Sunday 8 December 2019

Business Confidential by 'The Insider'

Larry Goodman. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Larry Goodman. Photo: Steve Humphreys Newsdesk Newsdesk

Election donations show political leanings of billionaires, tech tycoons and beef barons

Beef baron Larry Goodman, telecoms billionaire Denis O'Brien and Johnny Ronan, the high-profile developer who exited Nama recently, are among the big beasts of Irish business who have given money to Irish political parties.

As the #GE16 election campaign chunders along, the links between business and politics are always worth examining. Who wants Fine Gael to win? And who's up for the other lot?

Former U2 manager Paul McGuinness, rugby star-turned-financier Brendan Mullin, Four Star Pizza boss Michael Holland's Ampleforth Ltd and Musgrave's Hugh MacKeown have all backed Fine Gael candidates in recent elections, as have Digicel's Denis O'Brien, Larry Goodman, and former Arnotts shareholder Michael O'Connor.

Ray 'Mr Tayto' Coyle and beef baron Peter Queally's SE Tilt have also given to the Blueshirts in recent years.

The blue-chip law firms have also come down firmly on the side of Enda over the past few years, with Arthur Cox, McCann Fitzgerald (via a golf classic) and Cork's Ronan Daly Jermyn all backing Fine Gael candidates in recent elections.

Fianna Fail's collections from the builders are well documented. But they have also received money from former United Drug boss Liam Fitzgerald, flooring magnate and world poker champion Noel Furlong, Michael Kelly's fin-tech group Fineos, Ladbrokes, the now State-owned Permanent TSB, insurance group RSA and National Toll Roads chairman Tom Roche.

Labour candidates have in the past tapped technology tycoon Bill McCabe's Oyster Group, financial publisher Michael Lafferty and the former Custom House Capital executive John Mulholland. The donations published by the Standards in Public Office Commission range from low hundreds of euros up to €2,500.

While assorted beardies and lefties may thump their tubs and shake their fists over vested interests, they should look no further than Liberty Hall. Siptu is the biggest single donor to politicians in recent times - handing over more than €200,000 to Labour election candidates like Alan Kelly and Joan Burton.

Corcoran's arrival means squeaky bum time in C-suite at Paddy Power Towers

There was a smell of burning rubber in Power Towers in Clonskeagh last week as the Breon Corcoran whirlwind arrived and Ireland's biggest ever corporate merger - the €12bn marriage between Paddy Power and Betfair - was consummated.

Shares are up 77pc since the deal was announced late last year. It's probably fairly valued now, but the new firm will vomit cash, with forecast compound earnings of 27pc over the next three years and a promise to dole out half of net income in dividends. The deal was a smart one. But two into one doesn't always go. As with any merger there will be casualties. High level ones. And the divvying up of roles is underway.

Paddy Power chief finance officer and former Ulster Bank boss Cormac McCarthy is off, with Betfair's Alex Gersh getting the group finance role. Head of risk Dermot Golden and hotshot commercial director Andrew Algeo are leaving, along with HR director Sandra Thorpe and marketing chief Gav Thompson.

It's squeaky bum time up in the C-suite of Power Towers.

Philip Marley and the Nama man

NAMA has just extruded another senior exec to the private sector. Mark Pollard is leaving, to join Kevin Nowlan's €850m Hibernia REIT. Nowlan - a former Ireland full-back - was also a senior Nama insider before he quit to make his fortune buying and selling property. Some of it formerly owned by Nama.

Pollard has had an interesting career. He worked with Johnny Ronan's Treasury Holdings, helping develop its grand schemes for Spencer Dock. He stayed there until March 2009, before the company imploded.

And then, according to his LinkedIn profile, he moved to Nama. But Nama didn't really start until 2010, with Pollard not joining until March. So there's a bit of a gap.

I can fill in that missing year.

In February 2009, Ely Property group CEO Philip Marley announced Pollard was to join his student company. "We are pleased to welcome Mark to our team. His extensive expertise in property development, in Ireland, the UK and internationally, will be a key factor in the delivery of our current pipeline and our strategy to deliver long-term growth," he said.

Sources tell me that Pollard worked as a consultant with one of Marley's companies for a short period of time.

Marley went on to have a rather colourful life, dating reality TV star Dana Wilkey (who'd appeared in The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) and making headlines for other reasons.

His company went wallop spectacularly in 2013, long after Pollard's brief involvement. There was trouble with the liquidator who claimed that most of its books and records were "shredded" just prior to his appointment.

Marley responded by claiming that he operated a "paperless office".

A creditors meeting in 2013 heard that a Revenue audit had found that company documents were "completely inaccurate".

The matter has been referred to the ODCE. Pollard must count himself lucky to have missed all of this. Funny he forgot to mention it on LinkedIn though.

Kinsella puts money into property

Eric Kinsella is getting into property, in a big way. The Swiss-based founder of €300m-per-year Jones Engineering has been trimming his stake in the specialist engineering group, as his right-hand man Jim Curley increases his.

Kinsella had cut his stake to 70pc around a year ago, but it looks like there has been some more buying and selling of shares recently.

Kinsella now plans to level his hideously ugly HQ on Grand Canal Basin and build a brand new shiny seven-story office block, using his Esprit investments vehicle. Planners have given the €70m project the thumbs up.

It'll be some pretty enviable waterside acreage. And Kinsella is clearly diversifying outside of engineering - last year he spent €11m on an office block at the St Stephen's Green end of Leeson Street.

The number of non-traditional builders getting into property is increasing. Is this one of the reasons that Stephen Vernon's super-shrewd Green REIT put on the brakes and offloaded some assets last week?

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