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Obituary: Laurence Crowley

Influential business figure became one of the most in-demand directors in corporate Ireland


FALLOUT: Laurence Crowley spotted ‘most unusual’ land deals

FALLOUT: Laurence Crowley spotted ‘most unusual’ land deals

FALLOUT: Laurence Crowley spotted ‘most unusual’ land deals

Laurence Crowley, who came from a patrician Dublin family of accountants, became one of the best-known business figures of his generation, firstly as a liquidator and later as a director and chairman of a raft of Irish public companies.

"His style and his smile suggest that he knows precisely where the bodies are buried," wrote Martin FitzPatrick in this newspaper 20 years ago, on the eve of Dr Crowley becoming governor of the Bank of Ireland.

"Indeed no one would dare quarrel with that perception of his role and influence over the past 40 years of building businesses, deconstructing them and mopping up after the mistakes of others."

Laurence Crowley grew up in Dublin in a family of five brothers and one sister. His older brothers, Niall and Conor, were also considerable figures in Irish business circles in the latter half of the 20th century. He attended Belvedere College and UCD, where he qualified as an accountant.

His father Vincent - who referred to himself as an "unqualified success" (never having completed his exams) - was a founder of the Dublin accountancy firm Kennedy Crowley (SKC) then later Stokes. As part of the 'Catholic establishment' they had challenged and overtaken the older and longer-established Protestant firms which dominated finance in the early days of the State.

He started in the family firm after college and soon made a name for himself as a receiver - he was the first person called in by creditors and banks when a firm was about to go bust.

It was in that capacity that he presided over the fallout from the collapse of Patrick Gallagher's building empire, and spotted the "most unusual" land deals between the colourful builder and Charles Haughey, as far back as 1982.

He was the main player after the collapse of the Creation publishing group, the spectacular demise of Pat Quinn's Kilternan Country Club, Galway Crystal and Classic Meats, among others.

It was also noted that, driving a white Mercedes, he and his team arrived in Leitrim to handle the liquidation of the McCartin brothers' pioneering agricultural enterprise there, but beat a hasty retreat when the restless locals, who depended on it for their livelihoods, let it be known that things were done differently in that part of the country.

He later became the 'go-to' man in Dublin for serious financial advice - among those who were reputed to have benefited was beef baron Larry Goodman.

His friend Joe McGowan, one half of the country's biggest construction firm Brennan and McGowan, recalled in his memoir, Clearing the Hurdles, how back in the recession of the 1980s he and his partner, Tom Brennan, "could be exposed with personal guarantees" they had given to cover company borrowings. They called in Crowley, who painstakingly got them through the crisis and advised them never to give a personal guarantee against company borrowings again.

Laurence Crowley was married to Mella Boland, a daughter of prominent diplomat Freddie Boland, and sister of the poet Eavan Boland.

The couple were avid equine enthusiasts. When her son was still a toddler she was involved in a serious riding accident and was very lucky to survive, spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

Crowley, who was a keen polo player himself, gave up the sport in favour of the more sedentary pastime of golf. He was a gregarious figure who enjoyed company and business gossip and was a member of the RDS and other Dublin clubs.

At the age of 52, he decided on a career change and left the family business - which had been merged into the accountancy firm KPMG - and entered the world of high finance in his own right.

He became a director and later chairman of the Carroll's cigarette company, where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of show jumper Eddie Macken and golfer Nick Faldo at sporting events sponsored by the company.

He was a government appointed director of Aer Lingus and Bord Gáis and he served on the boards of Elan Pharmaceuticals, Rothmans International, New Ireland Assurance, Hardwicke, Davy Stockbrokers and O'Flaherty Holdings. It didn't always go to plan, as when he became a director of the ill-fated first commercial broadcasting operator, Century Radio. Like many business figures, he was enthralled by the media but couldn't quite understand how it worked - and in this case it didn't.

He was appointed to what was archaically called 'The Court' of the Bank of Ireland (the board of directors) in 1990 and served as governor (chairman) from 2002 to 2005. His brother Niall had served in the same capacity at Allied Irish Banks, cementing the family as pillars of the Dublin financial establishment.

"When I was leaving the bank in 2005, it was operating in a very strong economic environment and there were no signs that the bank would do anything but go from strength to strength," he told the Banking Inquiry in 2015.

"If, with the benefit of hindsight, decisions taken during my time later contributed to the problems facing the bank, then this is clearly something I regret."

Through his friendship with Martin McAleese - they had worked together as young accountants - he became chairman of Mary McAleese's re-election campaign, although the position turned out to be purely honorary after she was re-appointed for a second term as President without an election.

He later served as advisor to the President's Award scheme Gaisce and was deeply involved in autism charities.

He served as the first chairman of the newly established UCD Michael Smurfit Business School in 1990 and among many honours in 2009 he was awarded an Honorary CBE by Queen Elizabeth II for his role in the Peace Process and fostering better relations between Ireland and Britain.

Dr Laurence Crowley, who lived in Glenageary, Co Dublin, died after a short illness last Wednesday, at the age of 83. His wife, Mella, died in 2016 and he is survived by their sons, Jonathan and Patrick.