20 dumbest moves of the year: naked emails or a dodgy ATM?
Nick Webb spills the beans on some of the more, er... ill-advised moments seen in corporate Ireland over the past 12 months
Published 01/01/2012 | 05:00
THERE were some epic failures of judgement and spectacular cock-ups in business during 2011. Hide under your duvet and share the pain of some of Ireland's top business names as we recall how they fell flat on their faces.
Brendan Ogle's gravy
The curse of the camera phone hit ESB union chief Brendan Ogle when footage of a speech at a republican meeting in which he described his union members as "spoilt" emerged on youtube.
Ogle described himself and his colleagues as "privileged and very lucky" and listed an "after-hours work scheme" as well as cushy over-time as examples of the "gravy" that workers had become used to.
"You wouldn't know it listening to them, but they are very privileged and lucky," he said. It didn't help that the ESB announced a price hike as it emerged that average salaries at the semi-state were above €93,000.
EPA euros for yoyos
The Environmental Protection Agency, a quango set up to make Ireland greener, blew thousands of euros on yoyos, opera and staff treasure hunts as the economy imploded, the Sunday Independent revealed last summer.
Things got worst for the quango when we revealed -- the following weekend -- that the green body had taken 1,200 flights in just 800 days as it criss-crossed the globe attending meetings in Bangkok, Beijing, San Diego and Vancouver.
Elan suggests giving drugs in 'apple sauce'
Cringe. Elan made a €147m settlement with US authorities as part of an agreement to resolve US criminal and civil investigations into the illegal marketing of an epilepsy drug.
When the Sunday Independent poked around the story a bit more, we discovered that Elan advised doctors to give an unauthorised drug, Zonegran, to young children by mixing it in "apple sauce".
The case also revealed that Elan had paid for doctors -- who prescribed the drug -- to go on "all expenses paid" junkets to Bermuda and Key Largo in Florida, as well as the exclusive Vail ski resort in Colorado and Tucson, Arizona.
Bank of Ireland and
the 'smutty' emails
Bank of Ireland sacked a number of workers after discovering that they had been sending nudie pictures through the email system.
It wasn't exactly Debbie Does Dallas stuff. More like something you'd see on a postcard in Blackpool.
A wrongful dismissal case found that the bank had made a hames of the disciplinary procedures and investigation and two workers were awarded €66,000 in damages.
Mercury freckle cream
They're not that bad. . . are they? People will go to extraordinary lengths to hide freckles. But sometimes it's just a step too far.
The National Consumer Agency announced it was investigating Stillman's Freckle Cream. Following tests carried out by authorities in the UK and Denmark, the cream was found to contain levels of mercury significantly in excess of EU limits.
"Regular use of this product over a period of time can cause mercury poisoning," according to the NCA.
Talk Talk's big party
British telecom's company firm Talk Talk announced that it was closing its Waterford operations with the loss of 575 jobs. . . just after inviting all the staff to a big party. Just before receiving an email telling them they would lose their jobs, Talk Talk emailed staff to tell them how great they were.
The "thanks a million" email also offered an incentive to win a luxury holiday in Dubai and the chance to "swim with dolphins". Management at Talk Talk's UK HQ then said that the Irish staff were "welcome" to come to the party. Classy.
Foster & Allen
In November it emerged that musical duo Foster & allen had made a complete mess of their tax affairs and were stung with a €6m bill that included fines and interest.
The diddley-eye duo claimed that legal issues had led to the cock-up -- but a High Court case appealing the revenue Commissioners' demands was dismissed.
AIB and mortgage rate cuts
Enda Kenny called the banks in for a meeting in November as the European Central Bank cut interest rates. A spectacular PR disaster ensued as the State-owned AIB and partially state-owned Bank of Ireland left the meeting and announced that they wouldn't be passing on the benefits of the mortgage rate cuts to hard-pressed customers.
Minister of State Brian Hayes described the move not to cut rates as "pathetic" -- but AIB and Bank of Ireland simply eyeballed the government and refused to budge.
The Central Bank was called in to see if it could force the banks to pass on the rate cuts. It didn't want anything to do with the increasingly hot potato and dodged for cover. immense pressure was put on AIB -- 99 per cent owned by the taxpayer -- and by the end of the week it capitulated. Bank of Ireland didn't.
Sean Quinn's laptop
In October, a Cyprus court heard allegations that Sean Quinn's son-in-law had been allowed to trade a €380 laptop for a property company worth €9.8m.
Anglo Irish Bank alleged that some €300m in assets had been moved out of the Quinn family's property empire over recent months.
Swapping a laptop for a building company doesn't seem to be very good business. If Anglo is correct, is it any wonder quinn's empire went splat with silly transactions like that?
Declan Collier's bonus
Dublin Airport Authority is losing money hand-over-fist as passenger numbers tumble and its debt mountain creaks. Nonetheless it paid chief executive declan Collier a €106,000 bonus.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar went ape over the payment, saying he was "very dissatisfied" with the board for awarding the bonus as other state bonuses were given the kybosh.
A war of words ensued and, after the best part of a week, it was announced that Collier would "forgo" his bonus. Soon after, the airport boss said that he was leaving to take up a job in london.
Greencore and the Northern Foods saga
Greencore's Patrick Coveney looked to have inked a pretty useful deal when announcing that the company was merging with British rival northern Foods to create a Essenta Foods, a €2bn-per-year convenience food goliath.
But Greencore and its advisors left the back door open and allowed a rival bidder to sneak in and gazump them. Greencore was left with egg all over its face and a €13m bill for adviser fees associated with the failed deal.
Sony Bravia exploding television sets
Whoops. Sony came out to tell owners of its super-slick Bravia televisions that they were a bit liable to go up in smoke. A faulty component could overheat and "ignite within the television", possibly resulting in melting the upper casing of the television.
There were 11 incidents of this in Japan. Around 1.6 million televisions were thought to be affected by the fault, with about 8,000 in ireland. Sony offered to give owners a free inspection and fix any problems.
Kevin Cardiff's new job and the €3.6bn cock-up
With the country bristling from Dermot McCarthy's €713,000 pay off, it emerged that Kevin Cardiff -- the head guy at the Department of Finance -- was also heading out the exit.
Cardiff had been in charge of the department of Finance banking unit during the boom and bust before assuming the top job. It emerged that the Government had recommended him for a plum job at the European Court of Auditors, worth a cool €1.6m in pay and perks over the term in office. the move sparked outrage.
Things didn't improve when it was discovered that the department of Finance had "lost" €3.6bn through an accounting snafu.
The money was found but Cardiff's reputation wasn't exactly enhanced -- especially after a combative appearance in front of the Public Accounts Committee.
His move to Europe was voted down by a committee at the court of Auditors before a full vote at the European parliament cleared his appointment.
Dermot McCarthy's considerable pay-off
Secretary-general Dermot McCarthy was one of the top civil servants during the boom years as the Fianna Fail-led government sowed the seeds of economic armageddon through shocking economic policies.
When the country imploded, McCarthy rode off into the sunset with his saddlebags full, thanks to a stupendous €713,000 retirement and pension package.
It included a lump sum of €428,000. Grrrr.
Michael Fingleton's teeth and hotel stays
Just when you thought that the banks couldn't get any worse, revelations emerged of some extraordinary expense claims filed by former irish Nationwide boss Michael Fingleton before his departure.
Some €88,000 in expenses were queried by Anglo Irish Bank, which took hold of Nationwide during the musical chairs of the banking collapse.
These claims included €12,180 incurred by Fingers for dental work while chief executive and €2,600 for a two-night stay at the Dorchester Hotel in London for himself and his wife after he left the building society in 2009.
Nama and Paddy McKillen
When Nama tried to take control of property investor Paddy McKillen's bank loans, it got a bloody nose. A series of court cases eventually ruled that Nama had made a mess of the whole process and that it wasn't entitled to take the loans in the first place.
With up to €7m in legal bills brewing, Nama skulked off and said that it didn't want them anyway and wouldn't be appealing.
AIB's mad ATM network
In May, AIB's ATM cash machine network went berserk, eating people's money and making thousands of withdrawals from accounts without actually squirting out the cash.
Red-faced AIB agreed to refund €8.3m to customers over the 41,000 wonky transactions conducted by its computers.
Ryanair and the
Aer Lingus EGM
Michael O'Leary and Ryanair scented blood at Aer Lingus when the former semi-state company decided not to publish a consultant's report into how its "leave and return" scheme -- where staff quit the company only to be rehired under different terms -- had gone so badly wrong.
Aer Lingus was forced to make a €30m settlement to the Revenue Commissioners over the scheme. As a 29 per cent shareholder, Ryanair pushed and pushed for the report to be published.
A vociferous campaign calling for an EGM and a shareholder vote kicked off. A series of high-profile letters between ryanair and Aer Lingus were leaked, making front page news. Aer Lingus insisted that Ryanair wasn't entitled to call an EGM. Ryanair insisted it was... and then... er, changed its mind.
Sean Gallagher's loan
It was the Father Ted moment that helped to derail former Dragons' den star Sean Gallagher's presidential campaign. Flying high in the polls, revelations that Gallagher had received an interest-free €83,000 loan from one of his companies caused the campaign gear box to start crunching. The loan was against company law.
Gallagher claimed that it was an honest mistake and "an accounting error". When details of a Fianna Fail fundraiser became public, the Gallagher bubble burst on the Frontline debate.
Unilever's Sun Cleanboost dishwasher tablets
When Unilever started advertising its Sun Cleanboost dishwasher tablets on Irish television, they were described as cleaning better than the "leading brand".
This claim got right up the nose of Finish dishwasher tablet maker Reckitt Benckiser, which complained to the Advertising Standards Authority.
After reviewing all the testing and methodology for gauging how well a dishwasher tablet cleans, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that Unilever was in fact talking through its posterior.
It was forced to take down the ad, as it "did not justify the unqualified claim of 'cleans better than the leading brand'".