Thursday 29 September 2016

Blackstone boss says the Irish cleaned up own mess

Published 02/07/2015 | 02:30

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D. with Blackstone's Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder Stephen A. Schwarzman, right, at the official launch of Blackstone LaunchPad, the highly successful campus entrepreneurship programme in Ireland. Photo: Damien Eagers
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D. with Blackstone's Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder Stephen A. Schwarzman, right, at the official launch of Blackstone LaunchPad, the highly successful campus entrepreneurship programme in Ireland. Photo: Damien Eagers

The head of the world's biggest private equity firm has heaped praise on Ireland for accepting that the crisis was "our fault" and pledging to "clean it up."

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Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman has invested heavily in so-called distressed Irish assets including Eircom in the wake of the crisis, and has already reaped hundreds of millions of euro as the economy here recovers.

This country had turned into one of the "great winners" coming out of the financial crisis, he said in Dublin yesterday.

"This is the only place where people said, 'OK, we made a mess, and we're going to clean it up and it's our fault and we're going to fix it.

"That's because you have a great people here and you have great leadership," Mr Schwarzman said at an event in Trinity College Dublin which was also attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

He said he had been watching what Ireland has achieved, including the fact that the State is now the fastest growing economy in Europe, and described it as "amazing".

"Ireland has turned into the great winners coming out of the financial crisis. You may not see that yourselves because you're living through it. But as outsiders we can see it," he added.

Mr Schwarzman was in Dublin for the announcement of the the Blackstone Charitable Foundation's first international expansion of its campus entrepreneurship programme, Blackstone LaunchPad, to Ireland.

Ireland becomes the seventh Blackstone LaunchPad region and its first international one, after Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Montana, and California.

The three-year, €2m grant will establish a partnership between National University of Ireland Galway, Trinity College Dublin, and University College Cork to introduce entrepreneurship as a career option and provide over 50,000 students with venture coaches and an entrepreneurial support system.

Blackstone hit the headlines after buying €1.1bn of loans tied to O'Flynn Construction Group last year. That deal turned sour when Blackstone moved to take control of the O'Flynn empire.

The case ended up in the courts before being resolved earlier this year.

Blackstone earlier paid €67m for Dublin's former Burlington Hotel in 2012, part of a property buying spree that including the Bloodstone Building - an office block in the Dublin docks and a stake in Dublin's Clyde Court and Ballsbridge Hotels, which it has already sold.

Its biggest deal here was buying loans in Eircom at knock down prices and joining other lenders to use the soured loans to take control of the bankrupt business in 2012.

This year Blackstone made an estimated €375m profit selling part of its Eircom stake to hedge fund Anchorage Capital.

Mr Schwarzman said his company had a "good experience" in Ireland.

"We have a programme called buy it, fix it, sell it. That's what we do. If markets go up in addition, then we tend to do very well," he said.

The Blackstone boss said in Ireland, it is in the 'fix it' stage rather than 'sell it'.

At the Blackstone LaunchPad event, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Government is promoting policies that support enterprise and job creation.

"It is our goal that this balanced recovery will lead to sustainable full employment by 2018," Mr Kenny said.

"To achieve this vision, we need to embrace the entrepreneurial instincts of students in Irish universities."

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