Industry captain’s ill-fated voyage on the sinking ship
Sean Quinn’s empire owes billions to the failed bank he once lavished praise on, writes Maeve Sheehan
IT IS hard to overstate the adulation of Sean Quinn in the border county heartland in which he rooted his business empire.
The economist Jim Power recalled how he once had the misfortune of being the follow-up act to the legendary tycoon at a function organised by the Cavan County Enterprise Board in March 2007. It was the second time Ireland’s richest man had spoken in public. The largely local audience crowded into the function room in the billionaire’s five-star Slieve Russell hotel, next door to his home in Ballyconnell. Quinn was always going to be a hard act to follow. Power recalled that, as he sat listening to the Mighty Quinn speak to his enthralled audience, he couldn’t get the Monty Python classic The Life of Brian out of his head.
“Every time he drew breath, everyone ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’. It was quite extraordinary,” said Power. “Quinn finished. Everybody fainted. I was 10 minutes into my presentation when a journalist started dismantling the microphone on the podium within 20 feet of me. That put me in my place.” Quinn — the man who quit school at 14, started a gravel quarry on his father’s 23-acre farm and transformed it into multi-billion euro enterprise spanning cement, glass, hotels and insurance — is a local hero in Cavan. The insurance arms of the business are the real money spinners, making €1m a day in March. The Quinn Group employs 5,500 people, many of them in the economic blackspots of the border counties. He was reputed to be worth €4.3bn two years ago. Yet he continues to live where he was raised, with his wife Patricia in a house that is modest by any magnate’s standards.