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High-fliers reinvent themselves to escape the great recession

The boom times may be long gone but there are a group of powerful individuals who are continuing to prosper amidst the doom and gloom. Their skills, contacts and abilities are in demand as Ireland tries to recover from the property crash. The former bankers, economists and even a builder are thriving during the country’s deepest economic recession. Siobhan Creaton and Emmet Oliver look at Ireland’s influential movers and shakers

Published 15/09/2011 | 05:00

1 Cormac McCarthy (Once Ulster Bank, now Oaktree)

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As chief executive of Ulster Bank, McCarthy led the bank's aggressive lending spree, backing some of the biggest projects of the boom years, including Sean Dunne's Ballsbridge Jurys purchase.

McCarthy is now reported to be working for debt group Oaktree Capital Partners, which focuses on distressed deals, including in the construction industry.

McCarthy has also landed non-executive roles at Paddy Power and BWG, the grocery chain.

McCarthy left Ulster Bank in July 2010 amid rising losses at the bank, which is still active in the Irish banking market, but has cut its links to the property scene.

It is understood that McCarthy, who earned as much as £1.4m (€1.7m) a year in the good times, got no redundancy package as his departure was voluntary.

Ulster Bank's parent, RBS, has had an even more bruising time in the UK and McCarthy's then group chief executive, Fred Goodwin, fell on his sword in late 2008 when RBS was eventually bailed out by the British taxpayer.

2 John Mulcahy

(Once Jones Lang Lasalle, now NAMA)

As chairman of Jones Lang, Mulcahy was one of the most well-known property players during the boom years.

But there was controversy in October 2010 when Mulcahy became full-time portfolio manager at NAMA.

He first worked on the NAMA project from 2009 when he went on secondment from Jones Lang to the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA).

Mulcahy has been asked to explain his previous role and its implications for his current work in the Oireachtas on occasion, but despite this he is regarded within NAMA as a leading expert on the property market, including downturns.

Mulcahy acted as adviser in many of the biggest commercial property deals during the boom.

One of the roles he acted in was the sale of the Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend, Dublin.

Mulcahy has said that while property markets can dramatically tumble, they can often recover far more quickly than people realise at the time of the crash.

3 Pat McArdle

(Former Ulster Bank economist)

Pat McArdle was one of Ulster Bank's most high-profile economists and he continued to issue forecasts about the prospects for the Irish economy until his retirement in 2009.

Since then he has worked as an economic commentator and more recently was appointed by the Government to carry out a review of the Department of Finance's role in the financial crisis along with former Canadian deputy finance minister Rob Wright and others.

It found that while the department had issued several warnings about the housing bubble, it was not strong enough and furthermore wasn't heeded by the top politicians who had loads of money to spend and freely did that, particularly in the run-up to general elections.

McArdle also carries out other work as an economic consultant.

4 Mark Duffy

(Once Bank of Scotland (Ireland), now Asset Resolution Corporation)

The flamboyant former banker led the assault on the domestic banks during the boom, but found himself departing Bank of Scotland (Ireland) as chief executive in February 2009 as the true scale of the bank's property exposures was becoming clear.

Duffy, who liked to describe banking as just another form of retail, was reported to have received a generous handshake upon leaving the bank.

Duffy's time at Bank of Scotland was characterised by huge lending to Ireland's major property developers, including Liam Carroll and Jim Mansfield. Duffy also expanded the Bank of Scotland brand, via the purchase of ESB's retail network, in the final years of the boom.

Duffy then left the public stage, but returned in 2009 as one of two backers of a new company called Asset Resolution Corporation.

This firm was reported to be interested in buying loans NAMA-style, but to date no deals have been reported by the company. The other player in the company was tax consultant Kevin Warren.

5 JIm O'Leary

(Once an AIB board member and economist, now a government adviser)

O'Leary is currently a senior economic adviser to Finance Minister Michael Noonan, but was known during the boom years as a high-profile economist, often penning newspaper columns about the health of the economy. In recent years he has been on the academic staff of NUI Maynooth.

However, O'Leary was best known in the latter years as a non-executive director of AIB, once the country's largest bank.

Speaking at a summer school in 2010, he said it was a matter of "profound personal regret" that he didn't speak out more strongly during the property boom to warn of a potential collapse.

O'Leary said he found that bankers were susceptible to a condition known as "disaster myopia".

However, on the plus side, O'Leary did predict a major downturn, saying in 2007 that the export sector was unlikely to be big enough to offset the impact of a sharp correction in housing output.

6 Michael Torpey

(Once of Irish Life & Permanent, now banking adviser to the Government)

Described as the architect in chief of the new Irish banking landscape, Torpey worked as a senior executive at Ulster Bank for most of the boom years, where he was chief financial officer.

He moved to Irish Life & Permanent in late 2009, but within just eight months Torpey was off again, this time to work at the NTMA, advising the then Finance Minister Brian Lenihan on banking.

Very much the consummate insider, between 1992 and 2000 the soft-spoken Torpey was group treasurer with what was originally Irish Permanent, which went on to merge with Irish Life in 1999 to form IL&P.

He also previously worked with Riada Stockbrokers (later acquired by Dutch bank ABN Amro) and Allied Irish Investment Bank.

Described as highly influential earlier this year when the banking stress tests were being compiled, banking policy has been increasingly set by the IMF and EU.

7 Dr James Reilly

(Once of the Irish Medical Organisation, now Health Minister)

Appointed Health Minister on March 9, Reilly was until 2007 the president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO).

During his time at the IMO he railed against cuts in the health system and people having to sleep in corridors.

Reilly was a strong defender of hospital consultants, who he said had been unfairly criticised.

He led the IMO negotiating team which secured a lucrative deal for GPs following the extension of the medical card scheme to all over-70s, regardless of income, in 2001.

Reilly claims, however, he will not shirk from taking on vested interests in implementing reforms.

He has already promised to negotiate new contracts for GPs and consultants and cut their earnings.

He worked as a GP in the north Co Dublin area for 25 years, with surgeries formerly in Lusk and in Donabate.

8 Harry Slowey

(Accountant turned banker)

Harry Slowey is an accountant turned banker who has found many new business opportunities in the midst of the corporate carnage.

Slowey, who was the number two at Bank of Scotland (Ireland) next to its former chief executive Mark Duffy until he stepped down in 2006, has been involved in a number of business ventures since then and is among a group of powerful individuals who work with NAMA.

Ireland's bad bank wanted Galway developers Ray and Danny Grehan to appoint him as chairman of their Glenkerrin group as a condition of a restructuring deal that was never progressed.

But the agency clearly believed it was important to have Slowey in the boardroom to ensure they met the terms of their business plan.

And Slowey is familiar with the plans NAMA is cutting with the big developers as his company, FinanceOne, is one of the firms NAMA has hired to help it decide which of the big property businesses can be saved and which would get a better return for the taxpayer if they are dismantled and sold off to the highest bidder.

9 Michael Somers

(Former NTMA chief, now AIB director)

The former NTMA boss now sits on the board of AIB since the bank had to be bailed out.

Somers is an outspoken critic of NAMA and other measures adopted by the previous government in response to the financial crisis.

As well as his opposition to NAMA, he still believes high salaries attract the best candidates for the top jobs and has said the Government's pay ceiling of €500,000 is hindering its search to find a new chief executive.

Somers was himself Ireland's highest-paid public servant. He was paid over €1m in 2008 at the NTMA including a performance-related bonus.

The former Department of Finance mandarin negotiated his big pay deal when he was asked to found the agency in 1990 to manage Ireland's national debt.

10 Mike Soden

(Former Bank of Ireland chief)

This former Bank of Ireland chief is now a member of the government-appointed Central Bank Commission that is the newly constructed board of the Central Bank.

It is a prestigious appointment and came nearly seven years after he resigned from Bank of Ireland in 2004 when he was found to have accessed an adult website on his work computer.

Soden was a surprise appointment to the bank in 2001, joining the conservative institution following a career that included a stint at National Australia Bank and he was seen as the outsider who was brought in to shake up the organisation.

Since his resignation he has written his first book, 'Open Dissent' -- his take on Ireland's banking disaster. And in 2008 when the crisis unfolded he was among the first to call on the bank chief's to do "the honourable thing" and resign.

11 Mick Wallace

(Property developer)

Wexford property developer Mick Wallace found a new career as his empire crumbled -- managing to get elected as an Independent TD in his native Wexford.

Wallace, who has said that he owes over €40m to banks through his M&J Wallace building group, is now receiving a TD's salary that has secured his income and given him a voice in the Dail just as his main development company went into receivership.

That company runs the Italian Quarter on Ormond Quay in Dublin, the Behan Square apartment complex on Russell Street near Croke Park and development land in Rathgar.

ACCBank is believed to have a charge over these properties as a result of €20m worth of loans Wallace took out.

He has said that he has also given personal guarantees to the banks and could face personal financial ruin and possibly lose his Dail seat if they pursue him for everything he owes.

12 Pat Molloy

(Former Bank of Ireland chief, now chairman)

Pat Molloy was called out of retirement by former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan to return to Bank of Ireland and steady the ship.

Molloy, who was a life-long banker with the group, became its chief executive in the 1990s and helped it to get out of difficulties in its US and UK businesses during his reign.

He remained on as a director of the bank until 2001 when it was still in good stead and was offered an array of directorships when he stepped down.

Before his return to the bank in 2009, he was a director of CRH, Eircom and Waterford Wedgwood.

As Bank of Ireland's governor, he has found himself in a demanding role that has seen him defend its current chief executive Richie Boucher and support his efforts to bring in investors to prevent it from being fully nationalised.

Those efforts saw a group of American and Canadian investors he described as being "high-quality, credible and long-term value focused" take a 34.9pc stake in the company this year.

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