Thursday 25 December 2014

The Punt: Blackstone chief Steve Schwartzman's values

Published 22/07/2014 | 02:30

Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and chief executive officer of Blackstone Group
Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and chief executive officer of Blackstone Group
Outgoing Ryanair Chief Financial Officer Howard Millar could be heading for Paddy Power

Blackstone boss Steve Schwartzman has become a pretty big employer here, mostly indirectly through interests in the likes of Eircom and the Hilton Hotel group.

In a conference call with investors the private equity chief took a minute to describe the working culture he wants at the vast private equity empire he presides over.

He characterised Blackstone as meritocratic, hard working, and with a culture of unflinching integrity and service,

In other words, the kind of employer most of us probably aspire to work for - unless we happen to be work-shy, venal, nepotistic scroungers.

That articulation of a principled approach to business contrasts with the notion out there of the firm as one of a flock of ruthless vulture funds that has descending from on high to pick Ireland clean.

Not that Blackstone is trying to pass itself off as soft. On the same call executives explained that they are confident of making money after buying up billions of euro of Spanish mortgages; not least because they paid less for the home loans than it would cost to rebuild the underlying properties from scratch.

Millar odds-on at betting firm?

With Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller leaving the airline next year, thoughts naturally turn to his replacement.

Over the past few days, the name of out-going Ryanair chief financial officer Howard Millar has cropped up, but it would be a strange world indeed if he were to even pursue the role, let alone be offered it and then accept it.

So where does that leave him if he decides to stay in Ireland? The destination for Mr Millar could well end up being Paddy Power.

Its chief executive, Patrick Kennedy, announced earlier this year that he intends to leave in 2015. Already sitting on the Paddy Power board as a non-executive director is former Ryanair chief operating officer Michael Cawley, who stepped down from his role at the airline in March. Interestingly, Paddy Power chairman Nigel Northridge is also a non-executive director of Aer Lingus.

The Ryanair/Paddy Power brands are culturally alike. Paddy Power - just like Ryanair - is noted for its frequently irreverent advertising campaigns, but it's also landed itself in lots of horse poo from time to time as a result. Eventually some of that sticks.

Mr Millar may be able to steer Paddy Power a little bit more delicately, given Ryanair's epiphany on customer service and image-building.

Hunt is on for Indian 'saviour'

The net continues to close, albeit slowly, around Indian 'businessman' Ahsan Ali Syed.

He established a firm called Western Gulf Advisory (WGA) in Bahrain in 2008, claiming billions of dollars in assets.

Among the victims of his activities was developer John McCabe, one of the so-called 'Maple 10' circle of top Anglo Irish Bank customers. As Mr McCabe tried to save his business during the economic collapse, he sought out investors willing to shore it up. Among those he approached in 2010 was WGA.

A deal had been apparently inked that would see WGA inject hundreds of millions of euro into the McCabe Group. Mr McCabe paid as much as €6m in fees to WGA to arrange the massive loan, which never materialised, and Mr McCabe tried to get the money back.

Other investors around the world were similarly stung by WGA, which also had connections to Switzerland. An arrest warrant has been issued in Switzerland for Mr Syed while assets connected to him have been frozen. Those assets, worth $8.3m, are to be distributed to victims. Cold comfort, no doubt.

Irish Independent

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