Tuesday 12 December 2017

The hottest bosses and the not so hot ones

Nick Webb and Roisin Burke

Who was the most impressive chief executive of a quoted company in 2011, who was the least impressive? What about the deal of the year. . . and which ones stank? After an extraordinarily eventful year in Irish business, we polled more than 40 of the top Irish and UK fund managers, investment chiefs and analysts. We unveil the findings:

BEST CEO

Patrick Kennedy

AT this stage not even Paddy Power would have quoted odds on it. The bookie boss scooped the best boss gong for a third year in a row. Talk about a sure thing.

You can't really blame the analysts for being boringly predictable though. Kennedy has led a €1.9bn betting business to profits racing past €100m and a share price still on a steady rise, up nigh-on 33 per cent this year and higher than pre-market crash peak levels of 2007.

The accountant and former KPMG and McKinsey consultant has been running what has grown into Europe's biggest listed bookmaker since 2006.

That should keep him rather busy, but he still finds the time to sit on the boards of Bank of Ireland, pharma giant Elan and a few others.

He has just inked a deal for Paddy Power to partner with British Columbia Lottery Corporation, the only licensed sports bettor in the Canadian state and a vital foot in the door in North America for Kennedy's company.

He's also seeking a gaming licence for Paddy Power in the Las Vegas state of Nevada.

Second favourite boss with analysts was Kerry Group's Stan McCarthy, though he came in with only half the vote that Kennedy got.

Then in third place, and just one vote behind McCarthy, is Ryanair's Michael O'Leary.

Also-rans were Aidan Heavey of Tullow and Hugh O'Donnell of Kentz.

Least impressive chief executive

Greencore's Patrick Coveney

IT IS the naughty step for Patrick Coveney, the €1.58m-per-year boss of sandwich and sushi maker Greencore.

The annual survey of Irish and UK analysts and fund managers reveals that Coveney was tipped by more than 27 per cent of respondents as the least impressive boss of 2011.

The disastrous unravelling of Greencore's mega-merger with rival Northern Foods was followed by the highly expensive €125m buyout of Uniq, all of which failed to wow the investment community.

Later it emerged that private equity player Clayton Dubilier & Rice had made a move to buy Greencore at a knockdown price. The move was rebuffed.

Earlier this month, Coveney saw an executive bonus scheme payout, with an award of 517,000 shares worth €315,000.

He was also conditionally awarded 910,000 shares -- worth around €555,000 -- which may vest in 2014 subject to hitting certain targets.

Investors weren't in a forgiving mood as Coveney has consistently landed a podium finish in the race for Ireland's top young executive.

BEST COMPANY

Paddy Power

This is getting embarrassing. It's Paddy Power as winner all right again, by many furlongs. Almost treble the vote of any other company from our analysts.

The gambling empire's secret sauce? Tech savvy. It clocked the demise of betting shops and the rise of internet betting and transformed itself from a betting business into a technology company.

Betting-shop business fell off a cliff but the bookie's online and mobile phone business absolutely thrived. Internet betting on games like blackjack, poker, bingo and sports grew in double digits this year. Betting activity in the Australian market grew by nearly a quarter.

Having conquered Australia last year, the bettor set its sights on cracking the US and Canada. And it's keeping its online gaming expertise honed. It has just bought Bulgarian gaming developer Cayetano, a mobile gaming expert and one of the best egaming developers in the market, according to CEO Kennedy.

Paddy Power added Cormac McCarthy, former chief of the massively loss-making Ulster Bank to its board in August.

Analysts had an appetite for food giant Kerry Group, too, it was the next favourite in the best company rankings, followed by Ryanair in third place.

Tullow Oil, Elan and Kentz also got nods.

DEAL OF THE YEAR

Elan

Elan's sale of its EDT drug delivery unit to Alkermes in a €900m transaction was one of the biggest deals of the year, it also landed the gong as the top play of the year.

FBD's move to spin off its leisure and property interests into a €180m joint venture with Farmer Business Development was narrowly beaten into second, drawing votes across the investment community.

The €217m sale of Norkom Technologies to British defence company BAE, Kerry group's €171m deal to acquire Cargill Flavour Systems and Origin enterprise's blitzkrieg of deals to buy Rigby Taylor, United Agri and Carrs Fertilisers all rated highly.

Another deal mentioned in dispatches included the Bank of Ireland stake sale to North American investors -- from their point of view rather than the State's. DCC's purchase of €67m worth of assets owned by Total in the UK was also chosen.

WORST DEAL

Greencore and Northern Foods

What a difference a year makes. Greencore was lauded by the investment community in 2010 for its Northern Foods deal. . . but then it made a complete mess of it.

Rival bidder Boparan came in and gazumped Greencore's offer with a €400m deal.

The company was left looking foolish and Greencore had to cough up €13m in fees for its advisers. It was a hide-under-the-duvet day for everybody concerned.

More than 65 per cent of the fund managers and analysts polled chose the collapse of the proposed Northern Foods buyout as the worst deal of the year.

But things got worse. Greencore's other deal, a €125m buyout for convenience food firm Uniq was also given a major thumbs down by fund managers and analysts being chosen as the second worst deal of the year.

After being jilted at the altar by Northern Foods, the Uniq deal was seen as Greencore having to marry one of the bridesmaids. . . and not one of the lookers either.

Other poor shows turned up by the survey included by North American private equity buy into Bank of Ireland, which was seen as a poor return for the State. The failed buyout at IFG after approaches from Fjiordland and Bregal capital was also dissed.

BEST YOUNG EXECUTIVE

Peter O'Donovan

Patrick Kennedy came close to clinching this one but a younger colleague Peter O'Donovan jumped into a late lead by a couple of votes.

Just 34, O'Donovan is Paddy Power's techie mastermind. He was appointed managing director of online and technology last month but he's worked at the firm since 2002 in areas including risk management, egaming and financial spread betting.

He's led online development since 2005, becoming head of all of Paddy Power's online operations in 2009. He has a master's in multi-media systems from Trinity College.

Kennedy was a close second, then one vote shy of Kennedy in third place is Gene Murtagh, who turned 40 this year. As did fellow Kingspan director Geoff Doherty, who polled strongly, one vote behind Murtagh.

Others who polled strong ly were Origin Enterprises Tom O'Mahoney, 48, and Paddy Power defector Breon Corcoran, who also saw his 40th summer this year and moved to rival bookie Betfair this year.

In stark contrast to previous years, Greencore's Patrick Coveney was nowhere to be seen on the best list, with analysts taking a dim view of the Northern Foods bid fiasco.

Last year's winner: Patrick Kennedy.

BEST SMALL COMPANY

CPL

Doubly impressive in the throes of a nightmare jobs market is the fact that a recruitment company tops the poll this year.

Anne Heraty's CPL has been in business for 22 years. She founded it with her husband and it launched on the stock exchange in 1989. CPL took a scissors to costs this year and operating profit jumped 81 per cent to €7.18m and the cash balance sheet almost doubled to €46.3m.

With offices in Ireland, England, Spain and Eastern Europe, CPL placed 22,000 people in jobs this year. It upped its fees for permanent placements by 46 per cent and temp work fees by 22 per cent. In April it bought health sector recruiter Runway personnel for an undisclosed sum.

In joint second place in this category are 2010 winner, financial software group First Derivatives along with travel software company Datalex.

Sunday Indo Business

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