Dermot Desmond (69), the billionaire investor renowned as one of Ireland’s greatest dealmakers, is credited, among many other business highlights, with providing the imaginative and financial spark to develop Dublin’s IFSC in the 1980s.
That project began at a time when a plan to turn a decaying dockland zone into a global trading district seemed more than a little ambitious and it is this type of foresight that has been his hallmark.
It has not been all wins. The shareholding in airline software supplier Datalex held by Desmond’s private equity firm, International Investment Underwriting (IIU), took a hit of as much as €30m when serious accounting errors emerged at the firm in 2019. But Desmond chose not to cut and run. Instead IIU lifted its stake to 29.9pc and advanced it a €6m loan facility that has helped it start a process of rejuvenation.
Desmond’s backing will have provided badly needed confidence given the legendary business deals for which he is renowned. No doubt his most lucrative deal was the sale of London City Airport for €1bn in 2006, having bought it for €30m in 1995. He and his fellow investors are thought to have shared about €950m in pure profit from the deal.
He has also made big returns from the sale of his 25pc stake in One51, as well as the €120m he made from the original €475,000 he invested into Denis O’Brien’s Esat.
The Cork-born businessman started out in banking and made his first fortune in 1994 after selling the stockbroking firm he founded, NCB, for €49m, using the money to build up IIU.
Ever since, Desmond has invested in a wide range of companies, from Arctic diamond plays to Baltimore Technologies to a stake in Independent News & Media (INM), the publisher of this newspaper, which he sold last year during an acquisition by Belgian media group Mediahuis. Scottish football club Celtic FC has been a labour of love and last October Desmond bought a 25pc stake in Dublin club Shamrock Rovers for an investment believed to be worth €2m.
Earlier this year it emerged that a high profile Dublin home purchased by a trust linked to the Desmond family had come with a €1.4m tax sting in the tail. Sean Dunne had paid €58m for Walford on Shrewsbury Road in 2005, making it Ireland’s most expensive house, but the Desmond-linked trust paid just €14.25m for it in 2016 and is to demolish and rebuild it.
Mark Lyons has taken over the running of run US-based Alltech, an international animal feed company, following the death of his father Dr Pearse Lyons in 2018. Pearse Lyons’s wife Deirdre, 72, is closely involved in the company. Sadly, their daughter Dr Aoife Lyons died at the age of 45 last April. She had a doctorate in psychology and worked with Alltech in the areas of culture and business practices.
Dr Pearse Lyons was born in Dundalk and after starting a career in the brewing industry he turned his attention to animal nutrition, setting up Alltech in 1980. It now employs up to 6,000 people across 120 countries. At the time of his death, the company said his wife, who is the company’s director of corporate image and design, would continue “to further Dr Lyons’ vision for Alltech’s global presence and their shared commitment to philanthropy and community involvement”.
The day-to-day running of the company has fallen to Mark who will take on his father’s stated goal of increasing revenues from more than $2bn to $10bn. He is based at Alltech’s headquarters in Kentucky.
Eugene Murtagh founded and chairs €10bn Cavan building materials and insulated panels giant Kingspan, owning a 15pc stake in the firm that is now worth €1.5bn — the shares have rocketed by 52pc in the past year. He sold shares worth €44.5m last May. Employing 13,000 people around the world, the firm booked €335m of profits on €4.37bn of sales in 2018.
While son Gene — who owns a €7.5m Victorian pile overlooking Dalkey Island and with its own jetty — pledged to make Kingspan carbon negative last year, and drives a Tesla electric car, Eugene had a penchant for using a company Learjet in previous years.
Last year, the Murtaghs sold US probiotics firm Deerland to DEDP Holdings, making a €40m profit, and also taking a 49.9pcs stake in DEDP. Eugene and US-based ex-Merrill Lynch banker son Paul shared €71m of dividends last year, mainly from the 2018 sale of digital radiography firm Faxitron.
A property holding company has €59m of assets in the UK and Holland, while another company reveals they have a €3.9m stake in a second X-ray tech firm, Arizona-based Bioptics Inc. Another son, Damien and his wife have a successful construction kit business, Arckit, which is now stocked in shops all over the world. They have plans to build a stunning new home in south Dublin. The Murtaghs also own hotels in London and Amsterdam.
Meath-resident Martin Naughton (80) is Ireland’s wealthiest engineer, with his Glen Dimplex group behind well-known household and electrical appliance brands such as Creda, Belling, and Morphy Richards, as well as the Xpelair ventilation brand, other commercial and industrial heating and cooling appliances, and the eponymous Glen and Dimplex.
The Garda’s son, who grew up in Co Louth founded radiator for Glen Electric in 1973, and the business grew substantially after the acquisition of UK rival Dimplex some years later, expanding steadily to the point where it now employs over 5,000 people. Son Fergal is CEO, while family members Neil and Fiona also work there.
Following a restructuring that cost €21m, for the 18 months to the end of September 2018, the giant had sales of €1.4bn, and made a loss of €5m, though paid an €18.5m dividend to Isle of Man parent firm Kilkee Investments, which is controlled by Naughton.
Naughton and his wife Carmel also have a variety of philanthropic interests, supporting the Royal Irish Academy and National Gallery, and a number of educational initiatives on both sides of the border. In the last 12 years, the Naughton Foundation have awarded more than 300 scholarships worth over €4m to students for studies in science, technology and engineering.
Naughton owns a 25pc stake in Dublin’s Merrion Hotel, as does Lochlainn Quinn, and they also made money from property investments in the IFSC in the past. The Merrion made €4.1m in profits in 2018, with accumulated profits reaching €6.2m. Son Fergal and daughter Rachael have a minority stake in Francis and John Brennan’s’ The Park Hotel in Kenmare.
Over the years, Martin has invested in wind energy, telecoms and water coolers, and had a stake in Eddie O’Connor’s Airtricity. He has been linked with an investment in loss-making Sublimity Therapeutics. He has a holiday home at Kylemore Abbey in Co Galway, while his main home is on a 200-acre estate in Slane. He’s also been said to own an apartment on ‘The World’ cruise ship that perpetually tours glamorous locations around the world.
Shares in €4bn Luxembourg-based bottling and food container firm Ardagh Group are up 62pc following a steady increase throughout the last year. Customers of the business include household names such as Heineken and L’Oreal. Billionaire Coulson (67) will have seen his 36pc stake soar in value from €775m to €1.46bn, and the firm has seen its sales rocket from a mere €51m in 1998 to over €8bn today
In October, Ardagh completed a merger of its food and speciality metal packaging business with aluminium packaging producer Exal Corporation to form Trivium Packaging, which will become one of the largest metal packaging firms in the world. The $2.5bn cash proceeds were used to pay down Ardagh’s $8.5bn debt pile, boosting market confidence and therefore the share price.
Coulson — referred to by some as ‘The Cooler’ — divides his time between homes in Paris, Dublin’s Shrewsbury Road (his house was once on the market for €27m but failed to sell) and a house in London’s Knightsbridge Embassy belt. Some previous reports link him to a stunning 12-berth 49.9 metre (163ft) yacht, Mosaique, that is available for charter for €250,000 a week in the summer.
Clontarf-born billionaire inventor and engineer David McMurtry is wealthy thanks to the precision measurement and engineering firm, UK-headquartered Renishaw that he co-founded in 1973 with Welshman John Deer. His 36pc stake in the firm is worth €1.29bn, with shares up about 7pc over the past year.
McMurtry is now the head of R&D at the Gloucester firm, and enjoys nothing more than inventing the next hi-tech devices that will be made by the firm, from quad-laser 3D metal printers to other equipment that’s vital to manufacturers across a range of industries, from aerospace and space, to automotive and smartphone, tablet, TV and microchip-makers.
Profits at the firm, which said it would lay off 200 staff in recent months, have taken a hit recently, and the directors said they would not be taking a dividend on their holdings. Nevertheless, McMurtry has banked over €120m in pay and dividends since 2009.
McMurtry, Deer and their wives generously support Gloucestershire charities, as well as some related to children’s health, including the renowned Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London. McMurtry is thought to support a number of Irish causes anonymously.
In his spare time, McMurtry is busy overseeing an electric car startup in a building beside his €34m futuristic eco-house. He has a stake of 75pc or more in the venture, which is making a short-range ‘radical’ electric car and components for electric vehicles. He also enjoys tennis and spending time with his family and grandchildren.
John Armitage is the co-founder and chief investment officer of Egerton Capital, a hedge fund firm with $17bn under management.
Born in the UK in 1959, Armitage is best known for founding Egerton, once Europe’s largest. He took Irish citizenship in February 2018. He set the fund up with Irish-American financier William Bollinger and the fund backed Britain’s Remain campaign. The success of the fund has placed Armitage 1,117th on the Forbes global billionaires’ list.
The Harcourt Road, Dublin, operation run by Egerton Capital (UK) has over €6bn in assets under management.
Last year Egerton Capital is believed to have made $5bn for investors last year, helping it regain its place in the top 20 performing hedge fund managers. He spent $18m on a New York appartment in 2018.
Brothers Declan and Shane Ryan inherited a chunk of wealth in the form of their father, the late Ryanair founder Tony’s stake in the airline, most of which has been cashed out since its 1990 IPO.
These days their Irelandia Investments has a controlling stake in Latin American low-cost airline Viva Air. Viva took a $50m investment last year from New York private equity firm Cartesian Capital, ahead of an expected IPO perhaps next year, and likely expansion in the region.
It’s an industry he’s familiar with, having previously launched Tiger Air in Asia, Allegiant in the US, and VivaAerobus in Mexico. All notched up tens of millions in wealth, and his investments today are thought to be worth more than €450m. They shared windfalls of about €260m in 2016 and 2017.
Shane lives on the restored Kilboy Estate in Tipperary, and also owns the 1,000-acre Castleton Lyons horse breeding operation in Kentucky. It had €11.8m in shareholders’ funds in 2018, and he was owed €23m, having agreed to loan the operation up to $67m. He also owns a house on Dublin’s Ailesbury Road with plans to refurbish it by adding a gym, swimming pool and five-car garage.
Declan lives in Dublin, and previously had a home in Enniskerry. He’s believed to have property investments in Dublin, the UK, Asia, Poland and Mexico. He has previously invested in startups such as Verifly, others in software and biotech, and is on the board of leftover food social enterprise Foodcloud, having also backed venture capital firm Frontline. The Ryan and Fearon families control Tipperary Crystal, which supplies department stores, and makes bespoke trophies. His One Foundation has made philanthropic donations over the years, and there is a Dr Tony Ryan book award.
Outspoken Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary’s (58) wealth has not been affected by the airline’s troubles over the past 12 months: in fact he’s better off. The share price is up 38pc, valuing his 3.9pc stake at €646m. His 2019 pay package amounted to €3.8m, while he also signed a deal to stay on as the boss until 2024, with shareholders voting by a tiny majority — 50.5pc — to approve a €99m stock option deal for him if he doubles the airline’s share price.
While a staff strike was called off last September, he had to lay off hundreds of staff and cut flights when Boeing halted production of its 737 Max plane, and regulators banned it from flying after two much-publicised crashes. More job losses are likely, and the airline faces having to keep ageing planes for longer, which could see higher maintenance costs hit the share price in the medium term.
Outside of his working life, Co Westmeath’s most famous resident also shocked the horse racing world last year, announcing that he would wind down his multi-million euro bloodstock operations over the next four or five years, and spend less time on all things horse-related. He is opting to spend more time with his family instead, and in particular with his children, while they are growing up.
Racing watchers will be wondering if he and brother and racing manager Eddie will attempt to go out on a high at Cheltenham and Britain’s Grand National, with his horse Tiger Roll, who has won the latter race twice. When he’s not with horses, family or on his farm at Gigginstown House, where he also breeds Aberdeen Angus cattle, O’Leary has been known to enjoy skiing in Switzerland and the US, and holidays in the Algarve and Italy, previously having also taken diving holidays and an African safari in the past.
At one stage, the Mullingar motormouth — who drives or is driven usually in either a Mercedes S-class or a Range Rover — owned about 25pc of Ryanair, but has sold tranches of it gradually and banked the proceeds.
O’Leary owns a large commercial property portfolio, consisting mainly of office blocks in Birmingham, Glasgow, London and Cheshire. He owns a stud in Newmarket, four houses in Ballsbridge worth €20m, and a €14m, 30,000 sq ft historic palace in Majorca that required €7m-€10m of restoration work according to local media reports.
Edward ‘Ned’ Guinness (50), also known as Lord Iveagh, owns a diverse array of properties here, in Britain and Canada that are worth hundreds of millions of euro. He and brother Rory are also behind Dublin’s Iveagh Trust, which has over 1,600 affordable apartments and hostel places in the capital and suburbs. The organisation has been operating for more than 125 years.
The family’s stake in €87bn Guinness-owner Diageo is up about 11pc for the year, now valued at €350m. While Rory has a farm in Co Meath and another in Wiltshire, Edward lives on 22,500-acre Elveden Estate in Suffolk, where he grows onions and potatoes for the likes of McDonald’s, Sainsbury’s and Walkers Crisps. Its Elveden Hall is a popular filming location, and has featured in The Crown and a James Bond movie. The farm’s assets are valued at £37m, while revenue was just under £24m in 2018.
There is at least £50m worth of assets in two holding companies for leisure parks and golf courses, and a country club. Elsewhere there is a manor house, and residential developments. The Guinnesses also own a stake in British Pacific Properties, a developer of apartments and mansions for wealthy homebuyers in West Vancouver, worth over €400m. About half of its 2,000 acres of the land there — which has been in the family since 1931 — were designated for development. It has plans to build two new apartment blocks, though wildfires in the area have been a concern.
In January, Ned is also likely to have had a windfall from the outright sale of Irish cloud communications firm Blueface to Comcast. He’s believed to have retained a stake in the firm after a $500m merger with rival Star2Star in 2018.
Florida-based Irish-American Missouri-born businessman Ellis Short (59) holds an Irish passport and has made his money from finance and property. The former owner of Sunderland FC lost a staggering £340m in total on the club, which is now up for sale again despite the fact that he took over debts rather than lumbering a man who has proved to be only a temporary owner, Oxford multi-millionaire businessman Stewart Donald, with them.
Short previously turned private equity firm Lone Star into a €67bn giant with John Grayken. Today, he has two property investment firms, Kildare Partners and Curzon Advisers, that have €6.2bn of assets. Kildare has two shopping centre investments in Derry and Belfast, as well as others across the UK and Europe. He also took over some loans of Cork developer Michael O’Flynn.
Short owns £23m Skibo Castle and its Carnegie Links golf course, which was previously owned by Scottish industrialist Andrew Carnegie, and functions as a members-only hotel and country club said to be frequented by wealthy US entrepreneurs and financiers. In the past he’s been linked with either an owned or chartered private jet, while he owns a €40m beachside home in Hawaii, and another house in Florida, where he spends most of his time with his former tennis player wife and tennis prodigy son.
Rockers U2 spent most of 2019 off the road, but then did a 15-show Joshua Tree tour across Australia and Asia in November and December, selling 567,000 tickets totalling US$73.8m, according to Billboard Boxscore. Forbes magazine estimates that pre-tax, and before agents, lawyers or managers have taken their cut, U2 earned €33.3m ($37m). It’s possible they might have ended up with €10m out of that — about 15pc of the gross.
Industry figures suggest Bono (59), Larry Mullen (58), The Edge (58) and Adam Clayton (59) might have banked about €285m between them from all their tours since 1990. The 2009-2011 360 Tour was the most lucrative of these, probably earning them €99m from the €660m of ticket sales.
The four formed U2 when they were at school in Mount Temple in Dublin, releasing their first album Boy in 1980. Aside from music, the band have a diverse range of investments including Dublin’s Clarence Hotel and other properties in the capital’s Dockland. Bono also backs Paddy McKillen Jnr’s whiskey distillery in Kildare. Along with Paddy McKillen and Denis O’Brien, the band also support the Endeavor not-for-profit network that supports entrepreneurs across this island.
Bono co-founded the Rise social investment fund along with TPG that has been raising a second $2.5bn fund. He and ‘Edge’ Dave Evans have backed a variety of startups. Bono in Convoy — ‘uber for trucks’; healthtech startup Forward and his brother Norman’s workforce management firm Bizimply. Edge has backed Coras and Nuritas with Bono, and Greystones health foods firm Dr Coy’s with Bono and his wife Ali Hewson.
The four band members own homes beside each other — and close to former manager Paul McGuinness — on the French Riviera. Bono owns a mansion in Killiney; Larry Mullen owns one on the other side of Dublin Bay in Howth. Bono owns a penthouse apartment overlooking New York’s Central Park that he bought from Steve Jobs for $14.5m. It’s probably worth at least $45m today. Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen have previously been linked with south Dublin and New York properties, though the former did not do so well.
Freddie Linnet and her cousin Hugh Murphy and his wife Mary own the majority of Leicester-based UK and Irish property group Charles Street.
The history of the firm goes back to the 1930s, when six brothers left south Armagh, all settling in and around Leicester. Two of them, Paddy and Hughie started a scrap metal business, later branching out to buying and selling cars, then into plant hire, aggregates and building materials, and then industrial and warehouse buildings, and eventually an office on valuable plots of land in the city centre. Charles Street Buildings Leicester was established in 1961.
Since then, the business has grown into a £691m (€820m — up from €740m last year) property empire. It made a £20.9m profit last year, paying out a £5.8m dividend. Hughie and Paddy passed away in 1991 and 1996 respectively, leaving Freddie (with a 25pc stake), Hugh and Mary (with a 37pc stake) to inherit most of the company between them, which is today led by Hugh, who is Paddy’s son. Extended family own the remainder of the shares.
The firm’s assets consist of hotels, warehouses, industrial estates, shops, offices and shopping centres. In Dublin, they own a building on Grafton Street. They’ve also been turning the old Leicester Central railway station into hotels, offices and a new public square.
The late Eamon Cleary, who died in 2012 at the age of 52, was perhaps the most successful Irish entrepreneur to emerge from a farming background. Survived by widow Catriona and eight children, he was born in Co Monaghan near Castleblayney, where he worked on his father’s farm, but has also been linked with Co Meath, having owned a farm near Navan there, and selling an agricultural supply firm here in 1991.
The media-shy businessman moved to New Zealand afterwards, arriving just before dairying and land prices took off. He then went on to make a fortune from construction — timing property and land sales at the top of the market. At one time, he owned property and land including a stud in Kentucky, assets in Eastern Europe and Australia, and telecoms and agricultural businesses in Chile and Argentina.
A chair of Irish Studies is named after him at Otago University, and other money is said to have been given to charitable causes.
Following a bumper payday in 2018 — when he stood to receive as much as €505m before taxes after the sale of his 80pc stake in Adapt Pharma and earn-out fees — Waterford serial pharmaceutical entrepreneur Seamus Mulligan (59) has increased his backing of what might be his next winning bet.
Last April, he led a $10m funding round in Maynooth University spinout and cutting-edge cell therapy firm Avectas. It promises a cheaper form of immunotherapy, in a way that is gentler on cells. Cell and gene therapies could one day cure cancer, and are likely to lead to more personalised medicine. Mulligan is the largest investor in the firm.
Adapt was sold for up to $735m to Emergent Biosolutions, while he had previously founded and sold Azur Pharma to Jazz Pharma for $500m. He still has a stake in the latter worth about €190m — the shares are up 5pc over the past year. Success with Avectas would be third time lucky.
Mulligan also has a stake in chronic back pain treatment firm Mainstay Medical, while a family investment firm has backed a Waterford whiskey distillery. He has previously invested in UK and Irish property, and during the boom bought Albert Reynolds’s former house on one of Dublin’s wealthiest enclaves, Ailesbury Road.