independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Bankruptcy, bans and PR blunders ground high-flyers

This year's big business losers lick their wounds after some career calamities, writes John Mulligan

IF I CAN MAKE IT THERE, I’LL MAKE IT ANYWHERE: Sean Dunne on the streets of New York

FROM seeing investments bomb to having to walk the plank at work, 2013's business losers have been through the wringer.

Nick Furlong

Illegal downloads and hot competition from legit online film outfits like Netflix screening winning shows like Breaking Bad and House of Cards gave embattled DVD rental outfit Xtra-vision a very tough year.

Owners Pageant Holdings, where Nick Furlong is a principal along with financier Peter O'Grady Walshe, attempted to buy it back from examinership after it was able to shed expensive leases, but in the end it went to Paul McGowan's Hilco, which specialises in business recovery.

There was better news for Furlong at Dublin software firm Datalex, where Pageant owns a more than 10 per cent stake. Its shares rose over 50 per cent this year.

Philip Smith

Falling on your sword is never nice. But when an €80m hole needs to be plugged at your company it's an occupational hazard for a CEO, even when blameless. RSA Ireland boss Philip Smith committed hari kari and resigned, having been suspended pending an investigation.

With no findings of wrongdoing having been made or alleged against him, it's meant a rough time for Smith who says he's been made a "fall guy".

Sean Dunne

He was as full of vim and bluster as ever in court appearances but the erstwhile Baron of Ballsbridge has had another bruising year.

In December, he said how he had given €100m to his wife Gayle Killilea when they married in 2005. In return, he got "love and affection" and the "odd shirt" washed, he told a US bankruptcy court.

Gayle, who looks like she hasn't ever washed a shirt in her life, is basically Dunner's employer now, apparently.

Nama was challenging Mr Dunne's discharge from debt, alleging that the Carlow native fraudulently transferred assets to Ms Killilea. He's been fighting courts on both sides of the Atlantic and is appealing a High Court decision to allow his bankruptcy to go ahead in Ireland.

Ulster Bank initiated the process against him over default of €161m of loans. One hundred pieces of art and assorted golf trinkets were seized from a luxury home in the K Club by an official administering Mr Dunne's bankruptcy proceedings. Who owns the golfing home is "somewhat vague", according to a High Court judge.

Tony O'Reilly Jnr

The ambition is to turn a chunk of Ireland into Texas, or at least Aberdeen, with a 1bn barrel oil prospect score. And maybe the black gold will flow one day.

But this year, the boss of exploration firm Providence Resources and son of former bean baron and one-time INM majority shareholder Tony Snr has seen shares in the firm slump about 60 per cent as the firm failed to live up to very optimistic expectations that it only had itself to blame for raising.

Global oil giant ExxonMobil, which along with Providence has a stake in the Dunquin prospect off the south-west coast, failed to find any commercial quantity of oil there during the summer. There had been high hopes that a major find would spark a resource boom for Ireland.

PJ Clarke

Surely the Tesco Ireland chief looks sideways at his predecessor and now chairman Tony Keohane and thinks "that lucky sod had it easy."

It's been a baptism of fire for Clarke. Keohane basked in the glow of a business that saw runaway growth as the global grocery leviathan expanded following its acquisition of Quinnsworth. Now it all seems to have gone a bit pear-shaped.

While Tesco is still the biggest predator on the Irish grocery plain, its position as the alpha pack leader is under threat from Dunnes. In the third quarter, Tesco's sales in Ireland plunged 8.1 per cent. That followed a 4.4 per cent fall in the second quarter and a 3 per cent decline in the first quarter.

About €400m has been wiped off its Irish sales in just those three quarters. German discounters Aldi and Lidl continue to pose a growing threat.

Michael O'Leary

He's had a great innings. Years of high-flying at Europe's top low-cost airline in a job that allows the ebullient Mullingar resident to frolic with the bikini-clad "girls of Ryanair" for photocalls, dress up as the Pope, straddle model aeroplanes or mouth off at will about almost anything that tickles his fancy.

Admittedly, it's hard to think of the chief executive of Europe's biggest low-cost airline as a business loser -- and we would expect the self-effacing boss to agree with that. But this year Ryanair has been again rebuffed by the European Commission in its efforts to take over Aer Lingus, while the UK Competition Commission has ordered the airline to cut its stake in the smaller carrier to 5 per cent from almost 30 per cent.

Two profit warnings and PR fallout over the fact the airline charged grief-stricken surgeon Dr Muhammad Taufiq Sattar €188 to change his flights to go home to the UK after his family had been killed, all served to chasten the carrier this year.

Still, it's now embarked on a new "customer-friendly" strategy, so perhaps the only way is up.

The Bailey Brothers

It's the corporate naughty step for Galway builder brothers Michael and Tom Bailey, the owners of a firm synonymous with boom-time building around Dublin -- Bovale Developments.

They were banned by the court from being company directors for seven years. It related to "systematic falsification" of books of account and an understatement of remuneration between 1996 and 1998.

Jack Stein

High-street fashion wear chain A-Wear was put into receivership in November, just a month after Canadian businessman Stein secured sole control of it from the Jetsa investment group. It had entered examinership in October.

The latest receivership is A-wear's third in six years. Another fine mess, as some might say. Now examiner Ken Fennell is tasked with trying to see what stores can be saved and salvaging the business.

Irish Independent

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