Sunday 20 October 2019

PUNT: Silence from the horse's mouth

THE horse-meat scandal seems to have disappeared almost as quickly as it galloped on to our screens last year.

A scandal that threatened to engulf the Irish food industry has, for now at least, gone away.

The authorities here made great noises about how no stone would be left unturned in the quest to find out what happened.

The Punt was surprised then to hear that a host of well-known names in Irish food circles will not appear before a UK inquiry into the scandal.

Greencore chief executive Patrick Coveney, pictured, has declined an invitation from the parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to appear before it, citing the large amount of written evidence his company has already submitted.

Larry Goodman has also declined the invitation from the committee.

The committee has already taken evidence from ABP chief executive Paul Finnerty but wants to hear from Goodman himself. ABP, however, maintains it is an innocent victim of the recent fraud and Mr Goodman could not add to evidence already given by the company.

The committee has reportedly drawn up a list of dozens of witnesses it would like to speak to. Many will decline to appear, as is their right. It's just a pity that, having so heavily promoted transparency, many of the Irish witnesses will not contribute in person to such an important event.

Big brands is name of the game

In Britain, it's said that if you fell asleep on the eve of Margaret Thatcher's 1979 election victory and woke up 10 years later, the country would have been unrecognisable, such was the pace of change.

Well, I guess now we know how they felt. News that Investec has dropped the NCB Stockbrokers brand is just the latest evidence that Dublin's stockbroking sector is still working its way through an era of unprecedented change.

The Bloxhams name went the way of all flesh last year.

The NCB name is going for far more benign reasons – its owner, Investec, is retiring the brand because it wants customers here to know they are doing business with a global bank.

It's not a unique case – Ronan Reid took Dolmen into Cantor Fitzgerald and has quickly adapted the US parent's big-brand name.

Not everything has changed of course. Marque names like Davy and Goodbody have sailed on unchanged through both the boom and the crisis, despite their own changes of ownership.

Now if you're the sort of US/African/Aussie/Chinese or even Irish firm with a notion to pop the kind of question that could lead to a change of name, feel free to drop The Punt a line.

Health is wealth for investors

WHAT is it with tech chief executives and their health? A private citizen has every right not to disclose whether they are ill or not. The head of a public company is different.

We had this with the late Steve Jobs, and now Google boss Larry Page has disclosed that he has "left vocal cord paralysis" more than a year after he began to sound so hoarse he resembled a robot, and missed several company events because of it.

Mr Page said he was diagnosed with the condition 14 years ago after a bad cold, but it only began to affect this voice last year.

The condition has been known to be a symptom of cancer. Thankfully, this has been definitively ruled out in Mr Page's case.

Mr Page, who also disclosed that he has a thyroid disorder that may play a role in his condition, said he detected impairment in his other vocal cord about a year ago.

"After some initial recovery, I'm fully able to do all I need to do at home and at work, though my voice is softer than before," he said.

Mr Page's condition should have been a matter of public record. He is the head of a company worth billions that employs thousands, including 2,500 people in Dublin.

If he was told he was fine a year ago, why not say so? Investors have a right to know everything, including the health of a CEO, before they buy shares in a company. It is unbecoming of any boss of a Plc to say otherwise.

Irish Independent

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