Mayo brothers Cathal (65) and Michael (62) along with partner Owen Kirk (66) caught the public eye when they turned a profit of close to €60m on the purchase and subsequent sale in 2015 of the site of Berlin’s historic Checkpoint Charlie.
Two years later, the owners of building company Cannon Kirk, which built about 3,000 homes during the Celtic Tiger, exited Nama following a €100m investment by US private equity giant Oaktree in return for an equity stake. That made them reportedly one of the few Nama debtors to repay their debts in full but also meant that they posted an exceptional loss of over €24m. But in the latest set of accounts, for the year to the end of January 2018, that loss had swung to a profit before tax of €1.4m. Nevertheless, the company did not pay out a dividend during that year to the trio, who own 33pc each of the company. Turnover jumped from just under €40m to over €97m and shareholders funds rose from €116m to close to €122m.
The Watson family had been in the cycle equipment business since the 1980s but it was only when son Chris Watson (45) took the helm and brought it online that it really hit the big time. Chain Reaction Cycles became the biggest online retailer of all things cycling-related, with 2013 sales topping £155m.
But competing at the very high end of the increasingly tough world of online retail was always going to be a big ask and the family sold the group to main rival Wiggle in 2016 as part of a merger deal. The deal was worth well over €50m to the family but also saw it close up shop in Northern Ireland.
Gemma Smith Maughan (79) and husband Michael own 46pc of Gowan Group, which distributes everything from Peugeot cars to LG appliances, as well as owning Senator Windows. Last year it took over the Opel Ireland brand, adding to its stable of Irish household. Turnover at the Maughan’s Convest investment company rose to €224m from €181m, while profit went from €1.1m to €5.1.
Non-core and non-performing assets have been offloaded, and, for example, in 2017 it was reported that two prominent car dealership sites in south Dublin were sold off for an estimated €18m.
The group was established by Maughan’s late husband Con Smith in 1969. He tragically died just three years later in the Staines air crash in London. Daughters Alba, Christiana, Mary Louise and Fiona each own 13pc.
Belfast-born Maureen Wheeler (73) first met her husband Tony at a park bench in Regents Park in early 1970s London. From there, they began to explore the UK, then Europe and then followed the hippie trail to the likes of India and Afghanistan. They wrote about their experiences in a guidebook to doing Asia on the cheap and called their new publishing company Lonely Planet after a misheard line in a Joe Cocker song.
Decades later, that publishing company has sold 80 million travel guides. BBC Worldwide took control of the Lonely Planet travel guide book business for a total of £121m (€142m) — taking 75pc in 2007 and the remaining stake four years later. The business plummeted in value in the intervening years, but the Wheelers, now based in Australia, used their windfall to up the Planet Wheeler foundation in 2008 to tackle poverty in Southeast Asia, East and West Africa, Nepal and Afghanistan.
It was a better year in 2019 for Pharmapac, the Armagh-based medical packaging group controlled by former Galen finance chief Geoffrey Elliott (67). It swung from a loss the previous year to a profit of over £1.3m. In 2004, the Armagh-based accountant made €82m from his Galen stake when the Northern Ireland pharma company was sold.
The family also has an interest in the housebuilding sector in the north through their development company Hilmark Homes. Latest accounts show that in 2018 it had a £3.9m loss due to a “significant bad debt write off and a reduction in land valuations as a result of fewer residential plots being available”.
Ray Hutchinson (70) and his family own Manderley Food Group, based in Tandragee, Co Armagh, which operates the Tayto brand outside the Republic of Ireland and was established by the family in 1956. Over the past decade, it has taken a big out of the snack foods market with a series of acquisitions, including that of Tavern Snacks in 2017, making it the largest producer of snack foods in the UK. In 2018, it bought Liverpool based Real Pork Crackling Co but, with Brexit creating uncertainty and currency volatility, it swung from a profit to an after-tax loss of £1.2m, and no dividend was paid out by the company. Turnover rose from £174m to £185m.
Michael Roden (61) is as low key as the private Leeson Village gated community that he built in Dublin in the 1980s. He owns Merrion Property Group, which originally made its name selling a 24-acre site in Dublin’s Mount Merrion for more than €50m in 2003. Roden’s company hit the racing headlines last year when it was reported that it was to take back control of the 300-acre Down Royal racecourse that it bought in 2005 and subsequently leased back to the course operators. But a deal was brokered and Roden and his team took over direct management of the course last year.
After a quiet number of years on the building front, Merrion worked on the highly praised Blackrock House apartment development in a restored convent in Cork city. Retained profits in the company dipped below €40m last year, with a small €439,000 loss. In 2008 Roden was reported to have purchased one of the finest homes on Killiney head — former Canadian embassy Strathmore — swapping it for a 604 sq m home on Oakley Road, Ranelagh, and about €3m in cash. He reportedly sold the house in 2015 for €7.5m to a rich US businessman.
Cork-based O’Callaghan cut his teeth with Chevron before setting up Inver Energy, a coal and oil importer in 2004. He sold the business in 2017 to UK fuel supplier Greenergy, reportedly earning €87m alongside his wife.
Meath-born David Bobbett (60) led the management buyout in 2002 of bespoke kitchen maker H&K International, a $500m turnover firm which supplies major fast-food restaurant chains globally such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway. He had joined the company as a management accountant in 1985, rising to CEO before the buyout and ultimately taking a majority stake in the business.
He was one of the backers of a plan by Paddy McKillen Jr’s Oakmount development company to build over 290 homes on a high-profile 9.7-acre site at Temple Hill in Blackrock, Co Dublin. They had bought the site for €30m and it was reported they are now selling it for €45m after getting planning permission for the development last year.
Sean Mulryan is one of the best examples of a Celtic Tiger-era developer to put the dark days of the crash behind him with a series of big projects in both Dublin and London. Mulryan exited Nama at the end of 2016 after paying off a debt of €3.2bn and has not looked back. The Roscommon-born developer has helped to transform Dublin’s north quays with the Dublin Landings development that he carried out along with Singaporean investor Oxley and which was sold to property investor Iput for €115m in December of last year.
Figures revealed in early 2020 showed that his company, Ballymore Group, had active developments with a projected gross development value of £4.7bn (€5.5bn). The group and related entities had residential developments with an additional gross development value of £1.9bn that had been granted planning permission but not yet activated.
The company said that it had a forward pipeline of more than 7,500 homes and 1.5 million sq ft of commercial space and that Ballymore Group itself had a net asset value in excess of £500m. The accounts for a subsidiary of the overall Ballymore group showed pre-tax profits increased almost four-fold to £80m in the year to the end of March 2019, thanks to the reversal of a previous impairment. Mulryan’s company has expressed confidence about the British economy and much of its assets are in the London area. Nevertheless, Brexit must be a concern and revenues at the company last year almost halved to £55.6m from £100m.
Entrepreneur Thomas Kennedy (53) teamed up with serial tech investor Ray Nolan to create and then sell Hostelworld for €249m in 2009. Kennedy, a former estate agent, owned a minority stake. Since then, he has helped create and has invested in Airbnb rival Homestay.com alongside a group of investors including venture capital fund Delta Partners.
Homestay has 50,000 listings in 160 countries and has raised at least €9m to date, most recently raising €750,000 in July 2017, according to accounts. Those accounts, for the year to the end of 2018, show that the business had a loss on ordinary activities of just over €1m, meaning there were over €13m of retained losses on the balance sheet.
Telecoms entrepreneur Gilbert Little (71) spotted the potential of text messaging and later mobile internet as a means of communication early on. Based in Dalkey, he made around €57m from the sale of Aldiscon and Apion. He profited from the $120m (€105m) sale of Aeopna to IBM in 2013. These days, Little owns 27pc of IT firm, Ammeon, where he is a director. In 2018, the firm announced that it would create 100 jobs in Dublin and latest accounts show that during that year revenue rose from just over €11m to over €15m. Losses also narrowed at the company, falling from €1.9m in 2017 to €290,000.
The Belfast-based Herberts operate Europe’s biggest KFC fast-food franchise, with at least 145 outlets, with turnover rising from £163m in 2017 to £182m in 2018. Profit before tax in the holding company that controls the franchise, and of which Lesley Herbert (56) is the sole director, fell from £34m in 2017 to £9.5m. Michael (62) is a longtime commercial and residential property developer also operates a major Haagen-Dazs franchise. In March 2019 it was reported that Herbert was investing £40m into a series of luxury residential developments around Belfast under his Lesley Residential business, named after his wife. The biggest of the developments would see him build 35 family homes and 16 large apartments in Stormont, a further eight properties off Malone Road, as well as other smaller developments.
Limerick’s Noel Noonan (78) and members of his family sold their 88pc stake in Noonan Services, a cleaning and facilities business, for €90m in 2008 to private equity firm, Alchemy. Noonan’s son-in-law Pete Smyth was at the time running Noonan Services but moved on to establish Broadlake Capital, which is an investment firm set up to invest the Noonan family fortune. It has successfully exited two investments over the past two years — fake tan firm Vita Liberata and shower enclosures company Merlyn Industries. In 2018, it took a 30pc stake in Co Clare medical recruitment company TTM Healthcare, which has expanded rapidly in the UK and is aiming to top €200m in revenues.
Walsh (54) and Kelly (53) are the founders of Carlow-based security camera and software firm Netwatch, which merged with companies in Britain and the US in a deal funded by private equity firm, Riverside. The deal means the pair combined are the second largest shareholders in a company that now plans to double in size as it takes in entities in the US, the UK, as well as Carlow.
In August 2019, Walsh announced that he would step down as CEO at the end of the year and would join Niall Kelly on the board of directors as a founder and major shareholder. Walsh would be replaced by a US-based CEO because much of the opportunities for expansion were in that market, a statement said. He said he would focus his time on the future strategy and expansion of the international group.
The company employs over 180 staff in offices in Newry, Cambridge and two in the US. Its customers span the globe, with a particular focus on South Africa, Europe, the US and the Middle East. In 2018 the company lost €1.89m on revenues of over €11m, which were up 5.2pc.
Dublin woman Rosaleen Blair (54) stepped down from her role as CEO of Alexander Mann Solutions, a recruitment business that she built into a giant that today employs more than 4,500 people. Originally she set up a nanny recruitment business in Dublin before moving to the UK to work with former BBC Dragon, James Caan.
She set up a new division at his company, Alexander Mann Solutions, which she later bought out. Blair subsequently sold it for €315m in 2013 and continued to run the company. It is believed that she retained a significant stake in the company which was again sold last May for £820m (€929m) to Canada’s Omers Private Equity. Her stake is conservatively estimated to be worth €90m. She became chairman of the company after stepping down as its CEO. She also became chair of the trustee board of the London Irish Centre in 2019.
Louis Fitzgerald (74) is synonymous with the Dublin pub scene, adding to the lineup of well-known hostelries with the purchase of Dublin rock pub Bruxelles last year. The Tipperary man and his family own 21 pubs and two hotels, including some of the best known and busiest establishments in the city, including the Stag’s Head, Kehoe’s, the Gin Palace, the Quays in both Temple Bar and Galway, and a number of suburban venues.
Although their adult children now play a substantial part in the day-to-day running of the hotel and pub group, Fitzgerald and his wife Helen are still the major beneficiaries, sharing a pay packet of €6.854m in 2018, according to accounts. The pair own 60pc of Burtse, one of the main companies in the family empire, with the remainder shared out amongst their children. Burtse’s cash increased from €17.56m to €29.34m in 2018, even as it spent €16m on investment properties, accounts showed.
Hugely successful veterinary pharmaceutical company Enfer group is controlled by Tipperary native Louis Ronan (64). It had paid more than €50m in dividends by the time it went unlimited a decade ago after developing a test for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or so-called Mad Cow Disease, in the early 1990s. In January, it was reported that an Enfer group company was facing legal action from the estate of co-founder Dr Michael O’Connor for alleged failure to repay a €1.239m loan that it owed the businessman, who died in 2016.
Ronan previously failed in his attempt to build a bio-energy plant in Tipperary but invested in a crematorium in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork. Ronan was previously named Tipperary Man of the Year Award and his son Louis is married to well-known television and radio presenter Mairead Ronan.
By the time Downpatrick-born Neville Isdell’s (76) Irish emigration museum Epic was voted Europe’s leading tourist attraction at a global travel industry award ceremony
last year, it was well accepted that
his ownership of the once deserted CHQ had been a success. He had bought the big old building on Dublin’s north quays for what may turn out to be a bargain €10m should he choose to offload a property since visited by a string of VIPs, including Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
The globe-trotting businessman made his name at Coca-Cola, where he spent much of his working life and reached his career pinnacle as chairman and CEO, bringing back its fizz when it needed it most. For his trouble, he earned a total of €28m in cash and close to that again in company shares.
Clontarf-born Goldman Sachs deal-maker John S Daly (57) retired from his role as chairman of its global equity capital markets division in January 2017. The Trinity graduate had spent 28 years at the firm and on retirement became an advisory director with a remit to maintain relationships with long-term clients.
Low-profile accountant Noel O’Callaghan’s (70) hotel group spent more than €30m in the past number of years on revamping and improving its Dublin hotels. His portfolio includes the Green, the Davenport, the Alex and the Mont, with about 400 rooms between them.
The group is also developing a new eight-storey property and 120-cover restaurant in the capital on a site at South Cumberland Street that had served as the group’s headquarters and it will have benefited greatly from Dublin’s tourism boom. The group also owns the Eliott hotel in Gibraltar and opened the newly built 155-bedroom Tamburlaine hotel in Cambridge in England in 2017.
However, it had previously sold the group’s only US hotel. O’Callaghan, who owns the Tipperary-based Mountarmstrong Stud, is an uncle of Michael O’Leary. The family company, Persian Properties, is controlled by Isle of Man based entities and does not disclose financial information.
Limerick man Kieran Curran (39) and his family owned 59pc of DNA sequencing firm GenCell, which was sold to Becton Dickinson for $150m (€142.5m) in late 2014. He now operates through Curran Scientific, which in the year to end of 2018 made a profit of €350,000. Latest accounts describe the company as being in “the research phase of an internal project.” In 2008 it was part of a consortium along with Amryt and UCD that won €8.5m in government funding for the development of an innovative gene therapy. He is also an investor in Limerick-based Longboat Clinical, where he is a director. It has made advances in developing a platform that improves the conduct of clinical trials.
Niall Horan’s (26) solo career has been going from strength to strength ever since One Direction broke up in 2016 and this year is set to be a big one for the Mullingar pop star. He is set to release his second solo album, Nice to Meet Ya, and has embarked on a North American tour. Both will push him up the Rich List in the months to come. The former X Factor contestant’s first solo record Flicker, released during 2017, reached number one in the US and Ireland and number three in the UK.
Low-key New York-based Kerryman Maurice Regan (54) is the founder of construction firm JT Magen, a sponsor of Kerry GAA which is one of the biggest names in the sector in the Big Apple, as well as in Chicago, LA and Toronto. Chartered surveyor Regan’s father, also Maurice, is from Listowel, Co Kerry. In 2012 he bought a home on Dublin’s Ailesbury Road for €4m and the Regan family also owns a stud farm in Tipperary. JT Magen is also reported to be a major donor to political party Sinn Féin. In 2017, it had revenues of €787m, up more than 20pc on the previous year. Regan is a shareholder in the Mercantile Group of pubs here and owns a number of properties in Dublin.
Corkman Leslie Buckley (75) stepped down from his role of chairman of the board of INM in May 2018 as a scandal about alleged data breaches unfolded at the newspaper group. He subsequently welcomed the appointment of High Court inspectors to the company as an opportunity to “vindicate” himself. INM was sold to Belgian group Mediahuis last year. Buckley originally made his name as a restructuring expert. A close associate of Denis O’Brien, he is estimated to have made €10m from the sale of Esat to BT in 2000 and €70m from his interests in Digicel. He sold his digital recruitment company ChinaHR in 2015. Buckley and his wife Carmel co-founded Haven, a housing and sanitation charity in Haiti.