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Podcasts- Project Good Boss

EP4: Oscar McMahon on Authentic Leadership

 

Oscar McMahon is one of the founder’s of Sydney craft brewery, Young Henrys Brewing. More than just brewing awesome beers, Oscar is a huge champion of business karma, kind workplaces and authentic leadership. Very much his own man with a lot of wisdom bubbling away, I’m feeling very proud (and a little bit cool) to have Oscar on the podcast today!

TRANSCRIPT

Intro : 

You’re listening to Project Good Boss, the podcast, with your host Anna Sheppard.

Anna Sheppard : 

Project Good Boss is a podcast dedicated to understanding the business benefits of kindness in leadership. We cover topics including and not limited to: leadership, equality, psychology, social impact, decent work and economic growth, all delivered with a little splash of good vibes. Welcome to this episode of Project Good Boss. I am very lucky today to have one of our members, one of our partners, one of our sponsors, the lovely Oscar McMahon. He is one of the founders of the amazing Young Henrys Brewing, over in Sydney, Newtown. And it was founded in April 2012. Now he had a misspent youth out there and he was a skateboarder, he was in a band. And now he brews some awesome beers. Now, he believes in the concept of business karma and the strength and values within a business. Now more than ever a kind workplace culture has actually proven to be a financial value. And he’s going to share some of the tips and advice around that. And also, you know, what it takes to be a truly authentic leader. Oscar is very much his own man, he’s very, very dedicated to authentic leadership and just showing up and being the best version of yourself. So really, really proud to have Oscar on the show today. Welcome to Project Good Boss, Oscar.

Oscar McMahon : 

Thank you very much, Anna. It’s really nice to be here with you.

Anna Sheppard : 

Well, we’ve been in partnership for a little while now. And we’ve been gradually getting to know each other and I think the time came when when we’re looking at who do we want on Project Good Boss, who’s going to be kicking the show off. And I think you’re one of the first people that popped into my mind. Just because number one, you’re a bit of an awesome dude and I feel quite privileged to be hanging out with you. Number two, you’re probably one of the most authentic leaders I’ve met in a long time. And I feel like you might have a few little gold nuggets that you might want to share and people would be more than happy to tune in and listen to them, I think. So we’ll try and kick off with a little bit of fun and games. But listen, tell us a little bit about you, Oscar. What what is your favourite Sunday? What would your favourite Sunday look like if you could pick the perfect day?

Oscar McMahon : 

Perfect Sunday, I think would be getting up early and going for a ride on my motorcycle with a couple of friends and getting back home, mid morning. Spending the morning and lunchtime with my wife and daughter. My daughter is two years old, which is a fun and challenging age. And then after she has a bit of a sleep, catching up with some friends. You know, it’s drinks, the beach, the park, maybe going to one of our friends bars or restaurants for some, you know, nibbles and a martini in the afternoon.

Anna Sheppard : 

Nice.

Oscar McMahon : 

That would sort me out.

Anna Sheppard : 

Yeah. Lovely. Well, next time you have been one of those Sundays, you know where I am. So let’s talk about you. Because, you know, you’ve done some interesting things over the years and you really have stood up for a few social causes, which we’re going to dig into a little bit later. But I just want to unpack in the first instant, what it is that drives you, has motivated you to run a business that does support social issues. I mean, obviously, you’re an alcohol brand. And some people you know, would find that challenging with regards to those that don’t drink. But tell me a bit about your career story and at what moment it kind of led you to decide to create a business and start focusing on those social issues.

Oscar McMahon : 

Look, the funny thing is that my backstory, none of it actually relates neatly towards opening a brewery. Playing in a rock and roll band. And working behind some bars. Actually, I guess when you unpack it a little bit, you know, Young Henrys is a brand that supports many live bands and musicians, but also many live music venues. So I guess that my love of live music. There was a time there was a time when I was playing in a band for for a while, for about 14 years, which is, you know, basically gold watch territory for an independent rock and roll band. And at this time, we recorded a couple of records and they got released nationally and throughout Europe. In the UK, we did an American tour and a few different things. And I remember coming back from this tour in America, and having this awful realisation that music wasn’t going to be my thing. Realising that, wow, that was our opportunity. And you know what I think is while it was fun. It was incredible experience. Music isn’t going to be my vocation. And leading up to that point, I guess. The folly of youth, I sort of had this weird feeling that because I’m trying music, often, music owed me a living. And as soon as I had this realisation that it wasn’t going to happen, I started enjoying playing music again. Because music is its own reward. You play music because you love it. You don’t write a song because you’re trying to write something that’s going to go on radio, you’re writing it because you want to be creative, because you’re feeling inspiration. It’s catharsis, you know, and so this, this feeling of, well, okay, so I’m not a musician, but I still love music and I still play music. You know, I’m not a professional musician. And this wonderful realisation which gave me back the enjoyment of music. And I was working in bars, because working in bars was a very good social, you know, job that you could do in around the touring schedule. That was absolutely like really, honestly, that was wild working in a bar. And through that I fell in love with hospitality. And I fell in love with alcohol, as in the alcohol industry, and I fell in love with beer. And there are parallels between being in a band and being behind a bar. You have the focus of the room. You don’t pay for your drinks all evening. You know, being in a band and being in a bar crew, is sort of like being on pirate ship, in many ways. I guess Young Henrys is an extension of that, you know.

Anna Sheppard : 

And I think I’ve always found like, because I used to, I used to work at Hard Rock Cafe to head up sales of marketing. And, you know, music has always been an important part of my life and starting off, you know, in the music space myself, it was actually the connection that I was into, it was the connection that was authentically built, when everyone who might have been on a different page at the start of that song ends up on the same page by the end of it. And I think the power of music and, you know, one of the things that aligned us to you so nicely was, you have Jenny used to being our team and I was saying, Jenny, we’re trying to, you know, engage all these leaders, but we don’t want it to be this crusty agenda. We want people to authentically connect and we need music and we need bands and you know, we need good vibes and so she’s like, “Ah, you need to speak to these guys because this is exactly what they’re trying to achieve”. That building of cultural and community through those experiencesl. And I think it’s beautiful that you, you know, you’ve managed to make that transition. You’re still doing the same thing really which is connecting people. I definitely see that in yourself and the issues that your support are all around that nobody’s being left behind. And you know, you look about the Newtown neighbourhood centre, and how you support people in that sense, do good making sure that people over certain ages are not left behind as well. And I think that that’s been a beautiful thing, but you’re a pretty authentic guy. And do you think that helps you when it comes to lead in a business? What does Authentic Leadership look like to you?

Oscar McMahon : 

Authentic Leadership means – it’s a double edged sword. Authentic leadership means that if me and my business partner, Dan, if we believe in something and we say to people in our team, we believe in this, we think this is the right thing. That belief. If we have a belief in something, our team will believe it, and we’ll back it. So that’s the positive side of that. Because we listen to our team, we actually, you know, ask for their opinions and we get their vibe so that they they will know that we’ve listened to them, we understand their point of view. And if we really believe that something is the right way, every single person at Young Henrys will say, “Yeah, okay, we’re gonna back that”.

Anna Sheppard : 

Yeah. Nice.

Oscar McMahon : 

So, that is beautiful.

Anna Sheppard : 

And I think there’s a certain amount of trust that comes with that isn’t there? So if you’re saying to your team, like we believe in this, this is real for us. If an organisation is saying we believe in this, but then they’re operating in a completely different way, it’s so difficult for people to come on that journey because it’s the opposite to authentic, isn’t it? And, and it’s beautiful to see that the culture you’ve created as a result of really sticking to those values, those founding values, the authentic messages that you putting across and then, you know, like we said, your industry just go hand in hand with the music culture. But do you believe that these foundations that you’ve got have created a good platform for social advocacy to a point? Do you think that you’re able to galvanise people’s interest in specific topics? Because I know you’ve done some interesting things. I loved the advert you did with the lady beer. You know, it was a really, really nice take on, the patronising approaches to marketing. Do you think that you have got a good enough platform to be able to get people to get gauging social activism? And that with music and alcohol brands isn’t a new thing, it’s been going on as long as time has existed really. Music has always gone hand in hand with that. But do you think you get to a place where you’re getting people to listen?

Oscar McMahon : 

You said trust before. And trust is a really, really important thing. I believe that we have the ability to talk about certain issues or things that we believe in, because our people and our audience, they trust that we’re being honest about it. We’re never putting ourselves on a pedestal, and we will never claim like if we’re talking about sustainability, we will always say that sustainability is a work in progress. We will proudly talk about: here are some of the things that we have done to make our business a little bit better. But we’re not saying, “we are the most sustainable business in the world.” Sustainability is a work in progress. So you need to have an element of honesty so that people actually trust what you’re saying. Because people would still bullshit, right? But what is what becomes really interesting, and this is sort of going back to that incredible value that we feel of our team trusting and believing in us is that there’s a real weight to it. Because you know, we need to get it right. We need to get it right. And we need to really check ourselves on a regular basis. And that would be one of the hardest things a leader – having an adequate sounding board. I’m very lucky that I’ve got business partner, Dan, who sits next to me every day and we have an agreement. And our working style is that if I say black and he says white, we will either get to grey, or one of us will concede because the other person has gotten a better argument. Neither of us have to be right, if that makes any sense. The weight of expectation and the white of getting things right and and bringing a team of nearly 80 people along for our journey. It was like, that has weight to it. We feel that weight and responsibility as well. And it’s one of those things that when all of that is going well, that’s a beautiful, wonderful thing to be a part of. And when that is tested, like some of the situations we’ve been presented with in the last few months, the weight of responsibility all of those people’s lives and expectations really fucking kicks you in the guts, you know?

Anna Sheppard : 

Yeah, hundred percent. And, you know, I think the reality of it is you can’t always get it right. And it is always going to be a journey. And I think the brands that are the most respected from the people that we’re working with are the ones that said, you know what, we know we don’t get it right. But we’re not going to let fear be the thing that stops us trying to get it right. Because if our values are clearly aligned, and we know who we are and what we stand for, please forgive us for giving it a bash. And I think that those that do push through that fear and try and step up and do the right things are the ones that do have a good following and do have an authentic brand reputation. Because, you can see, well, you know what, we don’t understand our supply chain fully yet, but we know we’re going to work on that over the next five years and make sure that we’re taking active action to make sure that happens. So it’s really good to see that and I mean, what are you currently doing? How does your business make the world a better place at the moment, Oscar? Tell me what’s going on.

Oscar McMahon : 

So, at the moment, we have just created a new strategy for this year. For a company that has had the incredible run we’ve had this last eight and a half years, instead of looking at new business, we are focusing on existing business this year. And we are focusing on existing team members and we are focusing on existing products and we are going into a year nurturing and being thankful for all of the people that have helped us to get to where we are. And that is a really, really nice thing. Balancing out our team, and morale and productivity throughout this fucking pandemic.

Anna Sheppard : 

Yeah. They’re saying the next pandemic is going to be the mental health crisis.

Oscar McMahon : 

Yeah, absolutely. And trying to try to balance all of that is a challenge which some days I come home thinking we’re doing okay, other days I’ve come home feeling like we’re failing. But I think the other thing that I’m really feeling very positive about is that throughout all of this, we’ve been continually working on two big sustainability projects. We’re about to kick off another solar farm, a community on solar farm on the roofs of our warehouse.

Anna Sheppard : 

Beautiful.

Oscar McMahon : 

By the end of the year, we’ll be making bear 100% solar. Which is very exciting.

Anna Sheppard : 

Yes.

Oscar McMahon : 

And also continuing to work on our algae programme, which is basically this weird, fun project that we’re doing. It’s a research project with UTS, where we’re basically capturing the C02 from the fermentation of beer. We’re feeding it through an algae canister. The algae photosynthesising from that C02 is turning that into oxygen at the same rate. So we’ve got these two bio reactors in the brewery now, which are full of algae.

Anna Sheppard : 

No way.

Oscar McMahon : 

Each one of these bioreactors create the equivalent of a hectare of Australian forest. Yeah.

Anna Sheppard : 

So wait, is that something that you’re working on now? You’re testing it and piloting it?

Oscar McMahon : 

Yeah. It’s a world first and this might be the thing that puts Young Henrys on the international beer map. And we’re really, really proud about it because it’s taking one of our outputs and turning it into oxygen. An algae canister that creates a hectares worth of Australian bush oxygen. Think about how long it would take to plant that many trees and think about an urban environment, where that’s just not possible. This all of a sudden creates a really interesting industrial oxygen creation system.

Anna Sheppard : 

So now, basically, you can have a beer and drink a little bit of fresh air. Amazing.

Oscar McMahon : 

Beer made by the sun, but you’re then creating oxygen.

Anna Sheppard : 

It’s beautiful, and it’s a beautiful example of you looking at, okay, what’s the output? What’s the negative output we have in this world? And how can we reduce some of the output and turn it completely on its head. That kind of pressure for businesses and organisations is growing. People are more conscious than ever before, especially people living in the inner west of Sydney. And, there’s a lot of pressure and there are a lot of challenges in business and leadership. And I think kindness as a leader is is you know, look at Ellen DeGeneres, you know that one minute she’s the kindest human on the planet the next minute, you know, she’s taken her eye off the ball and all breaking-lose behind the scenes. How do you maintain that kind of consciousness and leadership in that well-being in yourself? When things get tough and when there are a lot of challenges and pressures, how do you how do you continue being a good egg in those times? Tell us what’s your secret sauce, so to speak.

Oscar McMahon : 

I think that stress is no good for anybody. Having either the self awareness or having a trusted person that can tell you, or you can tell yourself, “Hey, I’m a bit stressed. I need to do something about that”, is really important. Because we embody so much stress and pressure. And it doesn’t make us leaders being stressed. It makes us short, makes us crabby. Actually being aware enough to try and deal with your own stress and not make your stress someone else’s issue – that’s a really important thing. And knowing what levers it is, in your life, that can reduce stress.

Anna Sheppard : 

Yeah, what pushes your buttons, but also what can chill you out quickly in there. What are your levers? What are the things that can chill you out quickly?

Oscar McMahon : 

If I’m feeling stressed, I need to drop out of alcohol for a few days. I need to make sure I’m doing exercise every day. And I actually dropped to a vegetarian diet.

Anna Sheppard : 

Nice. Yep. We’re hearing that from a lot of people, actually.

Oscar McMahon : 

I just find that it’s cleaner. Drink more water, less stimulants. I can’t stop drinking coffee. But, try and limit your amount of coffee intake. Were really simple beings. Before we started Young Henrys, I was an employee. I was working in bars. And for a bunch of different, you know, and I’ve had, like everyone, I’ve had many different bosses. The good ones I still remember and the bad ones are still such a recent memory that I try to remember to not be that. And I think about that on a regular basis. Because, um, there are a couple of bad bosses that I’ve had that I have thought, “I’m never gonna be you”. And I do not accept the fact that you are acting that way just because you were the boss. Because you had some, you had some shit on your plate, all of that. So, you know what? It actually now proves that Young Henrys has grown, faster than we expected. Because we have tried, where possible, for that not to be the experience about people. Because it’s your people that allow you to grow, not you.

Anna Sheppard : 

So would you say that saved you money of the years? You know, made you money over the years, with regards to that staff retention and engagement?

Oscar McMahon : 

Absolutely. Our average tenure in our business is over two years per staff member. We’ve got a bunch of people that have clicked over five years, we’ve got a bunch of other people who are about to give their five years.

Anna Sheppard : 

And from what I’ve heard, as well, is even when people leave, they never really leave. They’re still associated, attached to you, around somewhere, you know. So you’ve obviously built a beautiful family there of people that genuinely really like each other. And I think that we see a lot of places and we say, you know what, it’s better to put more time and effort on the front end of making sure you get the right people in. Than getting the wrong people in and then have to clean the mess up, with regards to how that affects the culture. And would you be up for a bit of a quick fire round, Oscar? put you on the spot? Yeah. Have you had your coffee today?

Oscar McMahon : 

Thankfully, yeah.

Anna Sheppard : 

Yeah, yeah, right. Get ready. Here we go. I’m gonna throw a few questions. This is our hashtag working kind hotseat. Quick fire round. Number one. What is the one thing you would change in this world if you could?

Oscar McMahon : 

I would create a new economic/financial model.

Anna Sheppard : 

Whoo verygood. Yes. We’ll unpack that in Episode Two. Next. Right and you might want to bring a couple of beers if you’ve got any handy. What do you wish you would have known when you started out?

Oscar McMahon : 

What do I wish I would learn?

Anna Sheppard : 

What do you wish you had known? My Game of Thrones accent? Sorry about that. What do you wish you had known when you started out?

Oscar McMahon : 

I don’t know. I’m glad…I’m very glad that I didn’t know what we would, what we would potentially achieve. Because I’ve actually experienced everything. Everything that has been in front of me, has been the most important thing at that time. And so we have legitimately learned at every step and we’ve overcome boundaries. I do think I wish I had known a little bit more, and been a bit a little bit more conscious about overall business health. And actually being a little bit more conscious of the balance of finance and values within a business and within teams. It’s something that we have learned and gotten better at, and we’re still not perfect at it. By any stretch. But I feel like we’re honest with where we’re at. We’re a lot better than many. But we still got some things that we need to get better at, you know.

Anna Sheppard : 

Beautifully honest and authentic has always, Oscar. How do you keep your people motivated in such uncertain times?

Oscar McMahon : 

Free beer.

Anna Sheppard : 

Free beer? Yeh, works every time, really. Unless you’ve got gluten intolerance, but I think you do gluten free beer, don’t you?

Oscar McMahon : 

We’ve got a beer which is gluten reduced. I’m actually gluten intolerant.

Anna Sheppard : 

Oh no! Least it keeps you off the booze. And what is the most entertaining part of your job?

Oscar McMahon : 

Wow. It’s, you know, it’s unfortunate. We don’t get the we don’t get the the awesome crappy, sickie excuses, because we’ve got to really dedicated team. Who actually only take sickies when they’re actually sick. Do you know what, actually? In the booze industry, there are, quite often, some almost meteoric folklore-esque stories that arise from evenings out. Either our team members or people in the industry that we know. There is always entertaining stories, definitely.

Anna Sheppard : 

What goes on stays on, kind’ve thing. Yeah, I remember those. So you’ve always got some in the pipeline. Literally, see what we did. What should you expect? What should we expect to see from you in the future, Oscar?

Oscar McMahon : 

We are. We’re about to start giving a push to a new series of beers.Which is called the Brewers B-sides. So we think of our core range beers like ‘Newtowner’ or ‘Natural Lager’, we’d see them as sort of like our hit singles. And so the Brewers B-sides, they’re the alternate tracks. We’ve actually allowed our brew team to go and work on these beer ideas and actually brew a research and development-sized batch. And then we all sit around, we taste them, we score them, we talk about them. And then the ones that we love, we actually put into production. So we’re gonna release two of those. One in September, one in November. And it’s really fun. These are beers, that are not aimed to be overly commercially successful. It’s more about fun, new ideas that we push out to the market. You know, it even comes down to the naming of these products. Here’s an all-team email chain where people are basically just riffing and you know, taking the piss, having a bit of fun. And I don’t know, you know what, that’s a really nice thing. Because every single person in the company has a hand in any of our products actually getting out into market. This is just an extension of that. When that beer goes on tap for the first time in our tasting bar. I know that all of our staff aregonna be there, celebrating.

Anna Sheppard : 

You sound so excited about it.

Oscar McMahon : 

Yeh, we really feel this leap towards this product. And that’s one of the things which I think we’re very lucky about. If you work for a sofa company, you might go home every afternoon and appreciate your sofa. You work for a beer company, at the end of the day, you do get to go and appreciate.

Anna Sheppard : 

Become a beer connoisseur. You’re the one stuck there smelling all the beers.

Oscar McMahon : 

You actually just get that tangible reminder of, “this is why I do this”.

Anna Sheppard : 

Yeah, great. So right this morning, I said to my partner, I was like, “Oh, I’m interviewing Oscar today”. And she went, “Could you could you ask a question for me?” And I was like, “Okay, what?” And she went, “Where does the name ‘Young Henrys’ come from?”

Oscar McMahon : 

Okay!

Anna Sheppard : 

Yeah, what’s the story?

Oscar McMahon : 

It’s really funny. A little while ago, we met this, this really great marketing executive guy. Really clever guy. And he said, Look, I really liked the name Young Henrys. We were like, “Okay, cool”. He said, look, ‘Henry’ being an old traitional name – like brewing, it’s a traditional thing, you know? And ‘young’ being your youthful take on this old thing. Young Henrys. It’s perfect. Wow. If only were that smart, you know? No! Young Henrys came about, because when me and Richard Adamson, the other co founder, we were meeting up in cafes or in pubs. And we’re working on this business idea, right, this business idea. We were writing it on notepads. And, you know, we’re gonna make this beer company that was in contact with the community. And did cool things that was more, you know, in line with our personalities than other normal companies. The sort of stuff which is really funny to think back on because that’s exactly what we’ve done. And he was a stay at home dad at the time, and he would bring his one year old son Henry along to the meetings. And one time, I just said something like, “Oh, we should call it Young Henrys because he’s the third shareholder”. And it was just, “Oh, okay. Young Henrys.”

Anna Sheppard : 

Oh my God. So that’s the story.

Oscar McMahon : 

So we actually just put it down. Young Henrys was the working title for this project. And we, just assumed we change it once we thought of something better.

Anna Sheppard : 

It just kept on rolling off the tongue.

Oscar McMahon : 

Yeah. And you know what, it’s kind of nice because it wasn’t overly thought about, it came from a nice place, it has to do with family. And it wasn’t too overly thought about I think is important. Because a lot of what Young Henrys is about gut feel, and does this feel right to you? You know, it’s that self trust and trusting the people around you when making decisions. And, I don’t know, for the name to have started in that is actually a really – I don’t know, it just made sense.

Anna Sheppard : 

And also the innocence of it all is beautiful. I like I always think, you know, ‘Jimmy Brings’ Is Jimmy real? Is Jimmy really bringing this beer? Like, who’s Jimmy? But no, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you here with us today, Oscar, and I think you definitely one of our favourite partners and we love working with you, we love being in partnership with you. And, you know, I think alcohol in moderation is obviously really, really important. But I’ve always been a fan of, you know, you’re never too big to have a beer with your team. You’re never too big, you know, to spend that time and to authentically connect whether. Whether that’s over a mocktail, a cocktail or beer or a good old band. And we’re really glad to have you with us and I wish you the best of luck and we’ll probably tune in again in the future. And yeah, any last words from you, Oscar?

Oscar McMahon : 

I would just like to thank you, Anna, for having me here. And also, I guess, I should thank you for the work that you’re doing. Because, as leaders, sometimes it is very difficult feeling like you’re on your own. And that you don’t have – there aren’t guidance tools for us. And also, this horrible corporate mentality that so many people believe is how you need to run a business. And it’s really nice that there are other people helping to break that and supporting people like us, who are trying to do things in our own way. You know, you guys are our support. That’s why we’re in partnership with you guys. So thank you very much for your time today and for being a part of this.

Anna Sheppard : 

Thank you, Oscar. And we’ll definitely see you again soon.

Oscar McMahon : 

Yeah, ride on mate.

Anna Sheppard : 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Project Good Boss. Bambuddha Group is a social enterprise, providing leadership coaching for corporate leaders, business owners and operators. We believe in a future where every leader is committed to creating a sustainable world of equality and opportunity for everyone. If you are a game changing leader, and you have an amazing story of how your business is making the world a kinder and a better place, we would love to hear from you. Visit bambuddhagroup.com or slide into our DM’s. And finally, you should know, for every paid member we have in our network, we provide scholarships to reduce inequalities in leadership and business. Thank you to Sonic Union for editing this episode, Lo Roberts for writing and performing Project Good Boss and design by Flare Creative. Thank you for being kind today. Thank you for tuning in. And we’ll see you again next time.

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