Friday 23 March 2018

TH€ PUNT: Herb can add spice to Eircom

When Herb Hribar (pictured) worked for Eircom as managing director of its wholesale and networks business between 2002 and 2004, it would be an understatement to say the country was a very different place.

Eircom is also in turmoil now. Lenders seized control earlier this year under a court-approved scheme of arrangement as the company became overwhelmed by its €4bn debt burden.

That's now been cut to €2.3bn. Hribar was installed as CEO in August. The go-go days he was used to seeing around town a decade ago are long gone. And that has directly impacted Eircom – and every other telecoms operator – as consumers tighten purse strings.

But Hribar, sitting yesterday with a view over Dublin's Heuston Station, thinks that Eircom is now on the right track. New products such as 4G mobile services and a broadband TV product to be launched next year will be just two of the things that he believes will help Eircom regain its poise.

The Punt recalls the time when then-new owners, Singapore Technologies Telemedia gave their thoughts in 2010 on Eircom's future.

The tune being sung then was similar in parts. But this time around, Eircom has a 4G licence (services next year), a lot less debt and will have smaller overheads as the workforce is culled.

That might not necessarily make plotting a course easier, but might at least make it more manageable. And hopefully Eircom won't get derailed

Voting error not so trivial

THE revelation that more votes were cast than there were eligible voters at November's ballot of Glanbia Co-op shareholders is incredible.

Readers will remember that the vote set in motion the planned sell-down of the co-op's stake in Glanbia PLC, the food group it part-owns with other shareholders.

ICOS, which administered the vote, said the problem came from human error and did not affect the validity of the ballot result. Glanbia also maintains the ballot result was not affected. A second vote scheduled for Wednesday will go ahead as planned.

Whether the co-op's members will be so confident is a different matter, however. For a vote like this, which will decide a €224m deal and when the process leading up to the ballot was as contentious as this one, it has to be seen to be beyond reproach.

The 32-vote difference between the number of votes cast and the number of eligible ballot papers seems small but it is not a trivial matter.

The overall ballot received a comfortable 82pc 'yes'. However, the milk-supplier ballot was much tighter, with the 'yes' vote getting just 77pc or 2pc more than was required. That 2pc margin represented just 60 votes.

The spin-out of Glanbia's milk-processing business into a joint venture with the co-op has been a fraught process almost since before it officially began in August.

Now, just when it is finally at the finishing line, this happens. Co-op chairman Liam Herlihy must be tearing his hair out.

French fancy our placid nature

SOME of the top companies in France were on a fact-finding mission in Ireland in recent weeks, holding meetings with the Department of Finance and the Oireachtas Finance Committee.

While they were quite impressed with the way in which Ireland was dealing with its debt burden and trying to boost its reputation overseas, the Punt understands that they had one very pressing question: how has the Government managed to implement such sweeping budgetary measures without the type of mass protests that most likely would have occurred in France?

The response isn't entirely clear, but the top French bosses no doubt went off home dreaming of a radical cost-cutting programme aimed at saving them massive amounts of money, with little more than a whimper from their workforce.

Whatever we can do to help boost Ireland's image overseas.

Irish Independent

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