Saturday 1 October 2016

The Punt: Branson pickle for Byrne

Published 25/03/2016 | 02:30

Cityjet executive chairman Pat Byrne
Cityjet executive chairman Pat Byrne

CityJet executive chairman Pat Byrne, pictured, was in fine form earlier this week as he sat down with the Punt to explain the airline's plans following the acquisition of the business from Germany's Intro Aviation.

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He recounted the early history of CityJet, and its fractious relationship with Richard Branson's Virgin group.

To gain initial credibility, CityJet had initially inked a deal with Richard Branson to brand itself as Virgin CityJet.

But while Branson liked the idea, other executives at Virgin weren't so keen, resulting in a difficult two-year corporate marriage.

"It got us a lot of acceptance early on and gave us a standard, but we had to invest an enormous amount of energy in managing the relationship instead of being out there marketing the airline," explains Byrne. "It wasn't that I thought Branson was a s**t or anything, it's just that I found his organisation very difficult to work with."

Lisbon can be heaven

'If you stand in Praça do Comércio, the main square in Lisbon facing the Tagus river, and squint your eyes a little, you could be convinced that you are standing in San Francisco."

Not that Lisbon wants to be San Francisco, or anything, just, you know, it could if it wanted.

For example; it boasts an iconic suspension bridge, bronzed surfers, quaint trams, hills and of course a vibrant technology industry, that's according to the helpful guide circulated last night by Paddy Cosgrave of the Web Summit, which of course used to be the Dublin Web Summit.

Not any more though. It's Lisbon all the way now and any suggestion that the huge event will struggle without the forced jollity of its famous pub crawls or the proximity to big tech employers like Google and Facebook gets short shrift these days.

"We are a far cry from the zombie lifestyles of some of the bigger tech hubs. We don't need to be the Silicon Valley of Europe, we can be Lisbon," Paddy explains to prospective attendees.

We're sure that's not a snarky reference to the inhabitants of Dublin's Grand Canal Basin, where you are far more likely to find yourself queuing for an American-style coffee in a cardboard cup than for a pint of the black stuff of an evening.

Wouldn't happen in Portugal, it seems.

"Lisbon is a beautiful city on the rise, a city 'with its own flavours and twists; its own voice," we're told.

McKillen hotel could be sold

One of the property stories of last year was the battle for the three London hotels that formed the Maybourne Hotels Group.

Maybourne is the company behind the Berkeley, Connaught and Claridges hotels. Maybourne was the prize in a corporate war between Belfast businessman Paddy McKillen and UK billionaire brothers David and Frederick Barclay.

The battle, which had gone from courtroom to courtroom and was featured in the business pages as well as society staple 'Vanity Fair', came to a surprise conclusion last year when Maybourne's parent company, Coroin, was bought by Qatar Constellation Hotels. The Qataris retained McKillen to run the hotels.

Now though trade journal 'Estates Gazette' reports the Qataris are considering the sale of The Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge for £750m. The hotel is being offered to buyers in an off-market deal apparently.

And the sale may not end there. EG reports that Constellation is also considering a sale of The Connaught for about £350m.

It seems that, after everything, Claridges was the prize for Constellation. The other two were very much surplus to requirements.

Irish Independent

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