Tuesday 16 January 2018

Sporting brothers tackle their plan for life after rugby

Rob and Dave Kearney
Rob and Dave Kearney
Nick Webb

Nick Webb

Ireland rugby star Rob Kearney is behind a hip shopping and foodie development in the heart of Dublin's Golden acre.

Kearney and his younger brother Dave (above, left to right), the flying winger, are the new faces of milk in Ireland, they tell me, as we talk over undrinkable coffee in the office of their agent Dave McHugh. They've inked a two-year contract with the National Dairy Council, following in the footsteps of Munster and Ireland lock Paul O'Connell, and will be filming a new ad in the Cooley peninsula, where the Kearneys come from. They're fourth generation farming stock. "Beetroot," says Dave.

Rob is now involved in the Industry & Co development in Dublin City. "It's a retail cafe. At the moment it's a pop-up shop on Drury Street but we'll refurb it into a three-storey building in the next six months," he says.

Kearney is also involved in recruitment firm Mason Alexander. "One of my buddies set it up. It's going well. It's involved in taxation and finance. The plan is to take on more people and diversify."

He adds, "You need to have a plan for life after rugby. The transition isn't easy, so you need to be prepared." Kearney is considering whether to become an angel investor in other ventures. "I suppose that's the plan."

The Kearney brothers bunked together last week in Ireland's camp as the match against Scotland approaches.

While Jamie Heaslip may have his Bear Restaurant and Gordon D'Arcy his Exchequer Bar involvement, there's one guy in the squad who is earmarked for big business success. "Eoin Reddan. He's a very smart guy," says Dave Kearney. "He's a step ahead the whole time."

When Harry met John – the Mandarin diaries

WHAT do Grand Canal Theatre developer Harry Crosbie, former AIB chairman and current Goldman Sachs International chairman Peter Sutherland, Ireland's biggest industrial group Glen Dimplex and Kennedy Wilson chief Bill McMorrow all have in common – apart from having a real interest in Ireland's recovery?

Unlike tens of thousands of SME owners and entrepreneurs, they have all got face time with Department of Finance Secretary General John Moran. Don't let the floppy haircut or the silly beard fool you, Moran is a serious player. He's possibly the most powerful civil servant in the country. It's his job to make things happen. The civil service is, of course, the unelected government of Ireland. Always has been, always will be.

I was given copies of Moran's desk diaries last week.

Kennedy Wilson is perhaps the biggest overseas investor in the recovery of the Irish property market. Apart from buying BoI's property asset management business and buying an equity stake in BoI, Bill McMorrow's group has bought the Gasworks beside Google, spent €80m on Clancy Barracks and part of the Treasury Holdings portfolio.

Last week it bought €111m worth of debt associated with the Shelbourne Hotel. Moran's diary lists a scheduled phone call with McMorrow in February, followed by a dinner on February 27, 2013. There was also a scheduled meeting with Kennedy Wilson in the Connaught Hotel in London on December 4. Moran was pencilled in to meet Goldman Sachs International chairman Peter Sutherland earlier that evening.

Harry Crosbie, the visionary developer who re-invigorated the docklands before being flattened by Nama, was scheduled to meet Moran on December 13.

Billionaire Martin Naughton's Glen Dimplex, which is run by Sean O'Driscoll, was also down for plenty of Moran time. With meetings scheduled for February in the Westin Hotel, a "catch up on the economy" meeting is set for September and another for December, according to his diaries.

Moran had plenty of other interesting little rendezvous during 2013 including "an in-camera lunch at KBC bank", a meeting with Sunderland FC owner and billionaire Ellis Short's buyout firm Kildare Partners and a Chinese regulatory visit "re aircraft financing".

Ireland has an open door for the powerful and well connected. Big business insiders are far better represented than small business owners.

Mullen brings his Midas touch to world of rubbish

Peter Mullen, the Dubliner who made a fortune when luxury good giant LVMH bought his Thomas Pink shirt company for €75m a decade ago, is back with another smart play.

London-based Mullen has emerged as a backer of waste-to-energy pioneer Envirofusion, which is based in Derby. The phenomenally clever technology turns rubbish into clean, energy-producing heat hotter than your average volcano.

Mullen helped bankroll the company, with a couple of mortgages showing him as the lender. He lent it an unsecured loan of around €130,000 last year, with the debt paying 5pc. He also subscribed for a bundle of shares, spending about €280,000. Filings show he owns around 25pc of the issued shares.

Mullen and his brother set up the Thomas Pink shirt-making firm in 1984, selling 70pc of the business to LMVH in 1999 for around €48m and the remaining 30pc in 2003. All in all, they are likely to have cleared €75m.

Mullen made a second fortune when helping to turn the Hunter wellie boot company from a small Scottish rubber boot maker into the must-have wellie for Glastonbury and posh festivals.

He was part of the group that rescued the company out of administration in 2006 in a €2.5m deal. Two years ago, Searchlight Capital bought a majority stake in the firm in a deal that valued Hunter at over €120m.

Mullen had a 18.2pc stake at the time and still retains an interest in the company.

He is also involved with the AWB limited partnership, which has lent money to finance the Austrian communications group Kabel-X.

Another deal saw him hook up with Tory party grandee Jonathan Marland (a partner in the Hunter boot rescue) to form a new investment group, Three Jays (UK).

While posh shirts and wellies worked a treat, turning trash into hard cash may be altogether tricker.

Plans for Penneys to go it alone

TALK that ABF may spin off its phenomenally successful Penneys/Primark retail empire into a separate standalone company is gathering momentum.

Penneys with its €14 bunny rabbit onesies or €12 skinny jeans isn't the most obvious fit for ABF, which is better known for slower moving bread, sugar and Ryvita businesses. Floating off a separate Penneys company might give investors a pure retail play.

The chatter also brings Arthur Ryan into sharper focus. The low-profile Ryan is one of Ireland's most successful and disruptive businessmen. He transformed the sale of clothes through Penneys, by selling ridiculously cheap and on-trend clothes.

The success of Penneys is testament to his ability to read fashion and shift volume. But few would recognise Ryan, even if he came up and slapped them with a wet fish. In fact, most of the archive photographs of him appear to be from the 1980s. Or else he dresses badly.

But there are other rewards. Digging through documents for Sizzles International, part of the complex Primark corporate network, reveals that Ryan owns 229,121 shares in ABF, worth around €7.7m. It also shows that Penneys paid a €150m dividend back to the ABF mother ship. Would ABF really be able to tear itself away from the Penney's cash cow?

Irish Independent

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