Thursday 18 January 2018

Dumb and dumber in the world of business

Over the last 12 months, some of the biggest names in corporate Ireland have done really stupid things. We're loathe to dwell on mistakes of highly-paid people... but here are some of their most excruciating howlers.

CUNNING STUNT: Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez at the World Cup, before it all went sour
CUNNING STUNT: Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez at the World Cup, before it all went sour
Nick Webb

Nick Webb

The Web Summit's dodgy wifi. The international technology community descended on Dublin for the annual Web Summit in the RDS. Some of the biggest names in the sector - ranging from Peter Thiel and Drew Houston to fluffier celebs, such as Eva Longoria and Rio Ferdinand - arrived to put Dublin on the map as ground zero for the tech industry.

Except the computers didn't work. The RDS wifi system couldn't cope and imploded, causing major issues at the start of the event. Founder Paddy Cosgrave stood up on stage and slammed the "old dudes" who were responsible for the wifi.

Paddy Power and Suarez

The listed bookie had spent months in secret negotiation with Uruguay striker Luis Suarez's agent over the World Cup stunt to beat all stunts.

A €1m deal had been agreed. As the camera panned along the faces of the players, Suarez would open his mouth to reveal a Paddy Power branded mouth guard. Brilliant!

But Suarez bit Italian defender Giorgio Chellini in the match before and was chucked out of the World Cup. Another Paddy Power stunt that went awry was offering odds on Oscar Pistorius beating the murder rap. Cue Twitter storm and embarrassing volte face.

AIB and the corporate boxes

What in God's name was Allied Irish Bank thinking? The bailed-out bank took not one but two corporate boxes to entertain clients in the Aviva Stadium during the Six Nations.

Prawn sandwiches did not sit well with austerity, repossessions and small businesses going into receivership. AIB subsequently handed over the boxes to charities.

New CRH boss blasts the board

New CRH chief executive Albert Manifold really hammered the cement company's previous strategy in his first big speech as boss.

"The trend for the investment - the original investment thesis no longer applied. Sometimes, we actually just invested in growth and forgot the core principle of CRH, which was we used to make businesses better," he said.

"We put our hand up and say yes, we made a mistake - but we've learned our lessons, and we will never again go down the road of buying market trends, buying market growth, or not understanding how we make businesses better."

The only problem was that a bunch of the people who had helped drive that strategy were still sitting on the board... including his new chairman, Nicky Hartery. Cringe.

Irish Water

Super quango Irish Water was the comedy turn of the year.

Firstly, its board was stuffed full of political cronies, including a councillor who became the personal driver to Minister of State at the Department of the Environment. That department oversees Irish Water.

The state body also revealed that it had spent a whopping €50m on consultants and nearly €100m extra on water meters. It also emerged that Michael McNicholas - head of Irish water's parent company - held shares in NTR, which won lucrative water meter contracts. But the bonus scheme, which could have seen staff at the state body earn up to 19pc in yahoo money, really took the biscuit. After weeks of defending the scheme, it was scrapped.

Nama's tax bill

You'd kind of expect a state body chaired by the former head of the Revenue Commissioners to be spot on with its tax returns. Not Nama.

Despite having Frank Daly in the chair, the state bad bank flubbed its tax returns.

"Following a clarification by the Revenue Commissioners on the tax treatment of board members' expenses, Nama made a payment to Revenue in respect of the years 2010 to 2012," the red-faced agency admitted. It coughed up €84,865 to the tax man to cover the error.

U2's massive spam

The merger of titans saw the biggest rock band on the planet and the biggest company in the world team up in a $100m deal to give away U2's latest album free on iTunes.

The logic seemed smart. U2 would get in front of nearly half a billion listeners and Apple would promote the album to bits. But it was a bit creepy, waking up to find that U2's music had been installed on your phone overnight. Not everyone wanted it. The stunt backfired. U2 apologised and spent the rest of the year trying to justify the move. Hmmm.

New Beginnings' data breach

The mortgage arrears lobby group scored an epic own goal when it accidentally emailed details of 1,000 of its clients to a commercial partner in Malta.

The Maltese fund Arizun/Casa Mundi was planning to purchase 5,000 non-performing mortgages from the banks for around €720m. On the same day New Beginnings received a payment of €20,000.

This payment, insisted New Beginnings, was unconnected to the accidental transfer of sensitive client information. New Beginnings fell over itself trying to apologise.

Garth Brooks

Organisers of a Garth Brooks tour to Ireland arranged five bumper concerts at Croke Park... without first securing planning permission for the concerts. The authorities refused to give permission for all five shows.

It went backwards and forwards like this for the best part of a month, and concert promoter Peter Aiken even appeared in front of an Oireachtas Committee. The concerts were cancelled.

Horrifically embarrassing stuff. But a blessing in disguise. Line dancing remains rightly dead and Stetsons didn't make a comeback.

Christoph Mueller's pension

German aviation executive Christoph Mueller has done a pretty sensational job at Aer Lingus, helping to turn around one of the world's basket case airlines.

Aer Lingus now appears to have a future. Unless IAG takes it over. The Aer Lingus board thought it'd be a good idea to hang on to Mueller as he was nailing the role. To do that, they figured they may have to pay him a bit more.

Aer Lingus proposed to lob an extra 15pc into his pension fund as a perk, bringing the total payment to €175,000. This caused a major outbreak of silliness.

The Government decided to use its 25pc stake in Aer Lingus to block this perk. Ryanair and other less panicky shareholders figured that Mueller was worth an extra €20,000 per year and voted it though. Just.

But the damage had been done. Muller decided to take up a new job running Malaysia Air instead.

Martin Shanahan goes viral

When new IDA boss Martin Shanahan went onto the ratings-topping Squawk Box show on CNBC to bat for Ireland, he hardly expected to become a viral YouTube star.

It was the ultimate car crash interview as host Joe Kernan imploded on air. He asked Shanahan a series of truly bonkers questions, including whether tax breaks lead to better golfers, is Ireland really in the euro, is it not just part of Britain and whether Ireland is actually its own island.

It was watch-through-your-fingers TV - and more than 300,000 tuned in to watch it over and over again on YouTube.

Aer Lingus' Ebola cup

It may be one of the bigger threats to the world economy... or maybe not.

The Ebola crisis moved centre stage in October when Italian businessman Roberto Binaschi wrote 'Attenzione Ebola' on a coffee cup lid as a joke to his daughter during a flight from Milan to Dublin.

Cabin crew found the lid in a bin, leading to an emergency lock-down of the plane and health screening for all 142 passengers on arrival. A major over-reaction? A court didn't think so and Binaschi ended up pleading guilty and paying €2,500 to charity.

ECB's no-show at Inquiry

The long-awaited Banking Inquiry finally got up and running. We would now find out for certain what actually happened on the night of the infamous bank guarantee and the run up to the Troika bailout.

Except that we'd have to do it without one of the most influential players. The ECB, which seemingly "bounced" Ireland into accepting a bailout and the subsequent years of austerity, flipped us the bird and announced that it would not be attending. Hamlet without its prince.

The IFTA debacle

The Irish Film and Television awards proved to be one of the more disastrous television broadcasts of the year.

A series of technical glitches, a boozed-up crowd and a 25-minute overrun turned the show into an epic calamity.

After 14 years, RTE has decided not to air the show in 2015 - though TV3 is said to be chasing a deal.

CRC and Rehab scandals

The charity sector had a horrific year, largely due to the activities at the Central Remedial Clinic, where it emerged that boss Paul Kiely - a Fianna Fail insider - had received a €740,000 pension package funded from its Friends and Supporters charity arm.

How charitable funds were being used became a topic of scrutiny for much of the year.

The spotlight shifted to Rehab. Following months of revelations about salary levels and the low profits generated from charity lottery operations, Rehab boss Angela Kerins stepped down. Many charities subsequently reported a major fall off in cash donations as potential donors scratched their heads in disbelief.

Zara's Holocaust pyjamas

Giant retailer Zara was forced to pull a range of pyjamas from its stores when it emerged that the stripy bed wear with a big yellow star on the front was a ringer for the uniforms worn by concentration camp uniforms during the Holocaust.

Zara was faced with a social media backlash and apologised.

Sunday Indo Business

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