Business Irish

Thursday 17 August 2017

Former Riverdeep boss O'Callaghan builds new empire

Over €40m ploughed into online education firm

Roisin Burke

THERE has hardly been a peep out of Cork education tycoon Barry O'Callaghan since he exited the global publishing empire he built up, but he has been far from idle



A new, and according to O'Callaghan, "highly profitable" education business has been quietly assembled, most recently a venture he has dubbed a new Riverdeep, referring to the €1.5bn company he built.

"Call it Riverdeep 2.0, older and wiser, leaner and better," O'Callaghan told potential customers in a sales pitch video obtained by the Sunday Independent.

"Arguably, I've been running ahead of my time," O'Callaghan reflected modestly, "but now is the right time," he declared, announcing "a very exciting launch into the public school system."

As education goes rapidly digital, O'Callaghan is seeking to capture a chunk of the global education software market, with public private partnerships with departments of education around the world to provide those materials in schools, according to a person with knowledge of the business. "It's a multibillion euro market," we are told.

The new venture "is comprised of a lot of my old Riverdeep team and some of the leadership team from HMH," O'Callaghan said during his sales shtick.

HMH is the education publishing empire he led which sank under billions worth of debt that saw it go through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and restructure, and saw the departure of O'Callaghan last year.

"I've taken the best people I've worked with in HMH and am relaunching a new business," he said.

O'Callaghan said the business is in talks with state education authorities in the US, including Florida counties Miami-Dade and Boward, and Atlanta, Georgia. There has been dialogue with Panama's government and "first steps into the public school system in China also" and with ministries of education across the Middle East in Qatar and the Arab Emirates.

The parent company is EMPGI, which O'Callaghan first set up when he was with HMH in 2008 as an affiliate business, funded with €40m. EMPGI is now owned and controlled by O'Callaghan with other shareholders involved. "We have access to capital and are well capitalised," he said adding that EMPGI has a perpetual royalty-free right to 80 per cent of HMH's content.

EMPGI is already "highly profitable", O'Callaghan said.

Directors include Chariots of Fire producer David Putt-nam and former US education secretary Bill Bennett.

Its RISE subsidiary has 120 global English language centres in China with 40,000 students and operations in Vietnam and India. It is gearing up to enter the market in South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand.

Of HMH, the company which he built up, saw go bust and in which he lost a fortune, he says: "We divorced amicably. But that's the reason why we feel like we've unfinished business, why we have global aspiration.

"It's a business that we led for years at Riverdeep, and we created at HMH a really dynamic company."

Taking a slight swipe at his former employer, O'Callaghan added: "HMH is not a business that aspires to being a digital, 21st century agnostic services business."

Sunday Indo Business

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