Funny money: a chat with Mrs Moneypenny


Entrepreneur, newspaper columnist, bestselling author, TV presenter, wife, mother and now a stand-up comic – is there anything Mrs Moneypenny can’t throw her immaculately manicured hand to? AlumNews chats to the pseudonymous graduate ahead of her exclusive stand-up comedy show for alumni and friends in London on 25 October 2012 (NB. now cancelled, please keep an eye on this page for a possible rescheduled date).

Like all great businesses, Mrs Moneypenny keeps diversifying her revenue streams. Not content with a weekend column for the Financial Times, which is read by 720,000 people around the world, she is the author of three books, with a fourth coming out in January; a presenter on Channel 4’s SuperScrimpers, a television show that helps the British public make better use of its money; and now a stand-up comic, with the rare distinction of a sell-out, profitable debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Elsewhere, she’s a successful businesswoman, wife to a sports-mad Aussie, and doting mother to three boys – or Cost Centres #1, #2 and #3 as she lovingly refers to them.

Having graduated from Newcastle with a degree in agriculture and marketing, sometime in the 1980s, Mrs Moneypenny worked in PR and corporate communications before making a move into investment banking. She was approached to write a column for the Financial Times whilst working in Tokyo in 1999, after completing an MBA at London Business School and a PhD at the University of Hong Kong.

Faced with this professional pedigree, your reporter makes his first mistake with a poor choice of opening question. ‘So, Mrs Moneypenny, where do you stand on graduate employability?’ is met with a pitied response. My follow-up, ‘Can you suggest any shrewd Christmas investments?’ is also shot down.

Clearly I’d misread the brief. ‘My show doesn’t address any of that,’ Mrs Moneypenny tells me. ‘I’m a stand-up comedian. I will be telling jokes about what it is like to be a post-menopausal working mother of three sons, none of whom know how to operate a washing machine’.

I sense this is a good time to throw away my prepared questions, and embark on a more candid conversation. And it isn’t long before Mrs Moneypenny hints at a more purposeful subtext behind the gags.

‘I would like to see more women in senior positions, because it can be bloody lonely at the top,’ she laments. ‘I prefer hanging out with my girlfriends. They’re extremely important to me. And I’d love to have more women with me at the World Economic Forum in Davos, for example, where there are far too few.’

In her latest book, Careers Advice for Ambitious Women, which comes out on 5 January, Mrs Moneypenny shares her wisdom on how women can make it to the top.

‘If you look at people who have succeeded in business it’s because they’ve made difficult choices and they live with them,’ she says.

‘I think women try to have it all, and they can’t. You can’t have a brilliant career and a perfect husband and raise well-balanced children, and have time to get your nails done, and become the CEO of a public company. It’s not possible. Women can’t have it all.’

I point out that she appears to have achieved many of those things. ‘Well a lot of people say that,’ she relents. ‘But if you could see me, I have a body mass index of 37. I clearly have not got it all’.

When asked how she keeps on top of multiple careers and raising a family, Mrs Moneypenny admits to only sleeping seven hours a night. ‘I don’t think there’s any need to sleep more than that,’ she says. ‘There are 168 hours in a week and I only sleep for 49 of them. The rest I use very efficiently’.

She doesn’t necessarily put her success down to organisational skills. ‘I’ve never been well organised, but I’ve always had lots of energy,’ she says. ‘One thing I learned from my MBA was the value of teamwork, and that means if you’re not well organised, you should work with people who are’.

Mrs Moneypenny’s newest venture, a stand-up comedy show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is a collaboration with her eldest son, CC1. At Home with Mrs Moneypenny was held in an Aga showroom at the 2010 Festival, in front of a sell-out crowd. ‘I only became a stand-up comic at 48, and it was very scary doing my own show,’ she admits. ‘It took six months to develop, and it was a terrifying proposition, not least because most of the time people go to Edinburgh and lose money.

‘There were 3,000 shows on when I was there, and you’re competing with a lot of talented people, so you have to give your audience value for money,’ she says. ‘I gave them food and drink too, so that helped.’

Mrs Moneypenny will be performing her best bits from the show at an event for Newcastle alumni and friends at Canary Wharf, London, on 2 February. She won’t be cooking up food from an Aga this time though – but refreshments will be provided by her host, Barclays.

The show is tied to Mrs Moneypenny’s column in the Financial Times, which she has written every Saturday for the past 12 years. ‘It’s essentially a column about my life,’ she says. ‘I don’t write about finance, although it’s in the world’s foremost financial newspaper.

‘I began writing the column in Tokyo in 1999, after the FT rang me up and said they wanted someone to write a column about sex in the workplace. And I said I hadn’t had any sex in the workplace. And after some discussion it turned out they wanted a column about gender in the workplace, and I said that I wasn’t really up for that either because I don’t believe in the glass ceiling.’

Mrs Moneypenny reiterates her point from earlier: ‘I think the way we can smash the myth of the glass ceiling is to smash the myth that women can have it all. When women realise they can’t have it all, we’ll have a lot more of them at the top.’

The approach which seems to work for Mrs Moneypenny is to treat her work and personal life in roughly the same way. ‘I run my family like a business. And that’s the business I most enjoy running,’ she says. ‘The only exception is that we don’t have any grievance procedures’.

Indeed, she sees her three sons, or the ‘Cost Centres’, going from earnings-diluting to earnings-enhancing as they mature. CC1, who spent a year studying at Newcastle University before recommencing his studies at Sussex, has already proved his worth with the stand-up show.

‘He’s my greatest critic and he’s a much better writer than me,’ she admits. ‘He also knows what works in comedy, and he’s been a very important part of putting the show on.

‘We had robust discussions at various stages. He doesn’t shrink from putting forward his views and nor do I.’

It seems that Mrs Moneypenny’s working relationship with her son is far more functional than with her husband. ‘Every time I try to work with my husband, he gives me a great deal of instruction,’ she says. ‘And I don’t take instruction well. He tries to instruct me on the golf course, and that goes down very badly’.

With that in mind, it’s unlikely Mr Moneypenny dishes out instruction at the shooting range, where his wife likes to spend time, nor in the cockpit – she’s also a qualified pilot.

Mrs Moneypenny leaves us with a few top tips for dealing with the financial hangover in January. ‘Saving money takes time, and one of the things I’ve learned whilst making Superscrimpers is that you have to invest a lot of time in saving money,’ she says. ‘There are literally millions of potential mobile phone handset and tariff combinations; hundreds of thousands of potential energy tariffs; and yesterday I spent the whole day researching train tickets. But it’s worth investing the time to find deals that work best for you. Certainly if you’re at a later stage in life it can be very difficult to know where to research and what to do, and one of the things I hope we do with Superscrimpers is to make some of that easier.

‘The New Year is a good time to have a good look at your finances and reassess how you’re managing your money. Do you really spend as much time on your finances as you do on everything else in your life? Because if you don’t you almost certainly should. And look at every single area, nothing is sacred.’

But Mrs Moneypenny won’t be covering this in her stand-up comedy show, it’s far too dull…

You can read more from Mrs Moneypenny every Saturday in the FT, or visit her website.

published on: 16th December 2011

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