Business Irish

Monday 16 September 2019

The Punt: O'Leary keeps hacks happy

Marc Bolland, the outgoing Dutch chief executive of UK retailer Marks & Spencer. Photo: Bloomberg
Marc Bolland, the outgoing Dutch chief executive of UK retailer Marks & Spencer. Photo: Bloomberg Newsdesk Newsdesk

Very different media strategies were employed by the speakers at a well-attended Brexit debate held by Bloomberg last week. The event took place in Dublin's Gibson Hotel, around the corner from the spot where RTÉ films awkward encounters for its weekly 'First Dates' programme.

The flagship speakers were Ryanair's Michael O'Leary and AIB chairman Richard Pym, both against Brexit, with Bloomberg's Dara Doyle as devil's advocate because he simply couldn't find any top Irish executive in favour of Britain leaving the EU.

Swarmed with reporters after the event, O'Leary was accommodating as usual and even moved a table out of the Punt's way to make sure there was enough room in the media scrum. He happily answered questions on everything from Shane Ross ("It's nice to have somebody with some sensible views running Transport, I hope he will live up to his writings over the last 20 years") to Luas drivers ("We need to stop pandering to a couple of union headbangers").

Pym took a different approach. When the Punt asked for a few questions after the public debate, we got a succinct "no". Not being of the shy and retiring type, we pressed on with a query about AIB's postponed IPO - which to his credit the chairman did answer, stating it was all up to the Government and all down to the market, not Brexit, before quickly disappearing into the crowd.

If only all top executives were as chatty as O'Leary.

The ways of San Jose

The Punt was in California recently, in the far-from-sunny-climes of San Jose.  It drizzled on one day of the short visit, transforming a quick trip to the hills into a memory of a rainy day in Killarney.

But it was certainly interesting. The Punt was there as British Airways launched its inaugural flight between London Heathrow and San Jose, with IAG chief executive Willie Walsh saying again that he has no intention of retiring when he hits 55 this year.

But someone else who's heading for the departure gate is Marc Bolland, pictured below, the outgoing Dutch chief executive of UK retailer Marks & Spencer. He announced in January that he would step down from the role in April.

He happened to amble through the foyer of the hotel in San Jose where the Punt and other hacks were staying, only to come up unexpectedly against a bemused phalanx of reporters.

Bolland was confirmed last month as a non-executive director of IAG, but he insisted in San Jose that it was pure coincidence that he was staying at the same hotel as Willie Walsh.

Bolland was dashing out to a meeting with some Apple executives, apparently in relation to a legacy project at M&S.

Funnily enough, Willie Walsh met Apple CEO Tim Cook the next day.

Big spenders swinging in

Almost a thousand of the most influential leaders in the global debt markets will jet into Dublin this week, for the International Capital Market Association's 48th AGM & Conference.

Last year's event was in Amsterdam and with the crash now receding in the rear-view mirror of history, Dublin's hoteliers, taxi drivers and cocktail bars are expected to throw their arms around the 900 or so travelling delegates for as long as they can hold onto them.

Irish worthies including Micheal Noonan and Philip Lane are due to speak at the conference on Thursday, at Dublin's Convention Centre. With the possibility of a so-called Brexit looming, Irish interest won't end there. The chance to intercept investment that might otherwise be headed to the UK isn't likely to be passed up by Martin Shanahan and his colleagues at the IDA.

Happily for the IDA, the conference's organisers seem as determined as anyone to woo the travelling bankers. As well as the business proper of the conference, delegates will be ferried to events at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Guinness's and even a mini-golf tournament.

Irish Independent

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