Saturday 25 May 2019

Ray French

Nigel Cosgrave

WHEN former Goodbody's director Ray French took the chair at specialist lenders International Securities Trading Corporation (ISTC) in 2005, he was already a major player on the Irish financial scene.

Back in 1989, French was a major beneficiary of AIB's buyout of Goodbody's, but remained on as head of corporate finance until a management reshuffle in 1994.

In 1998, after a stint as chairman of gas exploration firm Petroceltic, French joined the board of Ardagh, the Irish glass bottle company which sold its interest in its Docklands site to Bernard McNamara and the DDDA.

Through Paul Coulson, chairman of Ardagh, and his US-based son, Ray French Junior, French got involved in "shareholder activism" with Mercury Asset Management. He launched shareholder proxy battles against both Fortnum & Mason in 2001 and Suburban Lodges of America in 2003.

In addition to being on the boards of Pierce Casey's Fayrewood, security firm Newcourt and cold storage company Norish, French also advised Anglo Irish Bank in the Isle of Man using his own family-owned company, Strongbow Capital Management, which is based in the tax haven.

One of Strongbow's aims was to identify undervalued Irish companies. Unidare, the engineering group, was one of its most significant plays. By 2004, Strongbow owned more than 10 per cent of Unidare stock.

French's first year as chairman of ISTC was positive, with profits of €6.5m. French forecast profits to double in 2007 and expressed the "company's confidence in the robustness of its business model".

However, when the credit crunch struck in August 2007, ISTC was massively exposed. Despite frantic efforts to save the company, it filed for examinership in March 2008 with record cash losses of €820m.

After resigning from ISTC, the 61-year-old French also resigned from Norish in December 2009.

Sunday Independent

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