Cork-born Desmond is Ireland’s answer to Warren Buffett having made his fortune from spectacularly smart investments and, more importantly, knowing when to sell. He began his career working for the World Bank in Afghanistan, leaving when the Soviets invaded in 1979.
On returning to Ireland, he set up NCB stockbrokers which shook the fuddy-duddy stockbroking community to its very core. In 1994, he sold the business to NatWest for about €49m, spending the next two decades increasing that fortune more than 30-fold. And helping to set up the IFSC.
Some of the investments have generated extraordinary returns. He initially invested €475,000 in Esat, netting close to €120m from the stake six years later. He bought London City Airport for €30m in 1995, selling out for €1bn to a group of investors in 2006. He was one of the investors who put €300,000 into Fran Rooney’s Baltimore Technologies before the first dotcom boom, netting an estimated €80m for his stake before markets crashed. A €20m punt on an online payments firm was turned into a near €180m windfall, when he sold his stake in AIM-listed Optimal Payments last year.
Swiss-based Desmond (64) has recently spotted a gap in the market, where banks aren’t providing enough finance to business. He’s set up the €200m Broadhaven joint venture with private equity group Sankaty, which is lending to house builders and other businesses. The financier also owns a 33pc stake in Latvian bank Rietumu as well as specialist Baltic lender MCB.
An avid golfer, Desmond is keen on sport. He is the biggest shareholder in Celtic FC and was also involved in refinancing part of the FAI’s debt on the Aviva Stadium. In the past, he owned stakes in Manchester United and Eddie Jordan’s Formula One racing team.
He owns part of the luxury €600m Sandy Lane complex in Barbados and is involved in the development of a new resort at Pink Sands in the Grenadines. He owns a €120m stake in Mountain Province Diamonds, which is developing one of the world’s biggest diamond mines in northern Canada. Other assets include stakes in INM, Datalex and a big chunk of Ladbrokes.
Cyber security is another big play for Desmond, with his biometric group Daon involved in finger print identification for Apple. He recently invested in cyber security outfit Vahna.
Desmond spent €147,000 to buy Mel Gibson’s sword from the film Braveheart.
His son Brett is married to pop star Andrea Corr, while his other son Ross got engaged to fashion designer Stephanie Smart, part of the Made in Chelsea set. Both sons are involved in bringing the Five Guys burger franchise to Ireland.