Friday 9 December 2016

Businessman Neville Isdell: Money is not a motivator, but it is how you keep score in life

Neville Isdell (72) is a businessman and former chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company. Born in Co Down, he has owned the CHQ building, where he has just opened Epic Ireland, since 2013. He lives with his wife, Pamela, and they have one daughter, Cara

Ciara Dwyer

Published 09/05/2016 | 02:30

Businessman Neville Isdell. Photo: Arthur Carron
Businessman Neville Isdell. Photo: Arthur Carron

When I wake up in the morning, I sometimes have to think about where I am. I'm based in Barbados, but we've also got a home in Cape Town and another one in Atlanta, Georgia, where I worked for quite a while. My daughter and grandson are based there, and that's the whole family. My wife goes back there a lot, and that's where our dog still is. Then in summer, we live in France.

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The common denominator in all of those places and the time of year that I'm there, is that I can wake up in the morning and the sun is shining. I was brought up in Africa, and I don't like cold weather, so I just don't live where it's cold. Light is very important to me, too. So, I open up the door and look outside and see a beautiful view. It may be the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, blue skies and mountains, or olive trees in Provence. On average, I get up around 7am. My wife, Pamela, travels with me a lot. We've been married for 46 years. Over the past 20 years in my career - I was with Coca-Cola for 43 years - I would have travelled at least half of the year. I found it tiring, but very interesting. I have lived and worked in 11 countries on five continents.

In the mornings, I'll have fresh fruit and a smoothie. I usually have my breakfast by the computer while I do my emails. I want to see what's come across the tracks. I probably get 30 emails a day, and I deal with everything straight away. My goal is to have that list of emails done before I go to the gym. I'll normally have a look at the news online. Then I spend an hour-and-a-half in the gym every morning. I do 10km on the bike, and then the trainer comes in. I do an hour with him. He makes sure that I don't push myself too much.

I have different trainers in each home. I've only been able to find the time to do this since I retired. I'm semi-retired. My wife calls me a serial failed retiree, and she's right. But she supports it. I know that I cannot and should not become what is defined as a normal retiree. I've seen them. They age more quickly, and their conversational scope is reduced.

I've always been interested in history, geography and politics, and they are all current-type things. Therefore, I'll continue to be active in things that interest me.

In all our homes, I've got an office. I talk to my stepbrother, Mervyn, for an hour at least, four days a week. We're very close. He is a smart guy. Back in 2013, Mervyn and my investment adviser phoned to tell me about the CHQ building. They were looking for properties for me in Dublin, and, in between appointments, they had a coffee there. They were told that it was for sale. They sent me pictures of it and write-ups, but the auction was on before I could get across. We put in a bid before I'd even seen the building. It was a ghost-town, but I had a feeling about it. If you're going to be successful, you have to take risks. I paid €10m for it.

When I saw it, I fell in love with it. I didn't see the shopping centre that had failed, because I hadn't seen it as a shopping centre. I just saw this empty building, and I thought it was fabulous. It was full of light, and in the middle of the financial district. And the old vaults were perfect for the other project which I have funded - Epic Ireland.

During the day, I look after my investments. I must make money to keep going. Money is not a motivator, but it is how you keep score in life. It's an enabler. I've been paid very well and I've done well with my investments. But I give quite a lot to charity. Also, it enables me to give money to causes I like, and I'm interested in; things like Epic Ireland in the CHQ building, which opened yesterday. It's a 21st-Century interactive museum, which tells the story of the Irish people who emigrated.

Normally, this is told in a very sad way, because it was very sad. You have to cover that, but also move past that. The other piece of the story was not being told. What came out of it was heroic and has to be celebrated. Look at the imprint that the Irish have made on the world. We should be proud and want to tell those stories. By the way, not all the people were successful in the right way. We've got a rogues gallery, too. Even today, like everywhere else, it's not a nation of angels, and those that left didn't end up as angels.

I always had this thing about going back to Ireland to tell the story of the Irish people. I was born in Downpatrick, but left Ireland when I was 10 years old. My father wanted to get out because he saw more opportunities abroad. I fell in love with Africa. There was a strong Irish diaspora in Zambia, and my father was head of the Wild Geese Society there. He also used to run a St Patrick's Night ball there. He worked in fingerprints and ballistics in the police. When he was trying to train the first Zambians in the force, he had been told that the work was too difficult for them. That was the mindset of a lot of colonial people, typically sectarian, but he was far from that. In fact, he wanted to get out of Northern Ireland because of sectarianism. Although we were a Protestant family, we're a rugby family and we think of Ireland on a unitary basis. That's why Epic Ireland is about the island of Ireland.

In the evenings, Pamela and I eat out a lot. Then we'll have a drink and a chat before bed. I do lot of reading, but I don't read fiction because I don't have time. Having a grandchild has changed my life, but I'm actually a bad grandfather, because I'm not there enough. That's the sad part, but that's the choice. You can't do everything.

I switch out the light and go to sleep straight away. I'm not a big dreamer. I do my dreaming when I'm awake.

See epicirelandchq.com

Pre-booked tickets recommended and available online. Open seven days a week, 9am to 7pm. Adults €16, family ticket €40 (two adults and two children)

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