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Barry O'Callaghan (born 1969) is a business executive and financier. Currently he is the Chairman and CEO of Rise Global. He formerly led Riverdeep for a decade, later known as EMPG and HMH. He grew the small educational software company into the largest K-12 publishing company in the American education system through a series of acquisitions that were funded by loans. As a result of cuts in school textbook purchases, excessive debt, and the end of the dot-com bubble, the company was taken over by bondholders in 2011. This almost wiped out the interests of shareholders and O'Callaghan's own fortune. After the fallout, he became CEO and partial owner of the international division, EMPGi.

Barry O'Callaghan
Barry O'Callaghan.png
Born1969[1] (age 47 or 48)
Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland[1]
OccupationCEO of Rise Global
Known forFormer CEO of EMPG, formerly known as Riverdeep


Early life and educationEdit

Barry O'Callaghan was born in 1969 in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland.[1][2] His father was a doctor.[2] O'Callaghan was educated at Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit secondary boarding school.[3] He was captain of the school's senior cup rugby team and later he played rugby for Trinity College Dublin, where he studied law in the late 1980s.[3] According to O'Callaghan, after graduating he no longer wanted to pursue a career in law.[3]


Early workEdit

After getting a degree in law,[4] Barry O'Callaghan got a job at investment bank Morgan Stanley, where he "quickly prospered"[3] working in mergers & acquisitions.[1][2] He worked in the London office, then later in the Hong Kong office, before moving to New York City to work at Salomon Smith Barney near the beginning of the dot-com bubble.[3][5] In 1997 O'Callaghan got a senior job the telecommunications and technology division of investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston.[1][2] There he helped internet companies prepare to go public.[6] O'Callaghan quit Credit Suisse First Boston in 1999 to become the Chief Executive Officer of the digital publishing startup, Riverdeep,[3][5] in order to take the company public.[2]

Riverdeep and EMPGEdit


Just as CD-ROMs were gaining popularity, O'Callaghan transitioned Riverdeep away from CDs into offering online subscriptions to educational content.[6] He led the acquisition of a software company called Logal, which sold math curriculum online. More significantly, it had intellectual property for a method of converting CD-ROM applications into online downloads. This acquisition was the beginning of O'Callaghan's efforts to web-enable the company's software.[6] It was followed by a $24 million acquisition of ED-Vantage and an $85 million acquisition of Edmark. Both were IBM subsidiaries that provided digital educational content online and together the acquisitions made IBM a 14 percent shareholder in Riverdeep.[6] As O'Callaghan expanded Riverdeep's network of distribution partners that sold the software to individual schools, IBM became a significant partner in referring business to Riverdeep.[6]

O'Callaghan took Riverdeep through an initial public offering on Nasdaq in 2000, during the height of the dot-com bubble.[3][7] Initially it received a $2 billion valuation[8] after having tripled in share price over a few days of trading. O'Callaghan's seven percent interest in the company became worth $126 million.[2] The company's revenue and profits was steadily improving, but as the tech-bubble waned, the stock price dropped to one-third of its initial share price.[2] The Sunday Business Post said Riverdeep's time as a public company was difficult, in particular due to criticisms from activist investor David Rocker,[9] who accused Riverdeep of shady accounting practices.[10]

In response to Rocker's criticisms[10] and improving financials, but a declining share price as the tech bubble declined,[2] O'Callaghan and others took the company private,[7] through a management buyout[9] in 2003.[10] The buyout was controversial.[9] Investors accused O'Callaghan of opportunistically buying the company at a low share-price and O'Callaghan responded by offering to withdraw his buyout if anyone was willing to pay ten percent more. The buyout brought O'Callaghan's interest in the company to 21 percent.[2] From 2003 to 2004, he "streamlined" the company, negotiated 300 million euro in bonds and worked to expand into international markets, like the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia.[9]

O'Callaghan and company founder Pat McDonagh bought the shares of venture capitalists; then O'Callaghan bought McDonagh's portion in 2006, giving O'Callaghan a 59.4 percent share of the company.[2][11] Ernst & Young "abruptly" left as the company's accounting auditors that year, saying the company made "incorrect representations" about "a material contract," an allegation O'Callaghan denied.[2] O'Callaghan used low-interest loans to fund acquisitions[7] of traditional print publishers. At first he led the acquisition of smaller publishers, before buying Houghton Mifflin and Reed Elsevier's US school business, which were bought for $1.75 billion and $4 billion[3] in 2006 and 2007 respectively.[12] He merged Riverdeep with Houghton Mifflin in 2006 to create the Education Media and Publishing Group (EMPG), before acquiring Harcourt Education in America from Reed Elsevier.[13] O'Callaghan owned about one-third of the company and is estimated to have had 1.5 billion euro in assets after both acquisitions.[14] He was the largest investor in the company.[5] The acquisitions made EMPG the largest educational publisher in the US market,[12][13] but it became laden with debt from loans made to fund the acquisitions.[3]


According to O'Callaghan, the company was doing well until August 2008. That year the great recession caused US states, and California in particular, to cut spending on textbooks from EMPG.[7][12][13] As education budgets were cut, the company was forced to re-negotiate with bondholders.[15] It owed $700 million per year in interest payments for the loan-funded acquisitions.[12] The Houghton Miffin brand also fell out of favor with many in the literary community after discontinuing some of its contracts with writers.[3] O'Callaghan became Chief Executive Officer of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April 2009, after the prior CEO retired.[16]

O'Callaghan refinanced the company in 2009, reducing its debt by $1 billion.[12] He tried to sell the Houghton Mifflin business, but turned down the offers he got as being too low.[3] In 2010, bondholders that Riverdeep was indebted to converted their debts into equity in the company,[17] and took control of the business[12][17] in order to avoid bankruptcy.[13] This almost completely eliminated the interests of shareholders, including O'Callaghan,[13][17] whose shares were used as collateral for most of the loans.[18] He went from being seventh place in the Sunday Times list of richest people, to the 21st.[3] He had $1.2 billion in assets in 2008 and 348 million by the end of 2009,[19] as his 22% stake in the company was almost completely eliminated.[18] O'Callaghan continued to serve as CEO until resigning from that position in 2011 and serving as an advisor for an additional year. During this time, the company was restructured, reducing its debt by another $4 billion.[12][17]

According to The Independent, O'Callaghan became rich by turning a small, high-risk software business into a major corporation, but then lost his fortune investing in old-fashioned print businesses during the downturn.[3] O'Callaghan said the company's financial problems were the result of unpredictable market circumstances for textbook purchases and paying too much for the Houghton Mifflin business.[12] He blamed "bad timing, and, frankly, bad luck."[12] According to The Independent, "he expanded too quickly and took on too much debt just as the credit crisis began."[3] The Irish Times said O'Callaghan responded to the crisis quickly thanks to "deft management" and the "loyalty of his business partners." The Globe said he was a "freewheeling Irishman" that was skating on "thin ice." Business author Paul Carro said O'Callaghan had built "a house of cards" where failure was inevitable.[4]

Recent workEdit

After the EMPG fallout, O'Callaghan continued to serve as chairman for EMPGi, an international division of EMPG focused on Asia.[17][20] According to O'Callaghan, he was brokering deals with US states, Panama, Qatar and the Arab Emirates for digital education products.[20] He also facilitated several acquisitions for EMPGi, particularly in China.[21] In 2013, Rise Global purchased the Chinese business of Houghton Mifflin and O'Callaghan became CEO of Rise Global, which teaches English to people in Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere.[18] He personally owns exclusive rights to some of HMH's educational materials for teaching the English language. Barry sold the Chinese business for 14 times its annual profit. He said it was sold due to Chinese laws restricting foreigners from owning educational assets in China.[18]

Barry also has a controlling interest in Patheos, a spirituality website, Beanstalk Innovation, an online education consultancy in Massachusetts, and the Cliff Hotel Collection in Ireland.[18] He owns the Cliff House hotel and Cliff Townhouse restaurant and guesthouse in Ireland. In 2016 he bought a popular wedding venue, Village at Lyons, for €6 million in 2016.[22][23][24]

Personal lifeEdit

O'Callaghan met his wife, Geraldine McGeough, at Trinity College. They have three daughters and a son.[3][9]


  1. ^ a b c d e Thursday (14 January 2010). "A chief executive at the age of 30". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "A Big Wheeler Dealer". The Independent. 7 July 2007. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Molloy, Thomas (14 January 2010). "Has O'Callaghan got what it takes to top the Terminator?". The Independent. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  4. ^ a b Holmquist, Kate (16 January 2010). "From Riverdeep to a mountain of debt". The Irish Times. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Pfanner, Eric (23 July 2007). "Deals in Textbook Business Make Irishman a Leader in U.S. Publishing". The New York Times. p. C7. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d e Moye, John (5 March 2001). "Pythagoras on the web". Forbes. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d Daly, G.; Kehoe, I. (2013). Citizen Quinn (in Basque). Penguin Books Limited. p. 165. ISBN 978-1-84488-315-8. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  8. ^ Edgecliffe-Johnson, Andrew (16 March 2011). "End of an era after O'Callaghan steps down as chief of HMH". Financial Times.
  9. ^ a b c d e "Ireland Interviewed: Barry O'Callaghan, chief executive of educational publishing company Riverdeep published". Sunday Business Post. 19 December 2004.
  10. ^ a b c "Dealmaker O'Callaghan rides out choppy credit markets". The Independent. 17 February 2016. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  11. ^ McEnaney, Tom (17 February 2016). "O'Callaghan buys out Pat McDonagh's Riverdeep stake". Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hancock, Ciaran (15 January 2010). "'It slightly bemuses me that I'm being positioned as the bad guy'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
  13. ^ a b c d e "EMPG shareholders face wipeout in bondholder deal". The Independent. 14 January 2010. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
  14. ^ "The Rich List Top 100". The Independent. 30 March 2008. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
  15. ^ Lyons, T.; Carey, B. (2011). The FitzPatrick Tapes: The Rise and Fall of One Man, One Bank, and One Country. Penguin Books Limited. p. 371. ISBN 978-0-14-196702-8. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  16. ^ O'Hora, Ailish (7 April 2009). "Barry O'Callaghan, chairman of textbook publisher Education Media and Publishing Group (EMPG), is to take up the position of chief executive at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt". Archived from the original on 8 October 2016.
  17. ^ a b c d e Oliver, Emmet (17 March 2011). "O'Callaghan steps down as chief executive of education publishing firm". The Independent. Retrieved 13 September 2012.
  18. ^ a b c d e Carey, Brian (15 May 2016). "O'Callaghan Puts Faith in First International School for Dublin". Sunday Times.
  19. ^ O'Keeffe, Michelle (27 April 2009). "The Not so Rich List". The Daily Mirror. p. 8.
  20. ^ a b "Former Riverdeep boss O'Callaghan builds new empire". The Independent. 28 October 2012. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  21. ^ "O'Callaghan in rare miss with China deal". Sunday Independent. 1 February 2015. p. 20.
  22. ^ Coyle, Colin (29 May 2016). "O'Callaghan books a 6m table at the Village at Lyons".
  23. ^ Hacock, Ciaran (17 October 2014). "Relishing the sheer challenge of running cliff top hotel". Irish Times. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  24. ^ Oliver, Emmet (15 January 2010). "The founder of EMPG has pumped €3.5m into own hotel". The Independent. Retrieved 29 January 2016.

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