Tuesday 6 December 2016

Obituary: Sean Vincent Braiden

Eamon Delaney remembers a business pioneer who helped put Ireland at the centre of the aircraft leasing industry

Published 22/11/2015 | 02:30

Sean Vincent Braiden began his work with Aer Lingus
Sean Vincent Braiden began his work with Aer Lingus

It is a curious and exciting phenomenon that Ireland is one of the biggest destinations for aircraft leasing in the whole world. Half of all international commercial aircraft are managed from Ireland, with nine out of the 10 top leasing companies based here, employing thousands and creating tremendous capital. And yet most of the aircraft never actually land on Irish soil, but are moved around the world via intense brokering and deal-making.

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This achievement is the legacy of the dedication and skills of a group of important business pioneers, one of whom was Sean Vincent Braiden, who recently passed away, aged 77.

In the 1970s and 80s, Braiden and the famous Tony Ryan jetted across the globe brokering deals with dictators and governments in all sorts of challenging political countries and climates.

Braiden and Ryan began work in Aer Lingus and rose through the ranks before they developed their own successful aviation business with Guinness Peat Aviation (GPA), which Ryan founded. The real crucible for Ryan was working in the Shannon Free Zone, an early example of the State's clever thinking on low tax zones. But it also preceded a burst of private enterprise.

Braiden and Ryan saw the business opportunity in moving around and hiring out different aircraft, which were idle for long periods in certain regions because of weather or fluctuating demand. It was like an early commercial version of the Uber taxi app.

Soon these intrepid entrepreneurs were knocking on the doors of investors, governments and airline companies, seeking deals and partnerships.

However, it was a hard and often hair-raising slog, especially given the drive and unpredictability of the always demanding Tony Ryan. The Tipperary tycoon split the world into four zones, with different people responsible for each and Braiden was made company vice president for South East Asia.

In his book Tony Ryan - Ireland's Aviator Richard Aldous describes the sort of pressure Braiden was under.

"For example, Tony ordered Sean down to Christchurch, New Zealand to collect the aircraft and deliver it to Nigeria Airways. 'It was a B737,' said Braiden, 'so I could only do two-hour hops right across the world. It took us three days, going something like Christchurch, Brisbane, Darwin, Kuala Lumpur, Bombay, Khartoum, Cameroon and Lagos, where the Nigerians signed for the plane that night.' For Braiden, it was a return trip that went 'Lagos, Rome, London, Dublin, Shannon, back to Dublin, Amsterdam and onwards to Bangkok."

Such was the life of a GPA executive, he reflected, although "Tony was doing that all the time".

GPA subsequently grew into a large and successful company and was later taken over by the US conglomerate, General Electric. It also spawned the mould-breaking budget airline Ryanair.

Today, there are numerous aircraft-leasing companies based in Ireland as well as a connected and growing culture of subsidiary industries in legal services and financing.

After a short illness, Sean Braiden passed away in the St Francis Hospice, Blanchardstown earlier this month and his funeral service was held, appropriately, at Dublin Airport, in the Church of Our Lady Queen of Heaven, with a huge attendance.

This was followed by cremation in Glasnevin.

He is survived by his wife Olive, with whom he worked in Aer Lingus in London as a young man, and who is now Chairwoman of the National Gallery and a former Chairwoman of the Arts Council.

He will be sadly missed by Olive and his family, including their children Aisling, Conor, Killian, Aodhagain and Sinead, his sisters Maura, Grainne, Sheila and his brother Eamonn, as well as his grandchildren Ruairi, Matthew and Alanna and in-laws Eithne and Atsushi.

Sunday Independent

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