Saturday 23 February 2019

Homebuilder adds Haughey jewel to landbank collection

Jim Aughney

JOE Moran, the affable Kerryman who was thrown into the limelight this week with the purchase of Charlie Haughey's Abbeville and surrounding lands for a reputed ?45m, has had a roller-coaster business career.

On the one hand, Moran - now 68 and showing no sign of slowing down - owns 51pc of one of the most successful house building companies in the country, Manor Park Homes. On the other, his 11.7pc stake in publicly-quoted IWP International has plummeted in value from the equivalent of ?22m in 1995 to less than ?2m today.

Through his companies, he is one of the biggest holders of building land in the country; yet his public companies have had to make massive write-offs and sell off prime assets.

As a keen bridge player who likes to organise tournaments in his spare time, PJ Moran is well accustomed to taking the defeats as graciously as the victories. In his business career, he has gone from managing a creamery in Clonmel for £2,000 a year to operating a leading builders' suppliers which he sold on for a few million in the early Seventies when money was money.

Colleagues say the builders' merchants sale provided the seed capital for his foray into house building and land ownership. Through his involvement in builders' merchanting in the early Seventies, he came into close contact with most of the leading property developers of that period. Nerves of steel were required. He remembers chasing one high-flying developer who owed him almost £1m, got a cheque for only £50,000 and was stunned when the developer immediately looked for more credit.

Joe Moran describes himself as 'apolitical' - which is akin to questioning the Pope's commitment to the Church. Observers at the Dublin South constituency in the 1997 general election count noted that it was to Joe Moran that the tallymen were taking their totals. The millionaire number-cruncher was using his talents for Fianna Fáil.

PJ Mara is a close friend and colleague who has handled the public relations work for Joe's two public companies, IFG and IWP. 'PJ', as he calls him, (rather than 'Mara'), has maintained contact with Charlie Haughey since the latter's retirement from political life. For some time, both public companies shared the same toney Georgian house in Fitzwilliam Square with Manor Park Homes office personnel.

Manor Park has specialised in starter three-bed semis in good suburbs. Not for Joe the exclusivity of ?1m-plus homes, even though he has the landbank and the locations to do it. While he wears a suit and drives a Mercedes, Joe Moran does not flaunt his wealth and is as likely to play golf in a quiet West of Ireland club as he is to appear in Royal Dublin.

Moran's expertise in the house building business gives him great insight into the affairs of IFG, which he founded with accountant Richard Hayes. IFG Homeloans is now one of the largest mortgage brokers in the country.

As a businessman, he is quite unique in the sectors he has tackled. He bought Irish Wire Products in Limerick in the mid-1980s and immediately set about modernising the old manufacturer of nails. "We got a man in who increased output remarkably well. However, we were then faced with the problem of having too many nails for the Irish market," he told the Irish Independent.

Inevitably, Irish Wire became a distributor of nails and similar ironware to the Irish construction sector, while the public company IWP expanded into toiletries, cosmetics and household brands like Jeyes Fluid and Bloo Loo.

Unfortunately, the large multiples dictate prices in these products and IWP lacks the resources to compete in cosmetics against the likes of L'Oréal and Lancome with their million-dollar marketing budgets.

At 68 years of age, Joe Moran is still as active as ever.

The acquisition of the Haughey landbank gives Manor Park Homes the scope to build more than 4,000 homes over a protracted period.

Manor Park is currently completing 500 homes a year, so it is possible that Joe Moran will be busier than ever from now on.

Not bad going for a man who got started in business at 27 when he placed an ad in this newspaper stating: "Energetic young man with capital seeks active business".

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