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Monday 27 May 2019

'Seanie' turned a struggling minnow into a banking giant

Sean FitzPatrick's sensational resignation as chairman of Anglo Irish bank marks the end of one of the most remarkable careers in Irish banking. In his 18 years as chief executive, he transformed Anglo from a tiny operator into the third largest bank in Ireland, writes George Garvey.

When FitzPatrick took over as chief executive of Anglo Irish in 1986 the tiny bank was going nowhere and few expected it to survive.

Cultivated

Someone forgot to tell FitzPatrick. By the time he handed over as chief executive to David Drumm four years ago, Anglo was recording annual profits of more than €500m.

These soaring profits fed through into the Anglo share price which peaked at €17.60 in May 2007, up from under €1 a decade earlier.

This valued Anglo at almost €13bn. One of the main beneficiaries of the soaring Anglo share price was FitzPatrick himself with his 4.5 million Anglo shares being worth almost €80m at the peak price.

Universally known as "Seanie", he carefully cultivated a hail-fellow-well-met public persona.

One of the few times the mask slipped to reveal the utterly ruthless operator who lay behind was when long-time Anglo chief operating officer Tiarnan O'Mahony, who had been widely expected to succeed FitzPatrick, was overlooked with David Drumm, who wasn't even on the Anglo board when the announcement of his appointment was made, getting the top job instead.

FitzPatrick was forced to quit when it emerged that he had temporarily moved €87m in loans which he had received from Anglo in order to avoid disclosing them to investors.

This revelation will inevitably raise questions about Anglo's activities and trigger a probing examination of FitzPatrick's tenure as chairman and chief executive.

This will raise even further questions about Anglo's ability to survive as an independent institution.

Even before last night's sensational resignation announcement, the Anglo share price had fallen to just 32 cent valuing the entire bank at mere €242m and FitzPatrick's stake at just €1.5m. Following his "retirement" as Anglo chief executive in 2005, Fitzpatrick became chairman of the bank.

Doubt

He also picked up a number of other blue-chip directorships, becoming chairman of paper and packaging group Smurfit Kappa as well as serving on the boards of Greencore and Aer Lingus.

Following his resignation from Anglo these other directorships must also be in doubt.

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