Monday 21 May 2018

Investor's Midas touch deserted him in meltdown

Claridge’s Hotel in London
Claridge’s Hotel in London
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

The Irish tricolour fluttered in the spring breeze on London's exclusive Claridge's Hotel in April 2004.

Derek Quinlan and his backers had just sealed a triumphant deal to buy the Savoy Group, that included the eponymous hotel itself, and the equally grand Claridge's, Berkeley and The Connaught, in an eye-watering bid worth €1.1bn at the time.

An employee of his Quinlan Private investment group had arranged for the colours to fly on the landmark five-star property, which is steeped in history.

"I cried," Quinlan (now 69) recounted later at the sight. "My poor father, who was in the Irish Army, would have loved to have seen this."

There were more mega-deals to come for Quinlan Private and the former taxman-turned-investor, but ultimately it was many of Derek Quinlan's investors who were left shedding tears.

His Midas touch slipped away in the wind like dandelion fuzz as the heat was turned up on the global meltdown, doors to credit cranked shut, and asset values plunged.

A raft of Quinlan's backers were left nursing stiff drinks and financial disaster.

High-profile casualties included broadcaster Gay Byrne. He recounted in 2011 how property investments he made with Quinlan Private were by then a "millstone around our neck".

During the boom, Quinlan befriended big stars. He co-invested with Bono and The Edge in their loss-making Clarence Hotel in Dublin.

Born in Dublin, Quinlan initially had designs on being an eye surgeon.

"I wanted passionately to be an eye surgeon," he told US magazine 'Vanity Fair' in 2014. "I wanted to actually discover why people were blind."

The promise of vastly increased wealth could be one reason. But for years it seemed Quinlan could do no wrong. His reputation for piecing together deals and generating big returns were the thing of legend.

Educated at Blackrock College, he qualified to study medicine at UCD, but moved to commerce, later qualifying as a chartered accountant. He would join the Revenue Commissioners before leaving to set up his own accountancy practice.

The financier left Ireland in 2009, heading first to Switzerland and later to London.

"I'm not living in Ireland. Some of my children live here. It's not by choice and I miss Ireland every day," he told the Oireachtas banking enquiry in 2015.

Irish Independent

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