Sunday 4 December 2016

Shrewd business gambles have paid off handsomely for 'Cooler'

Published 10/05/2011 | 05:00

They call him 'The Cooler'. It's a name you'd expect to hear at a poker tournament. But while Paul Coulson (59) has indeed taken gambles, they've been bets that have paid off incredibly well for the businessman.

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He's avoided the financial meltdown that has beset many of his peers as the economy collapsed. As he approaches what for many would be retirement age, it appears the best may be yet to come.

Over the years, the notoriously media-shy industrialist, who earned a business degree at Trinity College, Dublin, has been variously labelled aggressive, focused and fearless, but those investors that have maintained their faith in him have been well rewarded.

When he took Irish Glass private in 2003, shareholders made a decent return. But Ardagh had been dogged by poor industrial relations. In March 2002, when the company's glass manufacturing site at Dublin's Ringsend closed with the loss of 375 jobs, there was uproar.

There also followed a lengthy occupation of the premises by former workers seeking better redundancy terms.

The facility had come under pressure from a glass manufacturing operation in Fermanagh owned by businessman Sean Quinn.

With the property boom in full swing, Mr Coulson -- who worked as an accountant in his earlier years at Craig Gardner -- saw an opportunity. Ardagh sold the 24-acre Irish Glass site in 2006 to property investors including Bernard McNamara for €412m in what would become one of the deals that typified the bubble.

Anglo Irish Bank provided nearly €300m in finance for the deal, while other investors in the Becbay consortium that acquired the site included financier Derek Quinlan, as well as the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

Freefall

For the buyers, the rationale behind the purchase quickly unraveled as the economy went into freefall. The site is today valued at less than €40m.

The sale also grossed €30m for Mr Coulson personally, while the businessman has also made millions more over the past few years as a result of share redemptions undertaken by Ardagh.

In less than a decade, Mr Coulson and his management team have built a major European packaging group via audacious acquisitions -- the first when Ardagh paid about €660m to buy UK-based Rexam, and the more recently last year when it paid €1.7bn for Impress.

Even before its purchase last year of Impress, Ardagh was the third-biggest glass container manufacturer in Europe, with a 16pc share of total European glass container production by volume in 2009, when it manufactured over 11 billion containers, the majority of them for the food and beverage industries.

While he's been tagged with 'The Cooler' nickname, back in 2007 as he showcased his new yacht off Sardinia he was being called 'The Admiral'.

Either way, the course he has steered has certainly been profitable.

Irish Independent

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