Self-effacing CEO vows to stay active in business on retirement from hotel chain
HE will turn 70 in September, but don’t expect Pat McCann to rest on his laurels.
Having announced yesterday that he’ll retire as chief executive of Ireland’s biggest hotel chain, Dalata, later this year, the veteran boss intends to remain very active in the business world.
A couple of corporate board appointments would seem a natural evolution. But Mr McCann is self-effacing about his prospects.
“I’m not arrogant to believe that people will be knocking down my door,” the Sligo native told the Irish Independent.
“But to be absolutely clear about it, I’m going to be engaged in business long after Dalata,” he stresses. “It’s what I do, it’s what I love and I’m really, really focused on that.”
“I’m one of these sad individuals – I don’t golf, I don’t horse race, I don’t fish, I don’t sail. I don’t do any of those things, hobby-wise. I love to walk and get out in the countryside and I love to watch sport, but work has been my hobby.
“I just love building businesses. In the past 20 years, that’s exactly what I’ve done,” he says. “I’ve built, thankfully, two great businesses, with the Jurys Inns model and then with Dalata, having built it from scratch.”
I don’t golf, I don’t fish. Work has been my hobby – I just love building businesses.
When Dalata was launched in 2007, the Celtic Tiger was about to become a big game trophy. The economy started to go into freefall the following year.
For Dalata, it was a baptism of fire. Its survival in what was then the country’s deepest-ever economic downturn, was far from certain and it could all to easily have become just another casualty of the collapse.
An early investor, Shane Rehill’s TVC investment group, at one stage wrote off virtually its entire €10m investment in Dalata as the financial crisis worsened. It would later reap the rewards Dalata’s resurgence.
Faced with calamitous economic climate, Dalata pivoted.
As banks pushed receivers and liquidators into hotels that had been built during the boom with generous tax breaks, Mr McCann and his team saw an opportunity.
Within a few years, Dalata was managing about 40 properties on behalf of banks and in 2010, from a standing start, had become the largest hotel operator in the country.
It was later able to buy assets at less than their replacement cost, while its stock market debut in 2014 marked a stepping-stone to further growth as it cemented its presence in Ireland and expanded in the UK.
More recently, it has teamed up with big investment groups eager to partner with Dalata on hotel projects.
They’ve helped the Irish company to bankroll new hotel builds, with the likes of pension funds paying for construction, owning the property and inking a long-term lease with Dalata.
It gives them a steady return and gives Dalata a new route to access capital. Mr McCann described the emergence of those relationships as “transformational” for Dalata.
The group currently has €1.2bn in hotel assets, it operates 41 hotels. Of those 29 are in Ireland and the remainder in the UK. It has seven under construction: two in Ireland and five in the UK.
Mr McCann lives in south Dublin, just a short distance from his successor, Dalata’s deputy CEO Dermot Crowley, who turned 54 today. From Cork, he and Mr McCann have worked together for the past 20 years, first in the Jurys Doyle group and then at Dalata.
While they make a formidable team at work, the two don’t socialise, bar the occasional pint together, according to Mr McCann.
“He has his own life and his own friends and I have my own life and my friends,” he says. “That’s not to say we don’t have the odd pint together. Of course we do. But work is work and home life is home life. Let’s be honest about it: he’s a much younger man than me. He and I move in different circles. I’m one of the auld lads. He’s one of the young lads.”
But although Mr McCann might be checking out of Dalata, he’s far from finished his career.