect with that person, would you still risk some cash?

Mary: No, because for me, I don't invest in businesses to make money. I invest in early stage businesses as a way of helping some other entrepreneurs get started. So, it's part of that givers game thing. It's part of paying back. Brian Caulfield, who's a very, very successful VC in Dublin, calls what I do charity. So, I've invested in six early stage businesses. Three of them are not really going anywhere, but the other three are doing really well. So, that's not a bad hit rate, I think. I wouldn't invest if I didn't like the person, definitely not. You spend a lot of time with them and it's a long-term relationship.

Barry: In terms of your investment strategy, I know you just said there that you're not really in it for the money. Do you have a certain amount that you think, "I'm not going to risk above this amount?" Do you think, "I'll only invest what I can afford to lose?"

Mary: Yes. The government makes it attractive. If you invest through one of the tax incentive schemes, you get half of your money back, effectively. So, I wouldn't ever expect to make any money from any of my startup investments. It would be nice if I do. I think Elemental Software is going to be bigger than Learning Pool, actually.

Barry: Really?

Mary: I think it's a great business.

Barry: Have you ever been seduced by a great business idea, put a load of money down, and later thought, "This is more than I can afford to invest or is sensible?"

Mary: I am an accountant at heart. So, I always look at the numbers. I look as if I'm not really paying attention, but I actually am. I can read a balance sheet. I know what I'm doing.

Barry: Okay. Typically, what sort of money are we talking about, a few hundred, a few thousand, tens of thousands?

Mary: I've never invested more than £100,000 in a startup business. So, it's less than that.

Barry: Okay. Still a lot of money for a lot of people.

Mary: Yeah.

Barry: Startups in Northern Ireland—you've lived both in Northern Ireland and other countries as well. You've seen Northern Ireland from the inside and from the outside as well. How does the world of startups here look to you? Are you excited in terms of what you see going on? Are you fairly despondent about it, somewhere in the middle? What's your feeling when you see what's going on here?

Mary: Do you know that Belfast is number 50 on the list of 50 cities in terms of numbers of startups created?

Barry: I didn't know that. No.

Mary: Bottom of the list. I think that despite all the effort that is made by Invest Northern Ireland to try and generate startups, we are quite a long way behind other places. Having said that, there are some great startup businesses and some great entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland. I get frustrated with the way that early stage funding works from the government agency. I do think it sometimes means that people that shouldn't be starting businesses do because there's a grant or they can get some early stage investment, very soft money easily. I think that leads to a culture of creating lame ducks maybe sometimes.

Barry: Okay.

Mary: I'd rather they invested in fewer startups, but put more money in but actually qualified out a lot of the people they do invest in.

Barry: Mary, I said to you at the beginning, just before we went to start recording here there would be no trick questions. That's true, there are no trick questions, but there is one that I have for you which is a bit different. I have a few numbers which I know as an accountant you'll be able to handle. One is 4,220. The next is 9,410. The third one is 93,200. I'd just like to ask you do these numbers mean anything to you?

Mary: No.

Barry: They don't. Well, these are the numbers from your Twitter account.

Mary: Oh, my good lord.

Barry: 4,220 is the number of people that you are following. There's an incredible 9,410 that are following you.

Mary: Getting to the magic 10,000.

Barry: You are. That's a huge following. But what interested me most of all was since you started your account, 2009, you have tweeted or retweeted 93,200 times.

Mary: That's an awful lot.

Barry: I banged this out on a calculator and I worked out that that is 199 tweets a week or 28 tweets a day or retweets. I thought that has to be right. I checked your Twitter profile yesterday. By 5:00, I counted 15 tweets.

Mary: Yesterday.

Barry: Yes.

Mary: Yesterday was a quiet day.

Barry: It must have been. You must have had an off day. My question to you in this area is how would you describe your life online? Would you say this is a passion of yours or call it something closer to an addiction?

Mary: No. I was without my phone. One of my early jobs was—this is a nice little story, actually. I was person number five in an operation that was called British Telecom Mobile Communications. It became Cellnet. I was the number five person in there. I used to have a mobile phone that the battery filled the entire boot of my Mini and I was able to make calls and say to people, "You won't believe where I'm ringing you from. I'm on the ferry," or whatever. I had one of the first mobile phones that was gigantic. So, since that day, I have never been further than two feet away from my phone. That is 30 years.

So, people of my age never really consider themselves to be—they talk about not being digital natives. I have never thought that. I've always been digital native. I live my life online. It generates a whole pile of other things.

Barry: Does it also generate separation issues? Do you sometimes have problems separating what's going on online for you and what's going on in the real world?

Mary: Online is the real world.

Barry: Do you ever have things like, dare I mention it to you, a screen-free Friday or do you ever go off grid?

Mary: No. Definitely not. No, I'd hate that. I love being online. I love living my life online. My Twitter account, it's a bit of a stream of consciousness thing. But it brings me so much back in terms of people and opportunities and networking and everything. It's so worth it.

Barry: Okay. That was going to be my next question. Is there anything that you can point to and say this is a major example of why Twitter has worked for me? Has it brought you a really good contact that otherwise you wouldn't have found on Twitter, a really good speaking event?

Mary: So many things that I couldn't even list them, Barry. It's so many things. I've recruited people that I've known on Twitter. I got invited to go to Dell World in 2015 in Austin, Texas. I got to go meet Michael Dell. That came out of my Twitter account.

Barry: Okay.

Mary: He is the man that started his business in his garage and he turned 50 last year and he's still there.

Barry: Wow.

Mary: So, Michael Dell, he doesn't do selfies. So, if you've been anywhere near my Twitter account, you'll know there's a big selfie thing that happens in that people I meet, we do a selfie and it goes online. I wanted to have—I said to Michael Dell's team, "I need to get a selfie with Michael." They said, "You have no chance." So, I asked him what he needed in order for me to get a selfie with him and he said to me, "I want you to tell me a story and if I like it enough, we'll have a selfie." So, that's what I did.

Barry: It must have a good story.

Mary: It was a good story. Do you want me to tell you?

Barry: Go on. Why not?

Mary: Learning Pool's first office wasn't actually an office. It was an apartment block behind the Guardian building in Farringdon. The front door was shared with everybody else that had an apartment and we were prohibited from running a business in the apartment block. That was the terms of the lease. We had a very nosy neighbour. Every day she used to say to me, "You're running a business out of that flat." And every day, I used to say to her, "No, we've just got a lot of friends. A lot of people come by," and whatever.

One day, the doorbell rang. We'd been in the flat for about three months at this stage. She got to the front door before we did. Standing at the door was a man with one of those trolleys and on the trolley was six Dell boxes. It was six computer servers that were being delivered. She looked at me and said, "You're running a business out of that office." And we got evicted that day. Michael Dell put his head back and he laughed and laughed and I got my selfie.

Barry: Brilliant. Great story. You certainly earned that. Just one more question on social media because I guess I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to social media. I used to do it a lot. I'm beginning to lose my interest in it. I'd just like to ask this question to you, Mary. I'm wondering now whether we're getting enough value from social media. I understood it in the early days because you could reach out to people who ordinarily would be in your networking circle. So, that excited me a lot about it.

There's times, for example, last year, I went to a few seminars and they were just awful, terrible speakers, terrible programme, badly organised. Halfway through, I'd be just messing on social just for something to do. Then all these people would be tweeting who were also there saying what a fabulous event it was.

Mary: I think there is a bit of that that goes on, actually.

Barry: There's quite a bit of besting as well on social media. You've probably heard the thing they say about Facebook. I wish I was as happy in life as I appear to be on Facebook.

Mary: There's a bit of it going on on LinkedIn as well.

Barry: There's quite a lot of content that is misleading or downright poor. Do you still get enough value from it compared with the amount of time you contribute and amount of effort you put into it?

Mary: I would say on my social media channels, I do curate them carefully. I weed out bots and I weed out people that I don't really get value from. I do curate the channels. On LinkedIn, I'm very careful about who I connect with. Certainly, people constantly post things of that nature. I would unlink from them. You haven't got time to read all that stuff.

Barry: Do you get trolled much?

Mary: No, hardly at all, sometimes.

Barry: Mary, we've reached this part of the podcast in which I've just got a few quick fire questions for you, okay? The first one is this. Is there any book, podcast, DVD or resource that you felt so passionately about that you've actually given it to others, if so, what?

Mary: Yes. We used to give all new starts at Learning Pool Jim Collins' "Good to Great." It's a brilliant business book. I love it.

Barry: All right. Next question—if you could hang a banner with huge letters on it from the Harland & Wolff cranes, which we can actually see through the window at the moment, for a whole year, what would it say on the banner?

Mary: I can't think of a great slogan, Barry, but it would be about being together, strong together. Northern Ireland would be stronger if we were all on the same side and did things together. I am heartily sick of Brexit. Sick of it.

Barry: What sickens you most about Brexit?

Mary: I'm a border-dweller. I will fully move to the Republic of Ireland if Britain does leave Europe.

Barry: Is that right?

Mary: Yeah.

Barry: I know you haven't heard Tina Mackenzie's podcast yet. That's being recorded and will be published on Monday. When I asked her that same question, she said, "Stronger together."

Mary: Wow.

Barry: Isn't that amazing? Next question—there are many pieces of business advice out there, sayings, etc. that are more clever than true. Is there any one particularly that comes to your mind? Is there any one that really irritates you and you think [gracious 00:39:47] what a load of rubbish that is?

Mary: A lot of them are rubbish, aren't they?

Barry: They are.

Mary: My favourite one is leap and a net will form. I love that. I love that idea. The talk that I'm giving this afternoon at the Women in Business Northern Ireland conference, I have a photograph in my slide deck of a man just jumping into the void.

Barry: Okay. That's what you'd say to that, leap and a net will form. Final question in this area is, is there anything that you've purchased in the last 12 months for, say, £50 to £100 that has really improved your life or been of huge value to you and if so, what?

Mary: I was thinking about this on the plane this morning, Barry, and you know what? I never buy anything. I can't think of a single thing. The only thing I can think of that I find really useful is the easyJet app. It's brilliant.

Barry: Okay. All right.

Mary: And it's free.

Barry: I had a feeling it would be something to do with the internet. Okay. Mary, if you could change one thing about Northern Ireland to improve things significantly here, what would it be?

Mary: I would make every school an integrated school.

Barry: Okay. Why do you say that with such conviction? Why do you feel that so strongly?

Mary: I think it's back to that stronger together idea. I think our children are the future. If we bring them up in a way that they're not so affected by things that have happened in the past in Northern Ireland, I think that would be a good thing.

Barry: We could talk for a long, long time, but I know you've got a keynote speech to prepare for and so on. I need to bring this into a close. But I just want to finish by asking you—you're still as busy as ever. When I look at what you've been doing on Twitter and different places, it's just amazing what you do. What's left? What's next to go after for you? What's on your agenda for the next year or two?

Mary: I've joined my local school in Derry, Saint Mary's College, as Entrepreneur in Residence. I offered that to Mary Lindsay, who's the principal teacher there, Head Teacher after being at the school during Global Entrepreneurship Week because I actually went home that night and I thought about I did work with University of Oxford with their executive MBAs, people that probably don't really need an entrepreneur in residence. This school probably does.

It isn't something that is widely—we can't find any other schools that have got an entrepreneur in residence. We could only find one and that was in London. I think that the way that the future of work is moving could disproportionately affect women. I think that if more women don't get a grip on their careers, particularly with future STEM subjects, they will find themselves languishing down at the bottom of the work pyramid because all of those middle jobs are the ones that will be gone by artificial intelligence and machine learning, it will remove those jobs, many of which I think are currently posts that are filled by women.

Barry: What do you think needs to be done in schools in relation to entrepreneurship that is not being done at the moment?

Mary: Well, what I'm hoping to do at the school is a combination of entrepreneurship but also careers advice. Teachers are not really the best people to advise young people on the jobs that will be available. If you're 14, seven years' time you'll be coming out of university. What on earth should you be doing now to mean you're going to get a great job and have a great career later on? Teachers are maybe not the best people to try and help you with that.

Barry: Okay, Mary. It's been fantastic speaking to you. Thank you so much for your time. I know how busy you are. Thank you very much for agreeing to do this podcast. I would like a selfie with you now afterwards. Do I have to tell you a story first?

Mary: Please do, Barry. Some of your stories are pretty good ones.

Barry: Thanks. I'll do it off-record. Mary, thanks again.

Mary: Thank you.

 

This article is correct at 23/03/2018
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