Sunday 8 December 2019

Derek Quinlan: How 'King Midas' lost his golden touch

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

DEREK Quinlan's background as a tax collector gave him a rubber stamp of credibility that proved to be one of his most useful assets when he dived into the property scene.

The first the wider public ever heard of him was when he snapped up the Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

In a wily move, the consortium, which included AIB chairman Dermot Gleeson and property developer Mark Kavanagh, managed to write off the entire €76m in capital costs against tax – buying the prestigious establishment for less than it cost to build.

A 'new' King Midas was born.

Quinlan (66) was raised in Dublin, the son of an Irish Army sergeant from Co Kerry and the apple of his mother's eye. His parents had "virtually no money", Quinlan said. However, his mother managed to siphon away some cash from her £5 weekly housekeeping allowance so that her son could watch westerns at the local cinema. She would also bring Derek along to visit two women at a home for the blind. It sparked an early life ambition to become an eye surgeon.

"I wanted passionately to be an eye surgeon," he told 'Vanity Fair'. "I wanted to actually discover why people were blind."

Quinlan was sent to Blackrock College, where, crucially, he impressed at rugby. Success in the Leaving Cert saw him qualify to study medicine at UCD but he switched to commerce and went on to qualify as a Chartered Accountant.

Headhunted by the Revenue Commissioners Investigations Unit, he worked there for six years then went back to accountancy and set up a tax advisory practice. In 1989, he formed Quinlan Private (QP), an investment vehicle for high net-worth individuals and in 1991 he bought a single ice-cream kiosk for around €220,000 in the Square Shopping Centre in Tallaght as a minor dabble.

By 1994 he had financed the country's first Holiday Inn Express chain and went on to invest in Four Seasons hotels in Milan, Prague and Budapest.

Quinlan has four daughters from a first marriage and three young boys from his second marriage to Siobhan Downey, a corporate lawyer from Waterford.

QP's purchase of London's Savoy Hotel Group for €1.13bn in April 2004 catapulted him into the business superstar category.

At the height of the boom, commentators in the UK noted how Quinlan did "not fit the brash, go-getting stereotype of the new breed of Irish property investor", noting his taste for the finer things in life. They also noticed how he was not afraid of debt. It was to prove his unravelling.

Irish Independent

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