Business Irish

Friday 19 September 2014

Ahoy, a toff at helm of BoI

Shane Ross

Published 19/12/2004 | 00:11

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I CAN think of lots of good reasons why Richard Burrows was last week chosen as the next Governor of the Bank of Ireland.

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He lives in France.

He is a good sailor.

He is a past president of IBEC, the useless employers group.

He was on the board of CIE, the bankrupt semi-state.

He was a director of the defunct National Development Corporation.

He was slaughtered by Pat Hickey in a contest for the post of President of the Olympic Council.

And that, in a nutshell, is the affable Richard Burrows.

Burrows's day job is as joint chief of Pernod Ricard, the giant French drinks group. And by all accounts he is a wizard of the drinks industry.

He is a non-resident for tax purposes. And with all that sailing, he probably spends even less time on Irish soil than the average absentee from the Irish revenue.

So what on earth is the Bank of Ireland at? Why did they appoint him?

Last week Eamon Dunphy, unknowingly, put his finger on it. In an aside on his radio Breakfast Show, announcing Burrows's appointment, he remarked: "Isn't he a toff?"

Burrows is a 'toff' all right. He has the perfect manners of a toff andthe business style of the patrician classes.

I should know. I am a bit of a fallen toff myself; but I came across Burrows in unfortunate circumstances a few years ago.

Richard had just been subsumed into the presidency of the dreaded employers group, IBEC. He seems to have plenty of spare time for these unelected posts. His ascent to the leadership of Ireland's big business outfit coincided with a headfirst attack I had made on IBEC in these columns.

Richard was disturbed by the article. What did he do? Did he issue a writ? Did he demand a right of reply? Did he ask for a meeting to put me right?

No. Burrows committed the cardinal sin against journalists. He made a call to the Indo's then managing director, David Palmer, to ask what was the problem. Palmer, coincidentally, is also a keen sailor.

Ho-hum.

To his great credit - according to Palmer - he asked Richard did he know me? Richard replied that he did. So, Palmer suggested he telephone the journalist, not the boss. He rang the same day.

Richard and I met over coffee in Leinster House a few days later. We exchanged pleasant platitudes about IBEC and went on our merry ways.

I was particularly surprised at his approach as his father, George Burrows, had been a distinguished journalist with the Irish Times.

The episode told me a bit about Burrows. He is personally most engaging. He moves in a charmed circle. His instinct - to approach the boss rather than the sinner himself - was typical of the insider mentality of IBEC and the Bank of Ireland. It is the way the 'toffs' at the top of Irish business network. It is precisely the way they operate at the Bank of Ireland and IBEC. Insiders to a man - and to the odd token woman.

I remember nothing of Richard's reign at IBEC, except an embarrassing attempt to identify with the high tech fad. At one point he and another old dinosaur, IBEC's John Dunne, were prepared to pose for a silly photograph, peering out from behind PCs in an attempt to persuade the world that the IBEC monster was a modern technocrat!

So, was Burrows the only name in the hat down at the Bank of Ireland last week?

Ho hum. Nearly.

The palaver was tortuous. A sub-committee of the board was set up to consider the candidates. It consisted of Denis O'Brien, Mary Redmond, Donal Geany, David Dilger, Caroline Marland and Sir Michael Hodgkinson. Most other board members were ruled out for various reasons. They were stepping down; they were executives etc.

It was a committee of true insiders. They say they searched the globe and finally carried out just two interviews! According to sources inside the sub-committee, they spoke to no external candidates! So there was not a single other genius in the whole wide world suitable for the job.And after their extensive deliberations, the BoI cabal came up with the amazing result that Burrows, the winner of the "Round Ireland Yacht Race of 1986", was also the winner of the global search for a governor.

When the cabal came to the full board they only offered one name. They did not even tell the other 11 the name of the losing candidate. Richard was King.

Cynics might be forgiven for wondering if the other candidate was a phantom.

Anyone who witnessed Richard's appointment to the Court in 2000 would have known that he was earmarked to be governor. It was sticking out a mile. The trustee of Malahide Yacht Club was parachuted into Ireland's banking golden circle in the dying days of the governorship of one of the doyens of the Royal St George Yacht Club, Howard Kilroy. The retiring governor, Lawrence Crowley, was also a regular at the humble Royal St George. Quite a clubbable trio.

Suddenly, in 2002, Richard leapfrogged into the deputy governorship and in 2003 he was torpedoed into the position of "senior independent director". Richard was to the manor born.

All that sub-committee stuff, the external consultants, the cosmetic window-dressing; and guess who comes through the tortuous process? The boy next door.

Last week, I asked Richard how much time he was going to spend on the job as governor. He said that it was "not a big-time involvement" and reminded me that it was a "non-executive chairmanship". He reckoned it would take "two days a week". Not bad for a post which pays over ?300,000 a year. That's about ?3,000 a day. Even better, when you consider the rewards of Richard's day job.

Last year, at Pernod Ricard he pulled in ?1.3m in salary and bonus, plus pension, options and other perks, probably totalling around ?1.5m. If he spends two days at the Bank of Ireland and two days sailing he will only have three days left for Pernod Ricard. On a rough calculation, they will be giving him around ?5,000 a day. Perhaps he should ask the Court of the Bank of Ireland for a rise?

Richard assured me that Pernod Ricard had no problem with his new position or with the amount of time it would take him away from the day job.

As a shareholder in the Bank of Ireland, I am not too happy that the Governor lives in Paris. I am not at all happy that he is chosen from the IBEC/ Bank of Ireland/ sailing circle. I am deeply unhappy that no outsider was given an interview. I do not believe that Richard is worth ?300,000 a year as a part-timer.

Did they approach Sean FitzPatrick of Anglo Irish?

Far too dynamic. Anyway, he plays golf and fails the sailing test.

Or Des O'Malley, with two years at the European Bank of Reconstruction now under his belt?

You must be joking. Far tooinquisitive. Des might start todemand transparency.

Or Niamh Brennan, the Professor of Management at UCD currently on the board of Ulster Bank? No way. Too independent. Amaniac for corporate governance. Far too bright. Doesn't suffer fools gladly.

Anyway, she would spend too much time worrying about the shareholders.

Far better to favour a sailor from Paris with the right pedigree.

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