Celebrating women is celebrating humanity. And Women’s History Month is an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It is celebrated during March in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, corresponding with International Women’s Day on March 8, 2017. It is a great honor for me to share with my Haute Living readers a phenomenal woman from Boston, Massachusetts who not only has made significant contributions to the great state of Massachusetts, but today is making her mark in technology internationally. When I sat down with Shannon in Boston, we talked about what inspires her, her favorite Boston places and what makes her an amazing woman to know and celebrate not only of course as an important woman as part of Women’s History Month in Massachusetts, but as a mother, wife, friend, and leader to be admired now and always. Her contributions are great. And her brilliance combined with her strength, kindness and wisdom is everlasting and phenomenal. What a genuine privilege and joy to say that,
Below is my interview with Shannon Patricia Elizabeth O’Brien:
Where were you born?
Boston. My father had just graduated Boston College Law School and served in Governor Foster Furcolo’s administration. My mother taught school for one year in Roxbury before I was born.
When were you born?
What inspires you?
Having grown up in a political family (my father was an elected official on the Governor’s Council and my great Grandfather served in the Mass. Legislature with Tip O’Neil and Ed Boland) I always believed that government was an important force for implementing positive change in people’s lives. I was lucky to have been elected to the State Legislature when I was 27 years old, and had the unique experience of being able to help people through my work. Understanding that there is always an opportunity to make a difference for others has colored a lot of what I have done over the course of my personal and professional experience.
Are you a spiritual or religious person?
I went to Catholic schools for a good portion of my early education and I loved that. I still say the prayers I learned at Immaculate Conception School every night before I go to bed. As I got older, I admit that I have not been as faithful attendee at mass, but still love the comfort and hope I find when I go to church. I believe I am a spiritual person, motivated by the fact that there is good to be found in every person, and value that should be accorded to each. This mindset has colored my lifelong commitment to the Democratic party and my belief that we all are part of a larger community that should expand opportunity for all while supporting and helping those in need.
What is your favorite color? Purple.
If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, then who would it be?
Lunch, Barack Obama. After Dinner Drinks: Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.
Favorite Boston restaurant?
Head to Hingham for Tosca Restaurant.
Thanksgiving turkey dinner
What is your favorite music?
Pretty eclectic. Bonnie Raitt, Beyonce, Rolling Stones and Pitbull are favorites.
What is your favorite song?
I don’t really have one
Favorite Charity Event:
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund Walk. We have family members and the children of good friends who have the disease and we have supported the walk for years. Go Team Panther Pride!
Favorite Cultural Event:
The Nutcracker. When I was CEO of the Girl Scouts, my then 9 year old daughter Regan and I got to go backstage, get in costume and walk across the stage as street vendors during one performance. It was a huge thrill.
Favorite Cultural Institution:
Boston Aquarium. We have enjoyed many visits over the years. I even remember hearing for myself Hoover the Talking Seal actually “talk” in the early 1980’s.
The original Regina’s in the North End. (If I am not up for a ride to Pepe’s in New Haven)
McGuiggan’s Pub in my home town of Whitman makes awesome burgers.
Best Gym/Fitness Facility: The Weymouth Club.
Who inspires you?
My husband, Emmet Hayes. Having watched Hillary Clinton in this year’s election get pretty battered during the campaign, more people may have an idea of how brutal politics is. I was only able to make political history in Massachusetts because I was married to a man willing to sacrifice his own career so I could advance mine. Knowing that someone loved me this much is pretty inspiring and allowed me to take on a few challenges in my life.
What is the best part about being a Mom?
My daughter Regan is smart, talented, and beautiful, but most of all a very kind young woman. We have a very close relationship and although she is 17, and we can tangle on occasion, she still tells me I am her best friend. That’s pretty great.
What was the most rewarding and your favorite part about serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1987 through 1993?
At the time, I was the second or third youngest person in the Legislature when I was elected in 1986. The first day I walked into the chamber, an older State Rep asked me to run an errand for him because he mistook me for a page! It was a great learning experience, and I got an education in how to build a coalition to support an issue. How to stand up and be tough when you need to be, and when to compromise when it ultimately pushes the important agenda forward. I learned that one of the most important rules is that you need to remember that today’s foe might be tomorrow’s ally, so treat people with respect. And be nice to the staff, they are the ones who do the real work.
What was the most rewarding and your favorite part about serving in the Massachusetts Senate from 1993 through 1995?
Although I only served one term, I found being in the Senate I had a greater ability to pass some of my legislative priorities. In the House, I had worked for 3 years to pass a bill to combat serious child abuse. Before then, if you committed the same acts upon your 2-year-old that you did to your Chihuahua, the former was a misdemeanor and the latter was a felony. We had multiple parties in favor and opposed to what seemed, on its face to be a “good government” bill. District Attorneys, Child Abuse Prevention Advocates, Battered Women’s Groups and Christian Scientists all looking for different conflicting provisions to be included or excluded. As a senator, I finally was able craft the right balance providing strong protections for children including an affirmative duty for caregivers to keep children from serious harm. We finally crafted clear guidelines that also ensured that prosecutors could not overreach their ability to use the law against parties. Once I was a member of the Senate I finally had the clout to push it through that notoriously slow deliberative chamber to become law.
What was the most rewarding and your favorite part about being the Massachusetts State Treasurer from 1999 through 2003?
Within the first 4 weeks of being in office, my team helped uncover the largest theft of public funds from state government. Unscrupulous Treasury employees working with friends on the outside figured out how to file fake claims for unpaid state bills to the tune of $9 million dollars. It was an interesting time because it required me and my staff to quickly respond to an immediate crisis and quickly figure out a longer-term plan to fix the broken system of checks and balances. It was difficult but fun to come to work each day knowing you had a clear problem to fix and the momentum to get it done quickly. The most rewarding part, however, was creating The Money Conference for Women, a financial literacy program that attracted over 5,000 attendees who wanted to learn how to better secure their financial health. I still meet attendees who tell me that the lessons they learned changed their lives.
You are such an inspiration and incredible role model, what do you feel are the 5 most important qualities that a Leader must have?
There are different leadership styles, but what has worked for me is the following. First, a leader needs to be a good listener. You won’t always agree with or incorporate the opinions of people you are leading, but you should establish a communication style where people feel safe to express their perceptions, both positive and negative. You will more easily root out and can fix problems if people don’t think they are going to get shot for telling you what is going wrong. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, and then let them do their job. Spend time meeting people on the frontline of your team to make sure everyone feels that they are valuable to the effort. Say thank you when someone does a good job. I think that’s five.
What did you like most about being the Head of the Boston Area Girl Scouts?
The Girl Scouts is an historic American organization that remains relevant to girls today. It is the largest organization devoted to helping girls learn the skills they might need to become the next generation of leaders. I loved the mission, and really enjoyed meeting many of the 10,000 volunteers who support this organization and make it work in their communities. And I carry so many great memories spending time with the girls. One of the most interesting was the multi-day program where high school students got to meet with mentors to learn about careers in real estate. This was capped off by a private tour of Fenway Park and a talk by Janet Marie Smith who at the time was head of real estate development for the Red Sox. She told a great story about her job interview with Larry Lucchino when she secretly wore her grandmother’s Girl Scout Brownie pin as a good luck charm, and ended up getting hired. The funniest has to be the “Hannah Montana Rockin’ Lip Sync Contest” which we co-sponsored with Radio Disney and Curry College. 300 girls dressing in their best rock star outfit and dancing on stage.My staff and I bought cheap plastic blonde wigs and thoroughly enjoyed laughing at ourselves doing our own best Miley Cyrus impersonation.
Can you speak about BeeDoo and what you are doing now? Or is that confidential and private information?
For the past half dozen years, I have worked as consultant to early and growth stage technology companies providing business development and strategic advice. One of my clients became my partner, and I am now the co-founder and President of BeeDoo Cloud Services. BeeDoo myDesk is a cloud based online collaboration tool for businesses which seamlessly combines cloud storage with messaging to provide a better organized, less cluttered, more secure way for business teams to communicate and share sensitive data online. We have contracts with the largest telcos in Thailand and Cambodia and are hoping that 2017 will be our breakout year in terms of generating sustainable revenues and growing our user base.
What do you think makes Boston and Massachusetts such a special place to live and to visit?
Boston is a beautiful city that has a vibrant culture and is close to beaches, mountains, and parks. The city is host to many universities, attracting a young, diverse, global population. It is home to older, interesting ethnic neighborhoods which simultaneously gives the city an old- fashioned neighborhood feel. And the sports teams! The Patriots, Sox, Bruins and Celtics have given a lot of people something to stand together and cheer for over the years, in a way that I don’t think is matched in any other city or state in the U.S.
What is your favorite Boston charity?
Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund.
Why is this your favorite Boston charity?
As I noted earlier, two young people in my husband’s family as well as the children of some close family friends were diagnosed with diabetes. When I see what these kids and their families must go through to keep their children healthy I say a prayer thanking God that my daughter has been healthy. It is exciting to see the amazing progress that research is fueling and I truly believe that there will be a cure for this disease in 10 years.
What is your favorite time of the year in Boston?
September and October. It is not too hot or too snowy to get around easily, making it really fun to walk around and enjoy all the city has to offer. When the students return, it always makes this nearly 400 year old city feel young.
What do you love most about Boston?
I grew up in Western Massachusetts in the town of Easthampton, but Boston always feels like a comfortable home filled with friends.
What do you love most about Massachusetts?
I happen to like smart people and our state has a lot of them! I am proud of the history that was made here and even prouder of the people living here working to make history for generations to come.
What is your 1 year goal?
To successfully grow my business and to help my 17 year old daughter find a college that is a good match for her talent and that she will love.
What is your 5 year goal?
To work with an organization that will afford me the opportunity to lead a needed change or improvement or to make a meaningful difference in the lives of other people.
What is the most important message you want me to communicate to the readers?
In the wake of this year’s presidential election, I hope we all take the time to reflect upon the outcome, and to resolve that we will each do something to make our community stronger and supportive of our neighbors. Whatever that might be.
Photo Credit: Sonia Tita Puopolo