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Simon Callaghan (2000) always intended to be a lawyer, but in year 12 he was introduced to GIS (Geographical Information Systems technology) via his Geography teacher and two old scholars.

13 December 2023

Simon was fascinated by its ability to improve our understanding of the environment and developed an interest in innovative and emerging technologies more broadly. This included legal tech and blockchain. In June this year, he was appointed CEO of Blockchain Australia.

Within minutes of speaking to Simon, it’s clear he’s both a deep thinker and an active participant in life. His intellectual curiosity meant he took note when he first heard about Bitcoin back in 2013. He’s been stoking that curiosity ever since. Meanwhile, a love of sport saw him balance work, study, and play when based at Cambridge University and he’s now a life member and patron of the Cambridge University Cricket Club.

Following school, Simon studied GIS at Flinders. He then completed an MBA at AGSM (while working for the Mt Barker Council) and took a two-month ‘break’ on an overland camping trip in Africa, before undertaking an internship with the UN at the headquarters in New York.

He was lured back to Australia to work for information technology company, Infosys, before heading to NY with them. His next job took him to Bangalore, Dublin and Mexico City whilst working with clients Bloomberg and Morgan Stanley. It was during his employment at Virtusa, while working with JPMorgan Chase, that he started to see the application of blockchain in the real world.

During a later stint working for Austrade in the New York Consulate, he was introduced to people from Blockchain Australia. In 2019, he ran a trade mission to NY for them (Australia’s largest mission that year, no less) which brought huge results. It introduced him to several US businesses, one of whom he then worked for.

His time at Cambridge followed. Simon finished a Master of Studies in Entrepreneurship and worked at the Centre for Alternative Finance, leading a research program on Digital Assets (with some amazing members including the World Bank, IMF, Goldman Sachs, and Invesco). His appointment as CEO of Blockchain Australia was announced at Blockchain Week in June this year. He’s finally closer to home again, working out of Melbourne.

And just in case you’re still learning about blockchain (like me), Simon says it is “essentially an immutable distributed ledger. Rather than having a single point of truth, understating changes cryptographically, everyone on the blockchain has access to each transaction. This can remove intermediaries, saving money and time for participants.”

He says that blockchain will underpin much of the technological infrastructure of financial markets in the future. “It’s not simply about crypto, it’s about the technology and innovation that takes place in this space. The tokenisation of real-world assets is dawning as a result of blockchain technology, which will enable markets access to greater liquidity.”

Despite this, there’s also the anti-narrative and blockchain scepticism to contend with. Simon wrote about this in Cambridge and his company, MOOPS Tech, where he is Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, is trying to address some of the governance issues that he witnessed personally in 2021 and 2022.

For those aspiring to work in this sphere, Simon suggests remaining curious. “Read. Watch YouTube. Avoid TikTok and influencers. If it sparks an interest, understanding business, finance, and/or technology will help. It is still very nascent, so as a young person, you can shape the future of what is possible in web3.”

When recalling his time at Pembroke, Simon says he loved it there, even with his dad (beloved teacher and Head of Boarding, Brian Callaghan) on campus simultaneously. “It was a bit strange at times, especially if I was carrying on like an idiot and then saw my dad in the quad. But overall, it was a good thing.”

“High school is the best and worst place, but the culture and the people at Pembroke were fantastic. I think Pembroke developed well-rounded, down-to-earth people. It taught me to treat the cleaner with the same respect as the CEO. To treat everyone well. I think it developed a strong sense of fairness in me too. More broadly, I enjoyed taking advantage of all the sporting opportunities available to me. Cricket, rugby, football, water polo, and rowing. You can learn a lot from sports – dealing with adversity, humility, teamwork, winning and losing with grace, friendship, and self-sacrifice, for example. Those broad traits are important to life.”

Speaking of sport, Simon beams when he talks about the number of Pembroke friends he has retained. They’re across multiple year levels too, thanks to his involvement with school and Old Scholars sport.

Simon’s advice for current Pembroke students contemplating their future is to make the most of the opportunities presented to them, to follow their interests, and to develop their sense of perspective.

“Everyone has different motivations, so understanding your own and what you want to achieve in your own life is important. That will help with your happiness as you reach middle age! Be open to new ideas. There’s a big, rapidly changing world out there, and it’s worthwhile exploring it”.

Written by old scholar Kate (Bailey) Holland (1992)