Thursday 22 June 2017

Big money boys back pressing the flesh as potential investors gather

The old guard is back sniffing out deals as the economy starts to recover, writes Ronald Quinlan

COMFORTABLE. That's how John Bruton looked as he crossed the road outside the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin, last Saturday evening.

Walking with the former Taoiseach were several foreign businessmen.

Chatting amiably to each other, they left their host to his own thoughts as they all walked back together in the direction of the Four Seasons Hotel.

Bruton -- just back from Washington DC where up until recently he had been serving as EU ambassador to the United States -- was smiling to himself.

Perhaps he was giving some thought to his latest appointment, that of ambassador for the IFSC.

For while Bruton has declined to comment on his latest role, there is little doubt that it will allow him to continue to enjoy the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed -- as a handsomely rewarded, lifelong member of Ireland's, and more latterly Europe's, political elite.

His future paymasters in the IFSC community -- the Irish Banking Federation, Irish Fund Industry Association and Financial Services Ireland -- would certainly appear to have selected the right man for the job of promoting their interests across the globe.

Even before he formally begins the arduous task of talking up Ireland's battered financial services industry, Bruton was last weekend already working the influential crowd who had come together for the plenary meeting at the Four Seasons of the financial and political elite that make up the Trilateral Commission.

The Trilateral Commission is the ultimate networking forum, offering its members the chance to seek out potential deals, directorships and lucrative advisory roles in companies across the globe.

So as the incoming ambassador for the IFSC, it wasn't a bad place for Bruton to start drumming up business for his new employers.

But the former Taoiseach is just one example of the top tier in Irish society who fully appreciate the value of making the right connections with the right people.

There were other well-known Irish business figures schmoozing at the Four Seasons Hotel last weekend.

Richard Burrows. Remember him? The shareholders of Bank of Ireland would more than likely prefer to forget him. As their chairman, the perma-tanned Burrows happily drew down €512,000 in fees at the height of the property bubble in 2007.

Big money, certainly. But it came with big responsibilities. As the top non-executive director of the Bank of Ireland, it was Burrows's duty to lead the board of directors in all respects, including in strategy.

So why didn't he call a halt or at least call into serious question the bank's headlong charge into property lending? Judging by his comments to shareholders at Bank of Ireland's 2008 AGM, he clearly didn't see it as a problem. The bank was well capitalised for the financial storm, he maintained calmly.

Last year, his story had changed. The bank was in trouble and needed to be recapitalised to the tune of €3.5bn.

That was a problem for the Bank of Ireland and ultimately the taxpayer, but not for Burrows.

Since his ignominious departure from the bank's boardroom, Burrows has been weathering the storm in some style, having landed another lucrative gig, this time as the chairman of British American Tobacco.

With a two-day working week, Burrows is literally laughing all the way from the bank he left behind with a salary of £525,000 (€617,000). The Portmarnock man, like Bruton, knows the value of making the right connections with the right people.

As does the former chairman of AIB, Dermot Gleeson. He was hanging out in the Four Seasons Hotel last weekend too, pressing the flesh and rubbing shoulders with the people who count, and making fresh connections.

There is little doubt that Gleeson is eminently qualified to serve as a director, with his legal training and banking experience at the highest levels.

Indeed, during his tenure at the AIB, he displayed -- like his opposite number at the Bank of Ireland -- the important skills of being able to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil as his bank's share price soared off the back of its aggressive property lending policies.

For this, he was rewarded handsomely, receiving fees of €475,000 in 2007 alone for his work.

But Bruton, Burrows and Gleeson are just a small sampling of Ireland's anointed business leaders, the ones whose fortunes always appear to be on the rise, regardless of the vagaries of the economic cycle that play havoc with the lives of the masses.

Sunday Independent

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