Thursday 24 August 2017

The $9bn man: Paul Coulson of Ardagh’s latest deal confirms his place at the top of Irish business

Paul Coulson of Ardagh’s latest deal confirms his place at the top of Irish business, write Peter Flanagan and John Mulligan

Paul Coulson. Photo: Ronan Lang
Paul Coulson. Photo: Ronan Lang
While Mr Coulson has long been one of the biggest players in the Irish business world, his name reached the wider public as one of the main beneficiaries of the sale of the Irish Glass Bottle site in 2006. A decade later, the deal is seen as a signature event of Celtic Tiger madness. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Peter Flanagan and John Mulligan

Dublin financier Paul Coulson - nicknamed 'The Cooler' - has pulled off one of the biggest-ever takeover deals by an Irish company.

His Ardagh Packaging group has agreed to pay $3.4bn (€3bn) for 20 factories across Europe, the US and Brazil that make metal beverage containers.

Mr Coulson, a billionaire who, along with his family, owns about 36pc of Ardagh, has confirmed his position as one of the country's most savvy businessmen and in the process made Ardagh one of Ireland's biggest companies.

Media-shy Mr Coulson (who turns 64 on Thursday) is reckoned to be worth about €1bn, with that Ardagh stake contributing the most to his wealth.

He is executive chairman of Ardagh and will now preside over a company that will have annual revenues of close to $9bn (€7.8bn), and generate earnings of around €1.3bn. It will have 23,000 employees around the world.

The assets are being bought from US firm Ball and UK-based Rexam.

The European Commission told the pair to sell assets as part of Ball's planned takeover of Rexam.

It marks a major coup for Mr Coulson and his management team, who have been thwarted over the past few years in their efforts to float Ardagh on the stock market.

The planned flotation was pulled due to stock market volatility that has plagued the US and Europe since the financial crisis.

Ardagh has two divisions - one that makes glass containers and another that makes metal ones.

Its products are used by brands such as Carlsberg, Heineken, John West and Nescafé. Before it announced yesterday's deal, it was already one of the world's biggest makers of such container products, with annual sales of about €5.2bn.

Last year, the management team also tried to list Ardagh's metal containers unit on the New York stock market, but that too was cancelled at the last minute owing to unfavourable conditions.

Mr Coulson's key management team includes his brothers-in-law, Niall and David Wall. Niall Wall is group chief executive, while David Wall heads Ardagh's metal containers division.

They are brothers of Mr Coulson's wife, Moya. Mr Coulson and his wife have been living in Paris, but he recently notified the Companies Office that their address has now changed to an exclusive London townhouse. That may be temporary while radical renovations are carried out on their Paris mansion.

Ardagh also announced yesterday that Niall Wall (53) will resign as group chief executive in September. He will be succeeded by the former chief financial officer of Irish paper-packaging group Smurfit Kappa, Ian Curley. Mr Wall owns nearly 10pc of Ardagh, a stake likely to be worth over €200m.

Ardagh will now have spent billions of euros over the past few years, aggressively expanding the business.

It's all a far cry from its humble beginnings as Irish Glass. Mr Coulson, a graduate of Trinity College in Dublin, is said to have made his money from aviation leasing and other investments in the 1980s, before buying into stock market minnow Ardagh just after it had been renamed from Irish Glass.

He became chairman in 1998 and has transformed it from a relatively small Irish business to one of the biggest glass and packaging companies in the world.

He took it private in 2003 and has largely paid for the company's operations by selling bonds, rather than shares in the business.

While Mr Coulson has long been one of the biggest players in the Irish business world, his name reached the wider public as one of the few winners from the sale of the Irish Glass Bottle site (below) in 2006.

A decade later, the deal is seen as one of the signature events of the madness of the Celtic Tiger years.

The 24-acre site was seen as one of the greatest development opportunities in the capital, with the potential to hold hundreds of homes in Ringsend but adjacent to Sandymount - arguably the most expensive part of the city at that time. If fully developed, it could have housed up to 10,000 people.

DEVELOPER Bernard McNamara put together a consortium, including the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, to pay a staggering €412m for the site, which was mostly controlled by Ardagh.

It is estimated that Ardagh received about €273m from the proceeds of the sale.

The fallout from that deal is still felt today.

The property crash soon took hold and the great plans for development never came to pass.

Today, the glass bottle site is still a vacant lot and has been available for rent for the past three years.

Anglo Irish Bank supplied a loan of €288m to buy the site and it was one of the highest-profile loans to be transferred to Nama.

In 2012, the site was valued at just €45m.

To say Mr Coulson won that deal is something of an understatement. He hasn't lost on many deals during his career. Yesterday's agreement suggests that 'The Cooler' is as hungry for more as he ever was.

Irish Independent

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