Business Irish

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Ex-pats trump Paddies for boardroom talent

Homegrown high-fliers are below the radar since the banking mess, so where have they all gone, asks Nick Webb

LAST Wednesday Grafton Group boss Michael Chadwick announced that he would step down at the end of the year after 26 years in the hotseat. He will become chairman of the company. Chadwick's replacement was Gavin Slark, who had run UK plumbing and heating business BSS until it was taken over late last year.

By all accounts, Slark is a useful enough suit. But his appointment is the latest in a worrying trend.

He's another overseas executive coming in to run an Irish company. Where is all the Irish talent and why are they not getting jobs?

"Our name is mud back at group. After the mess that we've made of the economy, nobody thinks we can do anything any more," according to one executive at a major multinational. "It used to be: 'Hey, we're Irish!' and everybody wanted to see you. But that's all different now," says the executive.

"There is a move to acquire new skills from other institutions and also a move to acquire new skills from other territories," according to Tom Keane of Dalriada, an executive search company. "But it's not a case of losing faith with Irish management and more each organisation looking at candidates for positions on their own merits."

But the recent appointments at some of the country's top multinationals and big businesses reveal that fewer and fewer Irish executives are in charge. Last week Australian Dana Strong was appointed as chief executive of Liberty Global's Irish cable telly and communications business UPC. Strong joined the company from Australian satellite TV firm Austar, which is partially owned by Liberty.

There's also been a lot of movement in the mobile phone and telecoms business. Six months ago, Vodafone appointed Dutchman Jeroen Hoencamp to head up its Irish operations. He replaced a Brit, Charles Butterworth, who has left the company.

O2's long-serving chief executive Danuta Gray also stepped down late last year. The mobile phone company, which is owned by Spanish communications giant Telefonica, appointed O2's UK head of retail Stephen Shurrock to the high-profile post.

Almost exactly a year ago, Cavan man Cathal Magee stepped down from his job as interim chief executive of Eircom. Magee, who had earned €561,750 as managing director of Eircom retail, didn't get to keep the top job, as English executive Paul Donovan -- a former head of Vodafone Ireland -- was appointed instead. Magee left the company to join the HSE.

Given the mess Irish bankers made running our financial institutions, it's probably less of a surprise that few of the new posts have been filled by the domestic breed of bankers.

Australian Mike Aynsley, Dutchman Maarten van Eden and American Tom Hunersen were appointed to the key positions at the nationalised Anglo Irish Bank last year.

Over at Allied Irish, when the management duo of Colm Doherty and Dan O'Connor left last year, they were replaced by British banker David Hodgkinson as executive chairman. Dutch-owned online bank Rabodirect appointed Roel van Veggel to run its Irish operations. Former Irish general manager Greg McAweeney moved to Australia.

Even the Financial Regulator was changed, with the UK- born Matthew Elderfield moving from Bermuda to oversee Irish operations.

Terenure College-educated Cormac McCarthy's exit from Ulster Bank is a bit like the end of the Lord of the Rings. It is going on and on and on. However, the bank's chief operating officer Senan Murphy, considered to be one of the leading Irish contenders for the job, announced that he was leaving the bank last week. An appointment from Royal Bank of Scotland's mothership is expected in the near future.

German Christoph Mueller took over struggling Aer Lingus after Sligoman Dermot Mannion had failed to push through sufficient restructuring at the airline. And Mueller isn't the only overseas-born boss at the airport as the Air France controlled Cityjet has appointed Frenchwoman Christine Ourmieres as managing director. Former Irish Air Corps pilot Geoffrey O'Byrne-White stepped down last year after a decade at the controls.

In retail the story is similar. After the banks took control of debt-ridden department store Arnotts, former Harrod's and Brown Thomas executive Nigel Blow came in as chief executive. Barrister Richard Nesbitt stepped down as chairman and the job was filled by US financier Mark Schwartz.

With many of the top jobs now being filled by overseas candidates, you'd think that our best and brightest would be queueing at the exits, heading abroad to advance their careers.

"We're certainly seeing that among younger age groups," according to Keane. "But we're not seeing a mass exodus of top people."

It looks like we're just sucking it up. Just like what we're doing with our useless Government, the crippling bailout deal and the big French and German banks and bondholders who lent Anglo all its money.

Sunday Indo Business

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