Wednesday 22 November 2017

How Simon Coveney's big brother dodged politics to manage the world's largest sandwich-maker

Sweet success: Greencore chief executive Patrick Coveney. Photo: David Conachy
Sweet success: Greencore chief executive Patrick Coveney. Photo: David Conachy

Graham Clifford

'Sure, we all thought Patrick would be the one to run after Hugh died. He seemed to be well-placed, well­educated and had a swagger."

This was the view last week of a former neighbour of the Coveneys in Minane Bridge.

But the oldest Coveney son had other ideas.

After graduating with a PhD in management studies from New College Oxford, he joined management consultants McKinsey, with whom he spent seven years before becoming finance director of the food company Greencore in 2003. Two years later, at the age of just 37, he was appointed chief executive of the company, originally formed after the privatisation of Irish Sugar.

He has transformed Greencore into the world's largest sandwich-maker. To the year end of September 2016, the international convenience food group saw revenues rise to £1.482bn (€1.76bn).

A highly influential figure in corporate Ireland, he remains a loyal confidant for his younger brother and will play a key role in his campaign.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney was in Kinvara yesterday to open the new wastewater treatment plant. Photo: Andrew Downes
Housing Minister Simon Coveney was in Kinvara yesterday to open the new wastewater treatment plant. Photo: Andrew Downes

Some in Fine Gael raised eyebrows over headlines on his pay. His pre-tax income in 2014 was around €6.3m including a pre-tax €3.8m windfall from selling Greencore shares under a deferred bonus plan.

In February, Coveney had to defend a proposal which could see his salary jump to €3.6m.

Four out of 10 Greencore shareholders voted to reject the new pay deal.

Depending on how well he meets targets, Coveney could be entitled to bonus shares equal to 200pc of his salary after the company doubled his maximum potential bonus - consultations with shareholders continue.

Hugh Coveney chats to Chernobyl Children's Project founder Adi Roch
Hugh Coveney chats to Chernobyl Children's Project founder Adi Roch

Defending the proposals, Patrick said: "These awards for executive directors and senior management are only worth something if the company performs very well."

There's also a sour taste in many mouths that the closure of the Irish Sugar manufacturing plants hurt many farmers across the country.

"I'd say that could have cost Coveney a good few votes. It was like nobody cared about the little fella, all that mattered was the making the rich richer," one local in West Cork said this week. "The (sugar) beet often put dinner on the table for families."

Patrick was inspired by his father, Hugh.

In an interview with Miriam O'Callaghan for RTÉ, Patrick Coveney revealed: "It would be my very strong contention that the event of my father passing away had powerful positive outcomes. It was a catalyst for all my siblings to really grow up. With Simon it was like a night and day change... he became a real man overnight."

In 2014, Patrick and his young family moved to the plush Glenthorne house in Ranelagh which he bought for an estimated €3.65m.

He's still involved with Munster rugby and sails when he can, and despite their varied and hectic schedules, the brothers try to meet up to compete on the high seas.

Politically astute Coveney, the elder, will have his younger brother's back as he bids to become the first Cork-born Taoiseach since Jack Lynch.

Indo Review

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