Thursday 21 June 2018

NCB and Quinn veteran Killeen's 'Post' exit plans

Low-profile owner of the Sunday Business Post has been involved in some very high-profile businesses, writes Liam Collins

Conor Killeen — pictured at the NCB offices in 2003 — was a director of the Quinn Group from 2004 until 2008
Conor Killeen — pictured at the NCB offices in 2003 — was a director of the Quinn Group from 2004 until 2008
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

If Conor Killeen harboured any ambitions to become a newspaper magnate, then the changing of the guard at Key Capital appears to have put an end to them.

Earlier this year, the low-key business figure, whose full name is John Gerard Conor Killeen, stepped down as chief executive of Key Capital, the financial services group that he founded in 2001, although he continues to play a full-time role and he and family still hold a majority stake in the business.

Although he is best known for founding Key Capital and building it into a well-established financial advisory company, Conor Killeen's previous roles include a director's seat on the board of the Quinn Group during some of the most turbulent years of the firm.

Between 2006 and 2007, the founder of the group, Sean Quinn, built up a secret 28pc stake in Anglo Irish Bank, which led to the eventual collapse of both the Quinn Group and Anglo Irish Bank, with devastating consequences for the Irish economy.

Now, a decade later and a little over six months after stepping down from his role as chief executive of Key Capital, The Sunday Business Post newspaper - in which Key Capital is believed to have invested €1.2m - and Webprint, its associated printing business based at Mahon Point in Cork, are up for sale.

The timing was interesting in that it followed closely on media reports that The Irish Times was in negotiations to buy the Irish Examiner.

Both The Sunday Business Post and Webprint were closely associated with the Irish Examiner newspaper when it was owned by Thomas Crosbie Holdings (TCH).

The Post was part of the Cork newspaper group's unfortunate expansion and Webprint, owned by Donagh O'Doherty, printed the Examiner and its stable of national and local newspapers.

With the receivership of TCH, the lucrative printing contract for the Examiner went to The Irish Times, with Key Capital picking up the Business Post and later Webprint.

Both now come under the umbrella of Sunrise Media, which was established in early 2016 and is controlled by Key Capital. No accounts have been filed for this company.

Last month, it was confirmed that BDO Corporate Finance had been appointed to examine "strategic options" for The Sunday Business Post and Killeen said it had received an approach for the business.

Although The Irish Times managing director Liam Kavanagh said he would "take a look at it", he would seem to have his hands full with the on-going negotiations surrounding the acquisition of the Irish Examiner.

Killeen, (57), a son of Michael Killeen, a powerful figure in Irish business for many decades as head of the Industrial Development Authority, has been a low-key financier, working as head of global equities at Dresdner Kleinwort and posts in UBS and Schroders, before forming Key Capital in 2001.

He later became chairman of the stockbroking firm NCB after he and Key Capital had been instrumental in facilitating a management buy-out from Ulster Bank. A 25pc interest in the firm was acquired by the then billionaire border-based businessman Sean Quinn.

Killeen stood down as chairman of NCB and was appointed a director of the Quinn Group, the controversial Derrylin, Co Fermanagh-based conglomerate, joining the board from September, 2004 until his resignation in December, 2008.

During this period, between 2006 and 2007, Sean Quinn secretly built up a holding in Anglo Irish Bank, which led to the eventual collapse of both the Quinn Group and Anglo Irish Bank

In October 2008, two months before Conor Killeen stepped down from the board of the Quinn Group, Quinn Insurance, part of the group, was fined €3.2m by the Financial Regulator for giving a loan of €288m to cover the Quinn family's disastrous investment in Anglo Irish Bank.

Killeen, who lives in Sandymount, Dublin 4, is a director and the main shareholder in Key Capital, although in February of this year he transferred tranches of shares to family members.

The main company in the Key Capital Group, KC II, had turnover of €28.5m and a gross profit of €12.7m in 2016, although operating profits fell dramatically, from €2.4m in 2015 to €437,360 last year.

Administrative costs jumped by close on €2m in 2016, with wages and salaries rising by €3m. KC II increased its loan to Post Publications by €25,000 during 2016 to bring it to €150,000.

Documents for another company, Brindisi Ltd, which held 90pc of Post Publications, show that it has made an accumulated loss of €19,513.

When it was put up for sale last month, Key Capital said it had acquired the newspaper and Webprint "at a time when the businesses were in financial difficulties".

Conor Morgan, a director of Sunrise Media said: "The performances of both businesses have been turned around, we are happy with current trading and are excited about the group's prospects."

Although optimistic, Morgan did not give any details about the company's financial health.

There are certainly business people out there with pockets deep enough to buy a newspaper like The Sunday Business Post. But it is doubtful if their appetites would be whetted by a newspaper whose content at times veers away from the interests of its target business audience.

For example, it counts Sinn Fein TD Eoin O Broin among its regular columnists.

Killeen was unavailable for comment on his role as a director of the Quinn Group during the period from 2004 until his resignation in December, 2008.

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