Business: Colm O’Brien

The definition of success? Finding what we value most

Colm O’Brien is known to many in Limerick and the broader business community as the founder of Carambola Kidz, a business success story that came off the back of an almost crippling setback.
Colm worked his way up to become one of the key decision makers within the Bewley’s brand, founding Bewley’s Café Theatre and Bewley’s Hotel at Newlands Cross. He was then given the chance to take on his own Bewley’s franchise in Limerick in 1998, which he bravely took on. The economic turmoil of the following years led to the failure of the business, a daunting debt and the question: what do I do now?
From the success of Carambola Kidz came a book, Feeding Johnny, which tells the story of how he overcame adversity. From that, Colm O’Brien Motivation was born; a programme that aims give people a life to be enjoyed not endured. The central belief is that the potential to live the life you want is limitless. In his intro video on the website Colm lists his multiple roles in life; speaker, husband, business leader, father, all of equal importance. He is also open about the fact his life wasn’t always as good as it is now, that there was a time when he was unhappy, broke, and trapped. Now, in his own words he is living life on his terms, and wants others to get to that stage too. Colm O’Brien Motivation offers support through blog, book, events, online course, and one on one sessions. Over some hot coffee, plus a bowl of soup for flu-afflicted Colm, we talked about what he hopes Colm O’Brien Motivation will do for people looking to find their best life.

How did Colm O’Brien Motivation come to be?

It’s me sharing my experience with others who are on a path for themselves: whether that’s business, career, family, or life in general. Speaking to groups about Carambola led to the book Feeding Johnny, which in turn led to this next step to tell people a little more. I have launched an online 12-week programme, which already has several people signed up. I have an event in Thomond Park coming up, plus a three day business retreat out in Lahinch, which will offer people a real retreat out of the city to blow the cobwebs off! The Feedback from the book blew me away, and I heard some really interesting stories from people I would never have met otherwise. I realised there was something more in it. I also needed to do more for my self – I am in my early fifties, so I’m open to positioning new phase of career beyond Carambola, which is going really well too. I’m not ready to retire, I couldn’t do nothing and my wife would divorce me if was hanging around the house so it’s probably best I keep working!

How do you maintain the balance between running Carambola and Colm O’Brien Motivation?

I wouldn’t be able to balance both without the people of Carambola. The key for me is the team: half of our employees are people who’ve been there from the beginning and have grown with the business, we all understand each other. We’ve developed a great brand based on reliable consistent quality. We have great systems – I’m proud to say we’ve never missed a delivery in our history and never had a food safety issue. But beyond that we have even better people, we’re truly blessed that they bought into the vision. So I’m happy to leave them in charge of their areas. It started as family business of husband and wife. We stepped back as directors four years ago and brought in others, which really strengthened the business, and gives me the freedom to go off and add value, not just to other people but value to put back into Carambola, it gives me more knowledge and gives Carambola more recognition too. I’m good at letting the thing go, it’s been a gradual release, my preferred way of working is allowing people to take charge of a particular area. I’m a good all-rounder but not particularly good at particular task, if I can hand it over to someone who specialises it makes business stronger.

What does creating the life you want actually mean?

Create The Life You Want was a very specific title for the first seminar, as it sums up what I’m trying to get people to achieve. My sense is that all too often people confuse career with life, defining themselves by job title: I am teacher, I am an accountant etc. In fact that’s just how they earn a crust to live life they really want. So often we describe success as ‘bigger better more’. You can never be happy that way – it’s an endless treadmill, no matter how much you have today you always want more and set yourself up for further dissatisfaction. I don’t believe happiness exists there. I’m not in favour of people chasing the almighty dollar, it doesn’t mean we can’t want nice things but it mustn’t take over our view of ourselves and what success really looks like for you.

What should people be looking for in their lives?

It’s important to realise it varies from person to person. Money may be what you want and that’s fine. I hope to get people to stop, or at least pause, and identify what they really value, and give them the tools to help them get there, to create their own version of success. We’re usually measuring against other people, but what does success look like for you only? It’s different for everyone. Fixing a health challenge for example is a success for many people. It’s about realising what you want and feck the begrudgers. There will always be a critic, let them off. Don’t let that critic become the voice in your own head. And these are tools I have used myself, I had no roadmap when café failed, I discovered them as I went and it worked for me, so it might work for others.

How do you get people to realise what success looks like to them?

I start by giving them a point in time in the future and asking them how they would envision their best life then, right down to a particular day. One way we do it is to ask people to imagine their 80th birthday. People at the seminar who shared theirs surprised themselves with the simplicity – it was all about family, who was present, not how much money in the pocket or job title. Another is Sunday morning living – waking up on a Sunday morning, your work done for the week, justifiably feeling good about yourself: where are you, what are you looking at? For example I’d love to be by the sea, I’m not at the moment but that’s part of my game plan. The next step then is to look at the path to that. At the seminar I put up a map of Ireland, route to Letterkenny which would you take? Some people chose the most direct way; others went for the more scenic route. We all need three things to navigate our way: Know where you are now, what the destination is, and how you will get there. My take is not enough people have thought about the route in their lives in enough in detail. It’s quite a powerful exercise to get down to those details; what does the house look like, where is it, who is there etc. We then work on the piece that is taking them away from that destination and help bring them closer to the path to take them there.
Provide a step by step guide on working to that journey, video programme, in own time, up to them to do the homework and follow it, if they do it for 12 weeks they will be closer to where they want to be, the path to get them there.

Do you think we need a culture shift to enable people to life their best life?

In terms of how we define success, yes. But working culture is already shifting. We live in a more flexible world – we just all need to embrace that more. I think people fear that idea, people who have worked one way their whole lives may feel they can’t or don’t want to change that, but we all have the option to retrain and restructure our working lives to get closer to a life we want. It’s important to consider the whole of life, rather than the five/ten year career plan on its own. Set broad stroke goals for life stages, to allow for changing needs, rather than saying ‘I need to be here by the time I am X.’

What do you see as the destination of Colm O’Brien Motivation?

What I’m doing now is exciting and I really, really enjoy it. I’ve no idea where it might lead but right now I will continue with seminars, writing, videos, programme. I’d like to think it will morph into something more – I hope to host other speakers and motivators here in Limerick on regular basis in future.

Article by: Kayleigh Ziolo
Photography by: Tarmo Tulit