Tycoon built up €2bn empire -- then gave it away
Published 17/12/2011 | 05:00
ONE of the most remarkable things about Sean Quinn's truly remarkable career was his decision in 2002 to grant his five children ownership of the Quinn Group, the €2bn empire that he'd spent more than two decades building up.
Passing on assets to your children before you die is "very normal, very common", according to Alan Murray, a tax director at the private clients division of the professional services firm Mazars.
There are tax benefits and it gives the business a sense of continuity into the future, he said. However, handing over everything certainly isn't the norm.
"Divesting yourself of your entire asset base isn't something a lot of people want to do for obvious reasons of being left with nothing," said Mr Murray.
"And there can be concerns about the children -- how they will be able to handle wealth and responsibility at a young age."
Sean Quinn was a relatively young 56 when he handed the kingdom over to his children. His youngest daughter Brenda was just 15 when her stake in the Quinn Group gave her a paper fortune of hundreds of millions of euro.
For all five children, the wealth was massive. For Sean Quinn, the gamble was not insignificant.
Passing on your entire wealth to your children opens up a minefield of potential legal issues, according to Mr Murray.
What happens if they sell it? Or marry, then divorce and lose ownership? What happens if they make bad decisions and screw it up?
Safeguards can be built in, and in the Quinn case, some were.
A clause gave Sean Quinn the right to buy back the empire from his children under certain circumstances in the future, potentially to ensure that he retained some influence over the group he had built up so successfully.
But such clauses cannot entirely eliminate the chance that things could become very messy.
"Historically, family businesses don't survive that long. There are rows. I always felt that would never happen in our family," said Mr Quinn in a rare interview in 2003.
He added: "Between Fermanagh and Cavan, we employ 2,000 people, so we have an obligation not to disrupt the business with family rows."
Even after giving his children so much, Mr Quinn hadn't finished. Court documents show that he and his wife Patricia resolved that their son and four daughters "should have their own property and investment portfolios" outside the main Quinn Group.
Brenda was given ownership of Cavan's Slieve Russell Hotel in 2009; Sean Quinn Jnr got the Belfry golf course in the UK; Colette got the Ibis and Hilton in Prague; Aoife was given the Holiday Inn in Nottingham and Ciara got the Hilton Hotel in Sofia, which the Quinn Group had first bought into in 2005.
Quite why five siblings who already owned a multibillion-euro conglomerate would also have needed independent property and investment portfolios is anyone's guess.
But it was certainly a remarkable start in life and a remarkable gesture from their father.