Pendulum swings back for Sheahan and his zany business summit

Caveat: Former rugby player embodies spirit of evangelical celebration of business values


When presenter Síle Seoige introduced Ultimo bra entrepreneur Michelle Mone onstage at the Pendulum Summit on Wednesday, the Scottish businesswoman didn’t immediately appear from behind the curtain, as the other speakers before had done.

After about 30 seconds – an age when you’re clapping somebody you can’t see – Mone crept gingerly up on to the stage. Her first words to the 3,000-strong crowd in Convention Centre Dublin indicated that this would be no ordinary business speech.

“Oh my God, oh my God! I think I just splattered that guy’s shoes,” she said.

Mone explained to her bewildered audience that, despite jet-setting around the globe for the last decade getting paid to tell her lingerie rags-to-riches story at business conferences, she still gets incredibly nervous whenever she speaks in public. The tension, she claimed, had made her vomit backstage just a minute earlier.

In an instant, she projected her vulnerability to what was soon to become an adoring crowd. The apparent revelation also buttressed Mone’s carefully-honed image as the brassy east end Glaswegian girl who conquered the elite business world with her wit and glamour, in the face of criticism from pinstriped men who said she couldn’t do it.

Did Mone really puke behind the curtains before walking onstage? Who knows. If she did, she managed to get her hair and make-up back in perfect order in the few seconds before she walked out to the crowd. And if she did splatter some guy’s shoes, thankfully she avoided splattering her ice-white, flowing top.

But, frankly, who cares? Her speech was a riot, including the story about approaching her idol, Bill Clinton, at a dinner in Russia to joke with him that she’d love to be Hillary for a night. Except she didn’t say Hillary. Accidentally, she said Monica.

Mone is a marketing and publicity genius who built a multimillion-pound lingerie brand on the back of the disputed story that an Ultimo push-up bra was used to amplify Julia Roberts’s infamous assets in the film Erin Brockovich. (Mone regaled this tale to the Dublin crowd, even though the film was shot months before Ultimo was launched and the costume designer has since said he made Roberts’s bra himself.)

Mone was the perfect mid-afternoon act for this business motivational conference. So is the Pendulum Summit, which is staged annually by former rugby star Frankie Sheahan and his wife Norma Murphy, all about business? Or is this show business?

Brash celebration

Whatever way you choose to view it, there is nothing quite like this two-day conference in the Dublin business calendar. Pendulum is a melange; a brash, evangelical but unruly celebration of commercialism and entertainment.

If you took it too seriously, you might find the sight of 3,000 people – each paying up to €1,095 for two days of US-style business motivation speeches – to be a weirdly dystopian image. The masses, huddled together under the roof of a commercial cathedral, hoping to buy enlightenment from gurus who collect hefty speaking fees.

Or you could see it for what it probably is: a business-themed event braced with a welcome dose of fun, which is more about living in the moment than changing lives.

This year’s Pendulum Summit was themed Breakthrough to Brilliance. The morning session on Wednesday was straightforward enough: Jack Daly, a “hyper sales” coach; Bob Rotella, a celebrity psychologist from the US who promotes positive thinking; and Marty Newman, an Australian who teaches “emotional capitalism”. Keith Barry, the magician and “mind hacker”, brought some motivational pizzazz. Each act was bookended by dancers and drummers.

Wandering around at lunchtime, the crowd seemed to be a mix of young executives and giddy middle managers on the hop from work for the day, and celebrity business figures, such as Bill Cullen’s partner, Jackie Lavin, and former presidential candidate Seán Gallagher. A live guitarist soothed the lunchroom with an eclectic indie mix. His version of the Verve song, The Drugs Don’t Work, seemed oddly appropriate.

The afternoon brought US “happiness expert” Marci Shimoff and then Mone, who was followed by Brad Sugars, an obnoxious sales “expert” who spent 45 minutes aggressively bellowing his advice to the crowd. He was way too pumped up for an Irish crowd, and sucked the joy out of the room.

The main event was Virgin tycoon Richard Branson, who gave a tame interview that was rescued by an onstage cameo from Conor McGregor, who mock-squared up to Branson, who promptly stripped to his waist.

The second day’s line-up included media executive Randi Zuckerberg (sister of Mark of Facebook fame); perfumer Jo Malone; Sheahan’s former rugby teammate Paul O’Connell, and a reappearance of a smattering of Wednesday’s gurus, unfortunately including the sour-mouth Sugars.

Yet, how often is the second day of a business conference opened with an 8.45am performance from Aslan? They really are the hardest-working band in Ireland.

Pendulum should make a nice pile of money for its promoters, and some pleasant memories for the attendees. You never know, some of them might even learn something from all that jazzy motivational talk.

Sheahan has faced his own financial demons – he was declared bankrupt earlier this year due to legacy property debts – but he has lived to tell the tale. To be there on the day, shaking hands with and facing the future, is a motivational tale with as much substance as any of the speakers who took to the stage.


The Restaurants Association of Ireland this week called for eateries across the country to introduce non-refundable deposits for tables of four or more, to combat the problem of “no-shows” who leave establishments with unsold tables on what otherwise would be packed out nights. The trade body says no-shows were a scourge for its members across the busy Christmas period.

It is possible to sympathise with restaurant owners who find themselves with unsold tables through no fault of their own, while still being queasy about an industry-wide push to take credit-card numbers to cover deposits at the point of booking.

Would those credit-card numbers be stored securely? Would they be properly disposed of after the table shows up? Does making a reservation at a restaurant (which has no idea how much you are going to spend) really constitute a legal contract to purchase? My old DIT hospitality law lecturer (now retired, and a budding novelist), Marc McDonald, tells me it is debatable whether a restaurant booking really is contractually binding on either side, but taking deposits would be a game-changer.

Bookings should be morally binding, however. It is simply rude to not to show up without cancelling, although an element of wasted capacity is perhaps the price for the restaurant industry of dealing with the general public in a boom period.

Here’s an idea: why don’t city restaurants, in particular, simply hold back a much larger portion of their tables for walk-ins on busy nights? There are always hungry hordes walking the streets on a Friday night, looking to get in somewhere, but stymied by their lack of a reservation. If bookings are the problem, take fewer of them.

Branson goes greenwash

Prior to his appearance at Pendulum, Richard Branson showed up at Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry to open a climate-change visitor centre. He arrived up at Powerscourt House in a Tesla car.

What many of those assembled did not see, however, was that he was actually transported to the estate by helicopter – all the way from Dublin, less than 15 miles away. Is a helicopter really a sustainable mode of transport for such a short hop?

Climate change, how are ya. . .

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