Monday 20 November 2017

Chadwick's €21,000 for Soc Dems a loud signal for one who says so little

Grafton Group chairman Michael Chadwick is estimated to be worth €208m
Grafton Group chairman Michael Chadwick is estimated to be worth €208m
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

He is one of the shrewdest operators in Irish business, with an uncanny knack for seeing around corners and navigating stormy seas.

But what exactly we are to make of Michael Chadwick's €21,000 donation towards the fledgling Social Democrats is anyone's guess.

The party secured 3pc of the national vote and decided to remain in opposition for the duration of the next Dáil.

What prescience prompted the non-executive chairman of the Grafton Group - the construction supplies giant that owns brands such as Woodies - to invest in the political start-up founded by Independent TDs Róisín Shortall, Stephen Donnelly and Catherine Murphy?

We're unlikely to gain any insights from the man himself.

As well as being one of the country's most successful businessmen, Chadwick, who turns 65 next week, eschews the extrovert tendencies favoured by many modern corporate leaders.

Chadwick, whose personal wealth is estimated at some €208m, donated personally to the political campaigns of the Social Democrats co-founders as well as contributing towards the campaigns of 10 of the party's unsuccessful General Election candidates.

The keen sailor, co-owner of the Dún Laoghaire Marina, also contributed to the party, donating €2,500 in the past two years. The sums involved are small beer for the multi-millionaire.

The three founding members of the Social Democrats received just €2,000 each from Chadwick over the last two years - the maximum amounts permitted under strict Sipo rules.

One of the last representatives of the Dublin Protestant merchant class, which once dominated large swathes of Irish business, Chadwick deployed a corporate reserve not shared by other CEOs and senior executives when he was executive chairman of the Grafton Group for more than a quarter of a century.

He transformed Chadwicks, the Irish building supplies firm founded in 1909 by his grandfather William Chadwick, into one of the largest listed building companies in the UK, with peak sales of more than €3.2bn in 2007.

For much of the boom, however, Chadwick - who is married with an adult son - waived his salary and pension entitlements on the grounds that the dividends from his shares, were more than sufficient.

He first joined the family firm in 1975 aged 24, and was appointed an executive director four years later before becoming chairman in 1985.

His key traits are foresight and timing, which came to the fore in 1987 when he led a de facto management buyout of the Marley Group, the UK-based group that had built up a majority stake in Concrete Products of Ireland (formerly Chadwicks).

A year later, renamed the Grafton Group, it was effectively relaunched as an independent company, and quickly expanded into the British market.

Britain was, and still is, key to the success of Grafton, which saw a more than 30-fold sales growth when Chadwick was at the helm.

Despite the trauma facing construction companies following the collapse of the Irish property market, Grafton's listing was moved to London in 2013 where it joined the influential Ftse 250 Index along with other new entrants including retailers Carphone Warehouse and JD Sports.

Chadwick, who later this year steps down as non-executive chairman of Grafton, with its 668 branches and a turnover of over £2bn (€2.55bn), leaves an extraordinary corporate legacy.

That is why it is fascinating to see what other ventures he will lend his support to as he sails off into retirement.

Chadwick says little, but his backing of a veritable minnow seeking to ride the wave of political reform gives a rare insight into this most enigmatic of business leaders.

Irish Independent

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