Saturday 27 December 2014

The rise and fall of fearless entrepreneur Quinn

Published 30/03/2010 | 15:58

Sean Quinn famously built an international empire out of a hole on his father's small farm and a borrowed £100.

Along the way, the notoriously media-shy tycoon carved out a reputation as a plain-living but fearless outsider who took on big monopolies and won.

It was this anti-establishment attitude, seared into him as a boy growing up on the Irish border, that led him to invest heavily in the maverick Anglo Irish Bank, while he was still Ireland's richest man.

The move proved to be a monumental mistake for the usually shrewd 63-year-old entrepreneur, that has already wiped out at least €1bn of his personal wealth, left him saddled with €2.8bn more in debts and, now, sees the Financial Regulator take control of his flagship company.

Mr Quinn left school at the age of 14 to work on the family farm in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh.

With a borrowed £100 he dug a hole on the 23-acre small-holding, started extracting gravel, washing it and selling it to local builders.

Steeped in the traditions of the GAA, the young Mr Quinn used his contacts in Ireland's largest sporting organisation to develop his business across the border into the Republic.

Soon dubbed the 'Mighty Quinn', he took on the huge Cement Roadstone Holdings (CRH), who had the market sewn up.

His attentions later switched to insurance, glass, plastics and radiators.

It was this simple formula of taking on fearsome monopolies by undercutting prices - the Ryanair model more than a decade before the airline was set up - that led to his staggering wealth.

The Quinn Group also set its sights on the hospitality industry - the Slieve Russell Hotel in Co Cavan, just down the road from his home, is a centrepiece - with a hotel and leisure business spanning Ireland, Britain, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Poland.

When he paid €145m for the Prague Hilton and Ibis Karlin in 2004 it was regarded as the largest single asset transaction in the history of the Czech Republic.

The following year he took over the De Vere Belfry hotel and golf course in England - where the Ryder Cup has been played four times and which hosted the British Masters two years ago.

Owned with wife Patricia and their five children, the Quinn Group became recognised as the most profitable private company in Ireland, with a worldwide workforce at more than 8,000.

In January 2007, it bought the country's second biggest health insurance provider Bupa Ireland for €150m in a deal that stopped it leaving the Irish market.

One year later, The Sunday Times Rich List estimated Sean Quinn's personal worth at €4.72bn.

Forbes Magazine's gave him a similar worth - and listed him as the 164th wealthiest individual on the planet.

But it was his secret building up of complex right-to-buy shares in the now-nationalised Anglo Irish Bank that stripped the sheen off the cement tycoon with the Midas touch.

Attempts to service his mounting debts led to Mr Quinn's humiliating resignation as chairman from his flagship Quinn Insurance when the firm was hit with a record €3.25m fine in 2008 for breaching financial regulations.

A corporate watchdog found the company broke the rules when it arranged loans to other companies within the Quinn Group, including finance, glass, plastics, concrete, cement and leisure operations.

"This past year has been the most eventful in my 35 years in business," he said at the time.

Through its 28pc contracts for difference interest in Anglo, the Quinn Group has become entangled in a controversy at the very heart of Ireland's spectacular economic crash.

Investigations have been launched into the goings-on at the bank, including the unloading of 10pc of these shares to a so-called 'Golden Circle' of the rogue bank's best customers.

With the taxpayer shelling out billions of euro to keep the lender recapitalised as it prepares to reveal losses expected to be the largest in Irish corporate history, the bank is coming under intense pressure to go after its creditors.

Although he still runs several successful businesses, the Forbes list last year estimated Mr Quinn lost a staggering €3.3bn.

Press Association

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