Irish

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Buffett-linked fund eyes Irish telco -- but it's not Eircom

Roisin Burke

Published 01/04/2012 | 05:00

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THERE is no shortage of people who are shopping for distressed assets in Ireland at the moment -- but few have the firepower of a Berkshire Hathaway board member on their team.

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Warren Buffett's billionaire childhood friend and one of the richest men in the US, Walter Scott, has teamed up with a wealthy Irish-American businessman to make distressed buys here.

David McCourt is the principle at Granahan McCourt Capital, a private investment fund focused on small to mid-sized telecommunications and media firms. The Boston businessman has strong links here and an Irish passport.

Walter Scott, his business partner and mentor, is a director at Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, owning a stake of about $13m (€9.75m).

Scott chairs the €5.6bn-capped Level 3 Communications, which bought the Irish internet company Servcast for €30m a few years back.

The Omaha-based billionaire built up construction giant, Kiewit, a family firm that had been started by his father and which he turned into a telecom, fibre-optics and power-plant business.

He is a staple name on the Forbes rich list, having made his billions from Berkshire Hathaway's acquisition of MidAmerican Energy in 2000.

Scott's emissary in Ireland is McCourt, who has spent the last two weeks meeting representatives of each of the Irish banks and several companies. It is believed that up to four deals are close to signing.

"Walter and I looked at Ireland," said McCourt, "With €135bn worth of assets to be sold, it looks like there are options here. We are talking to a number of companies that have either been in default on loans or are about be, or where the banks are about to, or already have taken over.

"If they're good businesses with bad balance sheets, we could be helpful," he said.

A partnership in some of these plans is "locked and loaded" with restructuring specialist Gores Group, which has lbeen linked with a move for Greenstar

McCourt said: "We're interested in any business that we feel we would understand, where we have a view on where it's going to go and respect the management. The balance sheet can be broken but not the business.

"We like to go where there has been lots of disruption or change -- the more change the better. Incidents of change allow us to have an advantage over bigger companies. We have less baggage."

McCourt first partnered with Scott on Kiewit's London venture, designing cable television and telecoms networks for the European market. He is on UCD's Smurfit school advisory board and on JP Morgan Chase's advisory board.

His current personal worth is not known but he implies that it is in the $1bn range.

McCourt said he was looking at Telco buys "but not Eircom" and was "staying away from real estate for now".

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