Monday 22 December 2014

Dragons' Den star agrees that 'worst is over'

Published 30/12/2012 | 05:00

Former Dragons' Den star and top Irish businesswoman Norah Casey has claimed that after years of struggle, the Irish economy is in a position to grow rapidly.

However, after yet another tough year for retail, Casey – who outside of her media work for RTE and Newstalk publishes magazines such as Irish Tatler and Woman's Way – said this could only occur if the Coalition ended its endemic infighting and took the correct policy decisions.

The Government, she warned must also abandon its current austerity policies and bring finality to the banking crisis.

She said: "2013 will be a defining year, which will set the scene for the Irish economy to really begin to lift off in 2014."

For this to occur, though, she warned that businesses were going to have to realise that diversity was "critical''.

She said: "We launched out into the UK with a baby clothing and under-stairs storage company and a magazine for people who cook every day. We have a magazine on the diaspora and we have prospects in China in fashion. This is what we need to do.''

Outside of expanding into new foreign markets, Casey also said we should capitalise on "the geographical good fortune" of being so close to Britain. She said: "You'd immediately see the difference between a German and American magazine but Ireland and the UK, in contrast, have a special connection – the consumers, the medium is the same."

But the entrepreneur slammed the secrecy that had surrounded the Budget, warning: "We have to reform the way government does its business. No private company would treat its employees in this manner.

"There should be nothing wrong in revealing budgetary details and discussions.''

She also claimed the secrecy and infighting were responsible for a major slump in consumer confidence towards the close of this year.

She said that this had "created a far higher level of nervousness than the year before in advertising. All of the beauty companies and shops were dead; people were far more nervous in consumer and retail. Decision making was really short term. It was like the final quarter of 2010".

Significantly, though, once the Budget was released "it became clear the fall was a blip. Fears in retail have eased because the fear in the run-up to the Budget was actually worse than knowing about it".

Casey also told the Sunday Independent she had recently detected a real rise in entrepreneurial instincts in the country. She said: "I do a young entrepreneurs course and it is unbelievably busy. Young people have realised they have to find alternatives.

"There are no jobs for life anymore so you have to be a self starter."

She also noted that "the crisis that has seen so many men lose jobs means there has been a real growth in female entrepreneurs''.

The businesswoman also claimed that Ireland had now seen the worst of the recession, noting that often the response of a business and a government to difficulties was "remarkably similar''.

When the crisis hit, she said, there was "a period of complacency, and then you go into chaos and a crisis of leadership where no one knows the future. Ireland has gone through that but once you survive this you get an upsurge in hope and leadership".

The former Dragons' Den star added: "I'm not being unduly optimistic. A lot of people are three years down the road; those who have survived now have the potential for growth and exports."

But she warned that when it comes to the economy "the single biggest problem is not ideas. The banks, the foundations of growth, are the problem, cure them and you cure the sickness".

In spite of ongoing difficulties with the banks, Casey claimed "there is still hope. A lot of micro financing is coming on stream. The Insolvency Bill is critical. It is going to free the banks to strip away bad assets.

"The wait and see attitude is over. 2013 is the year of reckoning. We are going to have to allow people to declare themselves bankrupt."

Ultimately, she noted that "the freeing up of lending is the fundamental bit. If that is released we can use an up-lift to rebuild our indigenous economy''.

Casey revealed one of her hopes was that other sectors of the economy would replicate the success of the agri-food sector.

Agriculture, she said, "is the great services success story. I remember the Irish meats in Britain being the low price bottom of the shelf sector. Now people go out of their way to buy Irish. We need to develop that in other areas such as furniture''.

Casey added: "All of my hopes are set on 2014. When we get to 2014, when the fragile growth sets in, we want to be able to ride it. That's when we move out of battening the hatches, real growth developing business instead of surviving."

The entrepreneur also said that the Irish "are natural entrepreneurs who are not good at being pessimistic''.

But she warned politicians must raise their game.

She said: "In the last few weeks we were in danger of stifling the economy. People will put up with pain if they are offered hope tomorrow but we cannot go through another Budget like that.''

And she claimed "political infighting has had a significant impact on people's behaviour and psyche. The young are set against the old, the rich against the poor, country versus city".

On the plus side, Casey noted that "history shows we are very good at resilience. Next year there are going to be jobs, there is going to be a future, salaries particularly for young people have been hit but young people are here for the long term.

"They know there will be an upsurge. Property may have been our undoing but we are starting to switch to different areas such as our services sector which is booming.''

Sunday Independent

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