Thursday 18 January 2018

Former Irish barman's phenomenal success story celebrated

ICG boss Eamonn Rothwell
ICG boss Eamonn Rothwell

Google might have dropped €300,000 on its Irish Christmas party - a winter wonderland complete with ice rink and ferris wheel - but for Vice Media, that's a drop in the ocean.

Chief executive Shane Smith, who once bartended at Dublin institution The Baggot Inn, reportedly paid $300,000 for a Las Vegas dinner last month.

Smith is thought to have been on a lucky gambling streak. The meal was at the Bellagio casino's Prime Steakhouse during the Las Vegas-based Consumer Electronics Show.

The Punt doesn't really resent Smith his excesses; Vice is a phenomenal success story.

The Brooklyn-based company has grown from a free, whiskey-stained Montreal monthly magazine into a media titan. Recent investments give it a valuation of around $2bn.

But Smith's spending spree must be put in context - his company has been accused of short-changing staff. Website Gawker made waves in the media community last year when it published complaints about Vice's low wages for journalists.

In response Vice released a statement describing the insurance, vacation days and stock programme for its employees. Smith (45) distributed $1m to staff at last year's holiday party, it has also been reported.

Also working in his favour is his stint as a barman - everyone should work at least one everyday job to learn the value of a good one, the Punt thinks. Smith, son of Irish parents who emigrated to Canada, worked at the Baggot Inn for a short stint in his late teens.

The cost of the meal at the Bellagio casino's Prime Steakhouse was reported by Bloomberg News earlier Wednesday, after MGM Resorts International revealed on an earnings call Tuesday that unidentified guests had enjoyed a $300,000 meal. The dinner was held during the Consumer Electronics Show, according to MGM Chief Financial Officer Dan D'Arrigo.

It was a party of 12, MGM spokesman Clark Dumont said in an e-mail. A guest at the dinner, who asked not to be identified, put the number closer to 25.

"No brainer quiz. What media co exec did I watch win $100k at blackjack last nite?" David Carr, the New York Times media columnist wrote last month on Twitter, weeks before his death at 58. "Hint: gambling not his only vice."

The Punt - New CFO for Irish Continental Group

Irish Continental Group has a new financial officer, David Ledwidge. In the long tradition of CFOs Mr Ledwidge is a chartered accountant, and more interestingly has a bachelor of science degree from DIT.

Ledwidge moved to ICG from accounting firm Deloitte in 2006. He was most recently finance director of ICG subsidiary Irish Ferries. It is a good time to be the head of finance at the shipping and passenger ferry company. Oil prices are at six-year lows, so one of ICG's biggest costs has been slashed.

Unlike another well known Irish transportation company - namely Ryanair - ICG does not operate a hedging policy for fuel. That means the company has reaped the gains of the cost of cheap fuel; Michael O'Leary's company, by comparison, has lost out on an estimated €200m worth of savings by hedging when prices were much higher. It is good news for chief executive Eamon Rothwell, who owns about 15pc of the Irish Stock Exchange listed company. Ledwidge's appointment is not the only major management change of late at ICG, whose chairman is multimillionaire industrialist Alastair McGuckian, the former chairman of UTV.

The company last month appointed Malahide, Co Dublin, man Andrew Sheen as managing director of Irish Ferries. Sheen has a new Dublin to Cherbourg service to oversea as well as eight new round trips on the Dublin-Holyhead route.

Meaty issues for food sector

Meat Industry Ireland chairman Ciaran Fitzgerald is stepping down after 12 years at the beef and lamb lobby group. Fitzgerald, a food economist with 30 years experience in the agri-food sector, will leave the post mid year. His successor has not been announced yet.

Of course, the unofficial head of the meat industry needs no introduction. It is beef baron Larry Goodman of ABP Foods. His company was one of the first in Europe to take advantage of the recent lifting of the US ban on beef from Europe. Louth-based ABP has signed a €15m contract with US giant Sysco, one of the world's largest food distributors. The deal will see the company's premium beef sold through the US retail chain Whole Foods, an upmarket grocer that specialises in natural and organic foods.

But we can't see Goodman ever taking up a public-facing position like the MII job because he is media shy. His companies have occasionally gotten bad press over the years. In 2013 a storm erupted over the Silvercrest plant in Co Monaghan, then owned by ABP, after it was found to have manufactured a burger that contained horse DNA. In the Dail this week, with Socialist TD Paul Murphy asking Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney whether that storm could damage Irish-US trading.

Mr Coveney's response was a resounding no.


Irish Independent

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