Thursday 22 February 2018

The rise and fall of ‘Mighty Quinn’

Steven McCaffery and Brian Hutton

SEAN Quinn spent decades building a business worth billions but the decline in his fortunes was completed in only minutes at Belfast's High Court today.

He famously started his climb to the top after leaving school at 14 to work on his family's farm in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh just north of the border.

He borrowed £100 to extract gravel from his father's land - and built an international empire - but debts of an unimaginably higher scale brought the success story to a crashing end.

His meteoric rise began on the 23-acre small-holding where he washed and sold the gravel to local builders, but his business soon spread across Ireland, and beyond.

He became dubbed the 'Mighty Quinn' as he squared up to market leaders in lucrative sectors, including the huge Cement Roadstone Holdings (CRH).

Daring expansions followed that saw him take up interests in insurance, glass, plastics and radiators.

The growing Quinn Group also turned its attention to the hospitality sector.

It built the Slieve Russell Hotel in Co Cavan, close to the Quinn home, but the hotel and leisure arm of the group reached out across Ireland, Britain and the European continent.

The wide-ranging and ambitious organisation, owned with wife Patricia and their five children, was seen as the most profitable private company in Ireland. At its height it had an international workforce of more than 8,000.

The growth seemed set to continue as it bought Ireland's second biggest health insurance provider, Bupa Ireland, thereby preventing it from leaving the country.

In 2008 The Sunday Times Rich List said Sean Quinn was worth €4.72 billion.

Other valuations placed him as the 164th wealthiest individual on the planet.

But it was his secret building up of complex right-to-buy shares in the now-nationalised Anglo Irish Bank that stripped the sheen off the cement tycoon with the Midas touch.

Attempts to service his mounting debts led to Mr Quinn's humiliating resignation as chairman of his flagship Quinn Insurance when the firm was hit with a record €3.25 million fine in 2008 for breaching financial regulations.

A corporate watchdog found the company broke the rules when it arranged loans to other companies within the Quinn Group.

"This past year has been the most eventful in my 35 years in business," he said at the time.

By 2009 the scale of his sudden downward spiral was signalled by Forbes Magazine which estimated Mr Quinn had lost a staggering €3.3 billion.

The brief court proceedings in Belfast wrote a sorry end to the tale.

But with the possibility that he can re-enter business in 12 months, the question remains as to whether or not the final chapter in the Sean Quinn story has been written.

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