Tuesday 16 January 2018

Samantha McCaughren: Midlands recovery on the up as builder exits vulture fund

Noel Curran, the former boss of RTE has been appointed Director General of the EBU
Noel Curran, the former boss of RTE has been appointed Director General of the EBU
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

The sale of small and medium business loans by Ulster Bank to so-called vulture fund Sankaty, an affiliate of US private-equity house Bain Capital, caused a wave of fear across the Irish business community last year.

So I am glad to see that many businesses are actually doing deals with Sankaty and moving on.

Midland development and contracting firm John Flanagan Developments has just refinanced its exit from Sankaty. The loans had been sold by Ulster Bank as part of the Project Coney portfolio, which comprised of loans relating to hotels, pubs, commercial units, residential units, development and agricultural sites, and a nursing home.

The John Flanagan portfolio includes the well-known Tullamore Court Hotel, various industrial rental properties, commercial rental properties including Axis Business Park, Central Business Park, Wellwood Health Park and development lands in Tullamore, Co Offaly.

Established over 50 years ago, the construction company has built and developed in excess of over 1,000 residential units. Its client base has included the OPW, Department of Finance, Department of Education, the HSE and a number of plcs.

The company is operated and owned by John Flanagan and Dominic Doheny, president of the Construction Industry Federation.

They told me last week that "the journey since the crash has been very tough".

However they said that during the past nine years they "maintained a good working relationship with then bankers Ulster Bank then their loan book purchasers Sankaty/Bain Capital". And now that good relationship has paid off, it seems.

They were assisted in purchasing their loans by the AIB Midlands Business Centre and Cardinal Capital Group, the Dublin private-equity firm.

"The backing received from both AIB and Cardinal is a huge endorsement of confidence in both the Midlands and Tullamore," they said. The Midlands is probably one of the last regions to feel the recovery ... but all's well that ends well.

Dunne and Fitzgerald in the frame at BWG showcase

Wexford hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald and former world boxing champion Bernard Dunne were posing for the cameras at BWG Group’s bumper trade event at the Citywest complex earlier this week.

The event is designed to enable suppliers showcase their wares to 1,000 BWG retailers, who trade under symbols Spar, Mace and XL here. BWG, which is headed by shareholder Leo Crawford, has come a long way since 2014, when it shocked the retail world with an impressive €55m investment from Spar South Africa. Once laden down with debt, the company recently said that revenues at BWG in the six months to the end of March were €662m and pre-tax profits of €12.4m — although consumer trends have been weaker in recent months. However, it was a good day for the 150 suppliers in Citywest who managed to sell a record €23m worth of goods to BWG franchise holders. Plenty of reason for optimism.

Douze points for Curran as he lands new European TV role

Former RTE director general Noel Curran has landed himself quite a gig out in Geneva. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) employs over 400 people with an annual turnover of €400m.

My sources in the telly land tell me that there was interest from a number of leading European broadcasting figures in the director general job and that the process was a rather gruelling one, with several stages. However, the board’s choice of Curran was unanimous. The EBU does not disclose salaries.

One could make lots of jokes about Curran’s insights into the Eurovision, which the EBU is most associated with the public mind. Curran previously produced the song contest and also met his wife, singer Eimear Quinn, at the event.

However, the organisation is much more complex than that.

The organisation, which is owned by broadcasters, has a news-exchange service which give members free access to footage from other members. There is a music exchange of musical broadcast events. There is also a sports-rights dimension to the business, as well as a media production side to it.

The €160m business services part of the EBU, a commercial operation, owns all the networks for Champions League football, as well as producing and selling on other sports material.

In the short term, the EBU’s commercial division will be separated out as a business unit with its own ceo, which Curran will chair.

With all these diverse activities, EBU generally delivers a surplus each year — this must be a very comforting thought after some very difficult years in Montrose.

* * *

I hear things are tough in the TV ad market — although thankfully not as bad as in the UK, where ITV recently reported the market to be down 9pc. However, Pat Kiely, managing director of TV3 Group addressed staff in Ballymount last week in a town hall meeting to highlight the successes of the stations in the year to date. Now under the ownership of Virgin, the group of stations have expanded. He told staff that on two days last month, the audience beat that of the RTE stations — something Kiely and his team are naturally very proud of.

Bill Malone, TV3 programming director, told me a number of initiatives are under way, including the creation of 3Creative, which will provide creative services to external clients on TV stings, graphics and ads.

Former RTE executive producer Aoife Stokes starts with TV3 on Tuesday to drive its factual and current affairs programming output. Malone also said  Be3 would come into its own this summer with Big Brother starting on Monday — so all tastes really will be catered to.

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