Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Money is no motivation to me at all – my family is my number one priority'

Jim Mansfield, who died last week, had that elusive thing – peace of mind, writes Niamh Horan

Widow Anne Mansfield is consoled by her son PJ at the funeral of her husband Jim Mansfield
Widow Anne Mansfield is consoled by her son PJ at the funeral of her husband Jim Mansfield
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

'Do I believe in God?" Jim Mansfield mused leaning back into his big chair at his private office in Citywest.

It was the question that raised the biggest laugh from the maverick businessman during our two-hour chat – but the one to which he also gave the most thought.

He looked into the distance, as if imagining what awaited him.

"I think there is something there," he finally concluded. "So I don't worry about getting old. I'm not afraid of dying."

It was during the last roar of the Celtic Tiger that the media-shy property tycoon sat down for what would turn out to be his last full interview.

We had met to discuss business but our conversation veered from love to loss, his regrets and what he hoped would be his legacy.

Outside a Hummer SUV was parked below the window. Beyond, a helicopter was on standby in the car park – a potent symbol of the property empire he had built in west Dublin.

At the time of our interview, he was estimated to be worth some €1.7bn but money did not interest him, he insisted.

"Money is no motivation to me at all; it wouldn't even come on my list of priorities. As long as I have enough money and a bit to eat every week, that will keep me going."

He personified Malcolm Gladwell's popular '10,000 hours' ideology that extremely wealthy people thrive not because of ambition or skill but because of the amount of sheer time and hard graft they put into their work.

When I inquired about when he had had his last holiday, he proudly responded: "Only three weeks ago! I went off on a Friday night and came back late Sunday."

He laughed when I pointed out that was most people's definition of a normal weekend.

Still, his health was beginning to become a concern.

"Doctors tell me I shouldn't be here; that it would cause me too much stress. But stress, to me, is only when a doctor tells me I should be at home.

"They keep telling me to take it easy and stop working. If they can get me new tablets to keep me going I will be okay," he said quietly, almost reassuring himself.

If they were trying to get him to retire, it would be no easy task.

He was well into his 60s and still working 17-hour days.

"I just can't understand people who are able to ramble in to work at nine in the morning and ramble home at half five, take long holidays and borrow lots of money without saying I'm going to work hard to pay it all back."

His 4am starts as a truck driver when he first married his teenage sweetheart set him up for a hard-work ethic.

And he had no regrets, he told me; "never look back, only forward" was his dictum.

In an interesting show of trust, it was 40 minutes before he inquired what newspaper I worked for, and despite years of negative press, he hardly ever refused an interview until his health failed.

But accusations made against him cut deep.

"Why do you think they are saying these things?" he asked when it came to allegations about Westin.

It was ironic then that the private airport which brought him the most negative attention was also the place which brought him most joy.

Having an idle breakfast with his family there on Sunday mornings was one of the things he told me he loved to do.

And when it came to his legacy, Westin was where his dreams lay.

A lover of antiques, he would travel to fairs in his spare time. Restoration was at the heart of everything he loved: furniture, stately homes and historic aircraft.

He wanted to build an air museum to house his collection of old aircraft.

He never got the chance to see his dream through.

The recession took hold – and before he could begin to rebuild his empire, doctor's visits could no longer be batted away as mere nuisance calls.

But for Jim, more important than any of this were his family and friends.

"To me, my family are number one.

"If you have lost that in the search for money you have nothing."

Finally he told me, he had that most elusive thing of all – peace of mind: "There is nothing that keeps me awake at night. I have never lain awake because of anything I have ever done."

So it was no surprise when I heard Jim had passed away peacefully in his sleep.

Irish Independent

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