Long-term resident Jo Cullen-Cronshaw arrived in the Principality of Monaco 35 years ago. Jo is leaving her unusual footprint as a Director and founding investor of the Monaco Streaming Film Festival, the world’s first Video On Demand film festival, conference, screenings and Gala Awards event.
Growing up in Cardiff, the capital and largest city of Wales, Jo Cullen-Cronshaw also lived in London and the Bahamas before finally making her home in the Principality of Monaco in 1986 — by chance.
Jo, who studied and qualified as a Chartered Accountant, started her career training with Deloittes in Cardiff, followed by several years with Price Waterhouse in the Bahamas. Nevertheless, she wanted as wide an experience as possible from her working life.
“I felt that I did not want to be classified “just” as an accountant, often considered “boring”. I had broader ambitions,” – remembers Jo. – “I always liked the variety in my job and wanted to expand on that. Even when I was auditing things would turn up. I seemed to always end up with troubleshooting work. Sorting out some mess, and that’s what I really liked about it. I even discovered a couple of frauds over the years, including when training. I would have a portfolio of clients and basically every few weeks move to a new location and challenge.”
After the Bahamas, Jo returned to Deloittes, the London Office, to a small business development unit. At that point, she never thought she would leave the company or profession.
In those days, accounting was a very male dominated profession and the ratio was one woman to a hundred men. The well-travelled and very hard-working Jo aimed high, but there were fewer promotion opportunities for females in the profession then than there are nowadays.
The traditional way of thinking in her profession led Jo to look for other opportunities. Also, let’s be honest, after the Bahamas, London was not as attractive an option anymore. Something was missing in London.
“I love being around the sea, the sunshine and missed them in London however, initially, I still felt that my career was enough compensation. Also, whilst I was enjoying the challenge in my job, I did not welcome always having to fight for recognition and felt disillusioned. At this point, I saw a job advertisement for a private family group in London. It was for a financial advisor/ assistant for the Chairman and I just applied. I did not honestly believe I would actually change my career – it was my personal protest against the promotion system, if you like. I wanted to test my marketability.”
For Jo, sending her CV to a non-professional organisation also served as a self-test to the wider world of opportunities. The job was based in London with visits to the Monaco office and after the interview, the private family group offered her the job, but she ended up refusing – twice.
“When they came back a third time, I thought maybe I should give it a try. Even if by then, things had changed and I was quite happy with my current position in London. It intrigued me that they came back to me three times. I thought fate might be pushing me” – recalls Jo. – “However, I did not want to be an expat again, which was a possibility, as I thought my career path was then settled and perfectly in line, but I had this inner voice telling me to try it.”
Jo explained her dilemma to Deloitte and her need for fresh perspectives and they agreed she should get some outside commercial experience for a couple of years. Neither of them knew then that Jo would never return to Deloitte.
The private family group had an office in Monaco; it happened to be one of the largest private offices in the Principality of Monaco at that time. From an initial appointment based from London with occasional travels to Monaco, the role changed even before taking up the position to be one based fully in Monaco.
Jo travelled extensively, as the Group had several managed venture funds in the US and other places, hence, Jo spent many weekdays away from her Monaco base. As she was working directly with the Chairman, the eldest son in the family, Jo was given good opportunities to develop her skills and extensively learned a lot more about venture capital, large treasury management and many other diverse financial areas. Those years broadened her knowledge extensively.
“It was really different and I liked it. At one point, the Chairman requested I look over their entire portfolio, controlled by several banks, to create a reporting, dealing and monitoring system in-house. I managed to pull everything together for them, actually running and working with the system for over a year.”
Jo loved her job, but success had its price. The Group wanted her to get involved in other interests of the group which meant going back to the UK. Since she did not really want to move back, having now been in Monaco for four years and having had built a different life, Jo decided to resign and took a different role based in Monaco, thinking she might travel less.
Ironically, Jo ended up travelling even more as she worked for an Italian businessman, who owned the European rights for the US company “Dairy Queen” and aimed to franchise it throughout Europe.
“These were very hard four years of work for me, but I always said that I want to get as much experience as I can before I decided what I wanted to do with my life. However, I am still doing this and still trying to decide 40 years later! All I know is that I don’t want to be bored.”
Were you scared of new challenges?
“No. There is nothing that scares me because I see every challenge as a new opportunity to grow. My wide experiences and professional training give me confidence. This is part of my philosophy which helps me adapt and find motivations in my professional life. I have gained incomparable experiences. I have been through at least four financial crashes, at the same points in time where I was trusted with multi-millions of dollars – very tough periods. These were great learning curves.”
Jo’s career evolved immensely, she is everything but a boring accountant. She is the active CEO of the RG Capital Group, based in Monaco at their offices of RG Capital Services, a group established by the legendary television producer and media mogul, the late Reg Grundy AC O.B.E.
“In my life, I have obviously always worked around money. When I was a finance director, my task was to oversee the spending and now, as CEO, I am responsible for making the money. That is much harder!” – jokes Jo.
Do you consider yourself as a workaholic?
“Everybody who knows me well seems to say so, but I do not really think I am,” – laughs Jo. – “I have always loved my work and invested a lot of hours into it, but everything changed 12 years ago. My husband passed away very suddenly at the age of 53, and I basically worked even more than before, as I found myself with more time and needing the focus.”
Would it be different if he would be still around you?
“Yes absolutely, but only from how I divide my time. My husband was in the navy before I met him here in Monaco when he had a small business. We created an English pub locally that he ran and which we had for fourteen years. He also worked very hard in his life, so he understood my work ethic. If he was around, we would certainly have quality times, otherwise we would have never survived as a couple. When he died, I was left without plans and I had a few difficult years trying to figure out my new goals. In that respect, work made it easier for me to cope with life and now there is nothing that really distracts me from working hard if and when necessary.”
Do you often go back to Cardiff, Wales?
“Not often but my family is still there, so I do go back. Time is one problem – and Covid the other at the moment.”
And how about the Bahamas?
“Yes, because I have a home there. I love to go when possible, usually three or four times a year.”
Are you able to switch off and relax during these holidays?
“I have always had the philosophy of work hard, play hard. So yes, I enjoy down time on holiday. The Bahamas is great for relaxing on the sea and with friends. It is very laid back. In Monaco, I love to go skiing in the season because it is close, a different environment and good exercise,” – continues Jo. – “Generally speaking, I like being in the mountains and it is easily accessible from here. A big change and I sometimes need it.”
Is it difficult to be a woman in your position, especially managing such large funds?
“Not for me,” – Jo laughs out loudly. – “However, there are still those who have a problem with that, but I am a very strong woman. I am half Irish and half Maltese. My parents met during World War II in Malta, you do not get a much stronger combination than this. I think it is difficult for a woman to run a business in general because you need to make choices. I am a firm believer that you cannot have everything in life. For example, a demanding career and a family. A successful mother holding together and caring 100% for her family and being a successful business woman at the same time is not realistic. You cannot have it all. Make no mistake, you can try and work while having nannies who raise your children for you, but it is not the same motherhood I think. But then, as I said, I am a perfectionist so that governs the way I think.”
Do you have any regrets choosing a career over family?
“No, not at all. I based my choices on my childhood and my mother. I have a very distinctive character to that of my mother. I remember she told me that all she wanted was a family and to take care of us. She was very engaged in everything, making lunch to take to school, taking off my wet rain coat when I arrived home in winter, she was always there for me, from getting breakfast on the table to coming home tired. However, when I looked in the mirror, I have to confess that I knew that, that type of life would not suit my character because I could not have the same dedication for both being a mother and a professional business person. I need to be able to give 100% to each and be the best at both. I would have been disappointed. Personally, I enjoyed and still enjoy my career and have no regrets. It was my choice.”
So at the end, life is about choices?
“I believe so. I think women have to be very careful about making a choice because at some point they might regret them and there won’t be a way back if you miss the window for children for example. Be careful what you choose and do not believe that you can have everything because unreal expectations will only lead to disappointment and frustration. In life, if you want something then you also have to give up something or make a sacrifice. This is the balance of life.”
What is your business secret?
“I do not know if there is any secret. I have always felt that I had to achieve and be the best. This is how my parents raised me and my schooling and professional training were also very competitive environments, both academically and in sports. These environments taught me to believe in myself. However, I know what I know and I am not afraid to admit or face up to what I do not know. It is important to know your limitations so that you can address that area if needed. Maybe that is “the secret”!”
How do you find inspiration?
“I do not read a lot of books but I always browse through a lot of online headlines. I am always observing the market and the news to see where we will invest.
My inspiration comes from headlines but it is more like inspirations for events and investments. I always look for the new trends, the new thing, what is going on, even what the topic of the next event could be.”
Do you attend events in Monaco?
“I never used to go to networking events because I did not need clients nor sell anything. However, after I became CEO of this family office, I have found it more interesting for potential investments – plus an opportunity to meet new people with similar interests.”
Was it different 35 years ago in Monaco?
“Oh very. I loved Monaco in the “old” times, it was very glamorous back then. I remember when we used to go to concerts in the courtyard of the Palace, we had to wear a formal dress. Long dresses and dinner suits. The real world could be very black and white and perhaps miserable at times but when we went out, we enjoyed a bit of the glitz.
Walking in our long dresses through the streets we felt we were part of that glamour. You know, women like to dress up! We have lost some of that style and nowadays, you can go to places in any kind of dress it seems. The last time I went to the palace or other concert events, some people were in anoraks and no one said anything!” – laughs Jo.
Did you attend any event or social action during the pandemic?
“Since I could not travel as before, I had a lot of nice quality times with old friends who I have not seen in years. I even caught up with my ex-boss and we were laughing about our experiences in past challenging economic times,” – smiles Jo. – “But looking back at the past two years, I do feel that Covid-19 has changed me. Before the pandemic, I was travelling almost half of my time. Suddenly, without travelling I had more time to think and reflect and to go out to meet new people. This is how I met Tony Davis.
We found it very easy to communicate and had a lot of topics in common. Weeks later, that meeting turned into my next investment for the RG Capital Group. Together with Tony, we laid down the first brick of the Monaco Streaming Film Festival.”
How does the Monaco Streaming Film Festival come together with the legacy of Reg Grundy?
“We call Reg Grundy an innovator, but he was also a disruptor. He created the idea of formatting/protection of rights for television programs becoming known as “The founding father of formats”. He revolutionised the production and distribution on a mass scale that had never been imagined before and created global entertainment as we now know it. He wanted to take his Australian expertise out to the world, not just to market to other countries, as was the standard then, but to create his own production companies in each country to produce a version that adapted to the local environment with culturally specific content. Thus, changing the television production world forever. He had an impressive library of 180 separate series which he produced, or distributed to over 80 countries worldwide.
One of the first TV shows he created was “Reg Grundy’s Wheel of Fortune”, a gameshow. This was the first of many different gameshows he created, followed by several successful drama series. Many of his shows are still running today. He was a pioneer of his era and the Monaco Streaming Film Festival also recognises the pioneers of our present days, therefore the connection.”
Jo, who is the CEO of the Monaco office and with more than 27 years with the Reg Grundy organisation, decided with Mrs Chambers-Grundy, his widow, to honour the late genius by creating an award bearing his name.
“We decided to invest in this event not just because of its enormous opportunity to grow, but also to help keep alive the legacy of Reg Grundy which is a primary motivation for us. This is the third legacy award that we have now created.”
What was your inspiration behind Monaco Streaming Film Festival, and why focusing on video on demand?
“I wondered why the movies that received prizes in film festivals were often never seen and were somewhat obscure. I was also wondering why they were relatively smaller budget movies and why we don’t see the Hollywood blockbusters in Film Festivals? I had some interesting conversations with Tony, who has been involved in the financing of films for a long time,” – continues Jo. – “When I asked him why Netflix does not come to the Cannes Film Festival, he explained to me that if a film premiers in Cannes, then there can be restrictions on the film distribution for up to three years thereafter. It is a staggering limitation as they are not allowed for DVD, aircraft video or streaming which bring higher incomes for film producers. Especially now that cinemas were closed and took a crash during the pandemic. I realised how bad this situation can be for streaming companies such as Netflix or Amazon to get content and for film creators to get exposure.”
During the past years, the streaming market became bigger with major players such as Netflix, Amazon, and Disney. However, the pandemic and the lockdowns simply skyrocketed their numbers and they are becoming more massive than ever.
“For me, this made a lot of sense because Reg Grundy created format licensing for the television industry, which is obviously a very important revenue stream for the film industry too. Core business. Also, I travel a lot in the world and am personally a major fan of streaming for my entertainment. I think we have already moved significantly away from traditional television. The two areas have very distinct footprints.”
There are many film festivals out there that are focusing on the theatrical aspect. However, understanding that there were no film festivals with a dedicated focus on video on demand, Tony decided to address this market gap, and with Jo via RG Capital, created and organised the first streaming film festival in the heart of Monte-Carlo – amid changing Covid restrictions.
Someone had to champion the Video-On-Demand industry (VOD) and their goal was to go even bigger. The Monaco Streaming Film Festival is four events in one; a film festival, a film market place, a conference, and summit, and of course a gala awards event.
How would you compare the Monaco Streaming Film Festival to the Monte-Carlo Festival of Television, which is an important, sought-after and prestigious international showcase?
“We never want or wanted to compete with the Monte-Carlo Festival of Television, as our goal is to only focus on VOD. We are happy with that, and have agreements in place not to feature broadcast content that is made for TV, so everyone is happy.”
As a first-year venue, did you get any substantial support from the government?
“We did not ask for favours, but they were very supportive. However, the biggest support was that they allowed us to use the Monaco name, which is always a great way to position an event.”
Jo and Tony started the event in the worse possible period in the middle of the pandemic. How did the travel restrictions and in general all the Covid restrictions effect you?
“We were quite badly impacted by Covid, as we were unable to bring in many of the expected participants, audience, panellists, and key note speakers from the UK. The UK was shut down just two weeks before the event which was something that we could not predict or prepare for.”
How, did you overcome this major obstacle?
“We ended up with this gap but I have never given up on anything in my life and I knew that there is only one way: forward. This was always meant to be a combined live physical event with a streaming virtual element, so we simply pulled in live participants or replaced with a video/virtual presentation from that person. In the end we had 1,000 guests and over 100k streaming viewers and we were really happy with that, given the constraints and challenges.”
Did you get any feedback also from the Monégasque Government?
“We understand that they were very pleased with the event last year. We are all excited about 2022 and have received great feedback and support from the Government, including the Tourism Office.”
What was the biggest challenge during the organisation?
“The technical executions went quite smoothly, thanks to the technical support from the Grimaldi Forum which was amazing. There were other aspects which were challenging,” – stops Jo for a brief moment. – “We knew it will be difficult to run an event in 2021, but we did not know how difficult it would be. We had a lot of uncertainty during the lockdown. Tony did had run events in Monaco previously, but not on this scale with both time and Covid constraints. Therefore, everything was a challenge for us – especially as it was also a totally new concept.”
The Monaco Streaming Film Festival opened with Alfred Hitchcock’s romantic thriller, To Catch a Thief. The film stars Princess Grace of Monaco and the screening attracted many local residents.
“We opened up in the Principality, the whole point was to bring Monaco in. We told many people to come along and suddenly everyone did. We had a full house at the theatre which was very emotional.
When you have conversations everyday wondering whether anyone will turn up and then suddenly people are there and you see the large number of attendees, it gives you a great relief. We had a lot of uncertainties before the event. The audience included Cecilia Peck and her family. Cecilia’s father, actor Gregory Peck had also starred in a number of Alfred Hitchcock films.”
Normally, such great attendance for the premier would be a success, but during the pandemic it was quite different.
“We had a very successful opening night cocktail party before the movie with some 100-150 people. We did not expect so many and we could not seat everyone under Covid restrictions. The table service started to be very slow as a result. However, in the end everyone had a great night and we got through it.”
So do you want to scale it down in 2022?
“No, far from it we are actually scaling it up. We are hoping that this year Covid will be less impacting and on this basis, we are taking the risk to scale up. We are taking more space at the Grimaldi Forum and we will feature more films and events.”
Do you plan to make this year a free festival for Monaco people, similar to last year?
“We had to be flexible last year during the Covid situation. We want to do something for the Monaco people, but this year, we decided to introduce ticket prices. Of course, there will be some “win tickets” type of promotions through our collaborators. We are currently finalising this aspect.”
The Monaco Streaming Film Festival also recognised the Irish-American dancer and fellow Monaco resident, Michael Flatley. His feature film, ‘Blackbird’ was premiered at the festival and has created an international buzz all around the world.
“Michael is definitely our greatest ambassador. The world press picked his premiere up big time and we are very grateful to him.”
Looking back at the four-day event, what was the most successful movie or presentation?
“We all had our favourite bits. For me, there was a presentation by David Yarrow which I found excellent. Unfortunately, he could not be present because of the last-minute UK lockdown, but we streamed his presentation to the audience. It was very interesting for me because he is an artist and does wildlife photography, as Reg Grundy did.”
The office of Jo, overlooking Port Hercules, features Reg Grundy’s original wildlife prints and the family office manages a large art collection. Reg Grundy, as well as being an art collector, had a lifelong passion for wildlife photography and left a big photographic library. They have permanent and temporary exhibitions of his works around the world.
Do you like art?
“I do like art but I do not know a lot about it although I tend to follow the traditional styles more than contemporary. I know what I like and what I do not like but I am certainly not an expert.”
Do you have any favourite piece from Reg Grundy?
“My favourite wildlife print is a photograph of a “Hippopotamus”. The first time Reg showed it to me waas in his home in Bermuda it was a huge piece of art and I immediately fell in love with it. I have a cut down version behind my desk.”
You also have a portrait of you and your late husband at your office, picturing you sitting in front of your house in the Bahamas.
“When we first went to our new house in the Bahamas we wanted local art pieces for the walls. My husband saw a painting he liked in one of the hotels and found out who the artist was. We met him and became good friends buying several of his works. We asked him to do a painting of the front of our house, so he came and took photographs, one of which was my husband and myself sitting on the back garden porch. I remember, I joked laughing with my husband that I hoped he did not take a close up so that he would not show my wrinkles. That is when he took the photo.
We had only asked the artist whether he could do a painting of the front of the house which has very beautiful bougainvillea. A few months after that visit my husband died.
Later that year, I returned to the Bahamas with friends and we went to the artist’s studio. He said that he wanted to give me something and went to his back storage. That was the first time that I saw this painting. He had zoomed in on the photo and he painted my late husband and me as the whole picture. It was quite an emotional shock for me and my friends but he had captured and safeguarded such a precious moment.
If you look around in my office, all my original artworks have a personal story related to them at one point of my life. I like art that means something to me.”
Did you have any personal favourite film too from last years’ selection?
“Not really, since they were all special and different to each other.”
How do you see the interest for this year from film makers?
“It is way over expectations. We opened up for film submissions and we received over 3,000 submissions in less than 3 months, from 112 countries, all around the world. The most applications are coming from locations with messages to share. For example, Iran is one of the biggest submissions territories. I have watched a couple of submissions. One of which was a quite interesting documentary from the USA where they went to an old psychiatric hospital building, hunting for ghosts. That was quite intriguing.”
Is there any typical genre?
“We are specifically a non-genre, non-geographic festival. I do not think there is any typical genre among the submissions, but many highlight the world’s problems.”
How can you review such a large number of submissions?
“We are building up a film review team, the International University of Monaco are involved and have international people helping us with the first filters. Many of them are independent. For example, we have people from Los Angeles and Australia too.”
One of the highlights of the Monaco Streaming Film Festival – and the main reason why Jo invested, on behalf of RG Capital and dedicated her time to this streaming film festival – was the legacy award bearing the name of Reg Grundy.
The festival presented multiple film awards, but parallel to these awards is a very special one, the Reg Grundy Innovation Award. This award is dedicated to someone who is an innovator and recognised in the industry as a game changer.
For the first year, the Reg Grundy Innovation Award was granted to the American actor and filmmaker, Jon Favreau, the creator of The Mandalorian.
Favreau innovated filming by replacing the green screen with massive LED screens to create the visual environment instead of green screens. It made it easier for the actors to visually see the scene and it also saved a lot of time on the number of takes and millions on post-production costs.
“For us, it was a great honour that Jon Favreau accepted the Reg Grundy Innovation Award. It is not very common that someone who has won an Emmy accepts an award from a brand-new festival.”
The Reg Grundy Award is gorgeous, could you tell us more about it?
“We wanted this to be a very prestigious award. The concept was to create something that is more modern than traditional because at the end, streaming is also a modern concept. The top of the award features a big blue agate stone, symbolising the Earth. Around it we placed three humans, holding each other and stretching out around the globe. Reg Grundy was all about communicating, co-operation and collaboration with people,” – explains Jo. – “It is a global reaching out and communication. I ended up designing it – so, another hat I had to put on!”
You mentioned that you plan to scale up the Monaco Streaming Film Festival.
“Yes, our goal is to have two events this year, and four events from next year. Understanding that some locations are more approachable for people, we decided to provide more live windows.”
Talking about evolving and future plans, you also decided to launch a new, online platform which will be a 24 hours ‘festival’ to connect industry people.
“We are a serious business and we would like this to be seen in the Monaco Streaming Film Festival too. It was always in Tony’s vision.” – explains Jo. – “People have fun during the festival and hopefully meet, but once it ends the communication often ends too. We aimed to implement the serious business aspect by opening up our festival as a 365 days a year, 24 hours, virtual platform. We would like to help the industry by breaking down the barriers to entry and the obtention of finance through to the production phase, and this requires more than a once-a-year event.”
With the help of various masterclasses, industry knowledge, market analysis, guidance, and connections to producers, the platform helps producers to produce and distribute their films and series.
“Let’s be honest, every visionary needs money to finance their projects. We are creating a hub and trying to make it easier for content creators. But we go even further as we offer a distribution aspect for the investors, so they can be more confident in the return of their investment. So basically, the annual Festival, or Festivals, will become the window to our platform.”
Where do you see the new trends in streaming?
“One exciting route is the AVOD or Advertising-based Video On Demand which is a model that includes free content funded by advertisements. Much like in broadcast television, the revenue comes 100% from selling ads on videos, very similar to the YouTube model.
The second route is sporting content. For instance, our 2022 festival will be straight after the Monaco Grand Prix, focusing on sporting content. We are very much looking forward to opening up the festival with a day of sport VOD content, for example, wrestling is huge at the moment.
Wrestling is the fastest growing supporter group for sports entertainment in the US. It is becoming a natural environment to creating movie stars because they are used to entertainment. Just see all those wrestling stars turned into movie stars such as The Rock, John Cena and Dave Bautista.
I can say that streaming is so diverse; yet, there is still not enough content for the enormous appetite of the people.”
Looking back at the Monaco Streaming Film Festival 2021, what was the most enjoyable moment for you?
“It was the opening cocktail party. I remember, coming from the offices in the Grimaldi Forum. Coming up to the cocktail area and seeing all those people. I felt the buzz and I realised that after all those worries – I said to myself, we did it. It was the realisation that hit me then, after a lot of late nights and hard work. That moment was the moment I realised we would succeed.”
Do you think this year you can accomplish more without home office?
“I do not think that working from home works. I find that my job is twice as difficult because people in some professions are less productive and less efficient or organised at home. Simply because they are used to working in teams or with their assistants. At home they don’t have the same level of work comfort. Also, there are a lot of people who are not necessarily independent in their work and they need supervision to be productive. This is not particularly in Monaco; I work with people all around the world so it seems everywhere. I believe with less restrictions we will be more productive.”
Do you have a lot of distractions at home?
“I have a lot of distractions because, as for many people, I am surrounded by constructions as Monaco develops. I would prefer to work from the office anyway. It is a fact of life that in the office it is a working environment, while at home you expect peace.”
You are in Monaco for more than 35 years now. The modernisation is an important part of the Principality and they need to find places for new residents.
“Of course modernisation is a necessary part of life, but for me, the old villas and small buildings of the 1930s are part of the very important heritage and charm. Finding the balance is a challenge.
Monaco is very expensive for accommodation costs so I think it is right to provide homes for the Monégasque people, especially those on smaller incomes who need help to live and work in their own country. On the other hand, Monaco also needs to have enough accommodation available for those who come to work here and help grow the Monaco economy.”
Do you like Monaco?
“I don’t dislike it. Let’s put it this way, it ticks more boxes than any other place I have ever lived – or live. When I try to consider some other place to live full time, I don’t get the same feeling as Monaco. Also, the positive things here are very positive and important – such as security. I am a realist; Monaco is not perfect but at the end of the day it is the closest that you can get in life.”
What was the biggest lesson you have learned in the past 35 years?
“I am still learning actually,” – laughs Jo. – “I learned a lot in the last decade. One of the biggest lessons for me was to learn not to be frustrated when something is not going according to your expectations. It is OK if things are changing. Stepping back and waiting is also good because you will get a better perspective and ultimately make a better decision.”