Sunday 18 February 2018

Private equity chief tipped for US ambassador role in Ireland

Private equity chief Michael George
Private equity chief Michael George
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

The managing director of Fortress Investment Group, the New York-based private equity giant that lost out to rival Cerberus in the competition to acquire Nama's 'Project Eagle' loan book, is understood to be among the leading contenders for appointment to the role of US ambassador to Ireland.

Described by sources as a "strong supporter from day one" of Donald Trump and a "very close friend" of the US president-elect's son Donald Jr and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Belfast-born Michael George emigrated to the USA in the late 1980s and has since gone on to enjoy a stellar career in the financial services industry.

Prior to joining Fortress in October 2009, George spent 10 years as a managing director at Deutsche Bank in New York. Before that, he spent 13 years at Lehman Brothers in New York and London where he started his career.

An American citizen since the 1990s, he earned his MA in economics and post-graduate diploma in computer science from Cambridge University having entered on an academic scholarship.

Michael George's name will already be familiar to Taoiseach Enda Kenny given that he emailed the Taoiseach's then-chief economic advisor, Andrew McDowell, on February 13, 2014, asking how Fortress might become involved in the bidding for Nama's Northern Ireland loan book, code-named 'Project Eagle'.

In his email, George said: "We've heard that Nama/Dept of Finance is running a 'process' for the loans to NI borrowers. Being from the North, I've taken a keen interest in this €4bn portfolio and would like to throw our hat in the ring. Might you have any insight as to how we can get involved?"

McDowell responded saying he had asked Nama's official relationship manager Martin Whelan to put George in touch with the appropriate officials at the State agency, to which the Fortress managing director replied: “Thanks Andrew. FYI I’ve also reached out to Bren [McDonagh]”.

NAMA has insisted that it was George's direct contact with Nama CEO Brendan McDonagh as opposed to his email to the Taoiseach’s office that led to the late invitation to Fortress to join the competition for Project Eagle.

McDonagh has said that he passed the request from George to Lazard’s, Nama's external advisor on the Project Eagle sale, which contacted Fortress the same day.

Fortress ultimately lost out to Cerberus in the bidding for Nama's Northern Ireland loan book.

Married with three children and living in New York, George is said to be a passionate follower of Irish rugby and to take a keen interest in Irish affairs. In 2012 he hosted the launch of a finance internship for Queen's University Belfast students in his Manhattan home. The event saw the unveiling of a portrait of senator George Mitchell, former special advisor to US president Bill Clinton on Ireland.

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