Business Irish

Saturday 24 February 2018

Cab king Griffin takes the legs off Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart
Rod Stewart
GOAL-DEN BOY: Tech pioneer Pearse Mee also owns €28,000 worth of debenture shares in Arsenal
Nick Webb

Nick Webb

WHO would have thought that being a taxi driver would be such a blast? Kerry via Mayo man John Griffin sold his Addison Lee minicab company to Carlyle for €360m last year. I met up with him for a cup of coffee in Buswells last week as he prepared to launch the new Irish TV project for the zillions of diaspora, which he hopes will need a televisual fix of all things Irish.

Griffin is a hard man. Seriously hard. He set up in business in Sarf London during the 1970s. You need serious minerals for that. He also flattened Rod Stewart a couple of times.

"I played football against Rod. He had long hair and was a bit of an oddball. I looked at him and thought 'you know I'm going to give it to him today'. I was in central midfield and he was too. We played and I kicked the shit out of him. I tell you though, he bounced right back up every time," he told me.

"At the end of the match I went up to him and apologised. I told him that I was now a really big fan. And I still am."

Griffin had an almost Forest Gump-like end to the 1960s. He rubbed shoulders with some of the icons of the age.

"I did two months working with the Beatles on shows at Finsbury Park and the Odeon. I was a stagehand. They were really decent boys. It was the same with Eric Clapton."

Then Griffin found himself in Italy where he worked on The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine.

The autobiography, which he's considering, will be a stonkingly good read.

Irish Water . . . new faces, same old story

Irish Water is shaping up to be the Godzilla of all quangos. It's certainly ticking all the boxes. It's got the politically well-connected on the board. Waterford Fine Gael councillor Hilary Quinlan and trade unionist Billy Moore, also chairman of the Longford Westmeath Labour party, are all in the boardroom.

Board member Jacqueline Hall was also an insider at Rehab, where she was recycling development manager and business development manager during her 10-year stint at the under-fire quango. It's got serial semi-State and boardroom director Rose Hynes as its chairman. She's also served on the boards of Shannon Airport Authority, Bord Gais, Total Produce, One51, Fyffes, Aer Lingus and Concern.

Then there's the spending. So far, Irish Water has clocked up €86m in consultants' fees, with the usual suspects like former Anglo auditors Ernst & Young, blue-blood legal firm A&L Goodbody, former AIB auditor KPMG and well-connected legal firm McCann Fitzgerald mopping up around €11m in consultancy fees. Accenture and IBM also got juicy contracts. And Irish Water was supposed to be set up on the cheap.

For a State monopoly, the wages and bonuses are off the chart. About 29 staff will earn over €100,000 at the quango with about one-third of the staff entitled to a bonus of up to 15 per cent. And the less said about the staff gym the better.

And now, finally, there are the crumbs for the politically well-connected. Former Fine Gael adviser Mark Mortell is also doing some lucrative consultancy work for the quango.

"We can confirm that Mr Mortell's work for Irish Water is expected to cost less than €10,000 in 2014," Irish Water said last week. Different faces, the same old story. Over and over again.

Heffernan's move from Dunnes company could be sign of the times

TESCO'S Irish sales horror show last week masked another unfolding story in supermarket land.

Dunnes Stores, Ireland's most secretive but successful domestic retailer, is slowly changing the guard. In recent weeks, Dunne's matriarch Margaret Heffernan has stepped down as a director of one of the Dunne family's key firms, Silverwood Developments. She's been replaced by her daughter, Anne Heffernan.

Anne Heffernan's appointment sees her join Dunne's biggest shareholder, Frank Dunne, and Margaret Heffernan's niece, Sharon McMahon, on the board. The company is involved in the extended Dunne family's property portfolio. Silverwood Developments is owned by trust companies operating out of the Earlsfort Centre.

In 2012, it emerged that Silverwood Developments was paid €1.8m in rent from Revenue for the lease of a premises on Dublin's George's Street – close to Dunnes headquarters.

While Margaret Heffernan is still on the board of the other key family companies, her departure from Silverwood Developments may be a further sign of the rejigging of responsibilities at Dunnes.

There have been a number of changes at executive level in Dunnes Stores in recent months, with legal highflyer and Matheson partner Robert Heron joining the firm. Heron, of course, was one of Anglo Irish bank's key advisers during the boom and provided a deposition during the recent trial.

Other new hires at Dunnes include former Superquinn finance chief Richard Collins and former INM executive Joe Webb. Dunnes Stores' rivals are experiencing mixed fortunes, meanwhile. Tesco is having a 'mare, with like-for-like sales down 5.5 per cent last year as it got a bloody nose in a price war with German discounters Aldi and Lidl, which have seen their market share rise to a record 15.4 per cent.

Latest Kantar figures showed that the Germans and a resurgent Supervalu are parking their tanks on Dunnes Stores' lawn. Possibly a big mistake. Margaret Heffernan is a formidable operator – and if there's one thing she likes, it's a good fight.

Arsenal investment is all about Mee

Terrific result for Galway tech pioneer Pearse Mee last week, as he sold his smart grid software group AMT-Sybex to Capita for up to €127m.

Thanks to his 74 per cent stake in Glenshane Holdings, he's likely to gross up to €94m from the deal. Some of that is in the form of a €27m earn-out kicker over the next year, which will keep the top brass focused.

Mee was one of Ireland's very first software tycoons when he floated Memory Ireland in the Eighties.

The computer services business ultimately went pear-shaped in 1990 but like every good entrepreneur, Mee dusted himself down and started up again.

He's done very well out of AMT, which has paid him the bulk of €40m in dividends lashed out over the last couple of years.

It has also seen him rub shoulders with some of the UK's most prominent Tories, with Sebastian Coe, Foreign Secretary William Hague and former minister Stephen Norris all at one stage serving as board members.

The company has also enabled Mee to follow his other passion, Arsenal Football Club. Three years ago, AMT sold €28,000 worth of Arsenal Football Club debentures to Mee. "These debentures were disposed of at carrying value to Pearse Mee , a related party by virtue of his shareholding and directorships," the company noted. The debentures provide the holder with cut-price tickets to see the Gunners play at the Emirates.

Not always the most rewarding investment.

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