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Siobhan Creaton: Bank's 'aggressive' culture became recipe for disaster

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Among Anglo Irish Bank's directors was Donal O'Connor

Among Anglo Irish Bank's directors was Donal O'Connor

Among Anglo Irish Bank's directors was Donal O'Connor

The top business people who sat around the board table at Anglo Irish Bank "just loved" the bank's aggressive culture, according to its former boss Sean FitzPatrick. But that isn't surprising. He handpicked most of them and as chairman he controlled all the boardroom decisions.

In the 'FitzPatrick Tapes' the disgraced former Anglo boss conveys the enthusiasm of some of Ireland's top business men and women for the multi-million euro loan proposals coming from Anglo's gung-ho clients.

FitzPatrick says in the book that his boardroom colleagues simply couldn't get enough of the big deals happening in the bank. "They (the board) would get presentations from the executives and they would go, 'Jesus Christ!' It was that good," he says.

But for many years the Anglo board was made up of the great and good of the Irish business scene, selected by FitzPatrick. Some were close personal friends, others business acquaintances and bank customers, and all of them admired FitzPatrick and his way of doing business.

The primary function of a bank director is to ensure that shareholders can feel secure that the company is being properly run and that their investments are safe. It's a responsible position, and a prestigious one.

Being a bank director was always the ultimate corporate accolade -- a calling card that showed you were part of the country's most exclusive club -- and Anglo was able to attract the cream of the crop.

Executives from the Jefferson Smurfit Group like the late Paddy Wright and Gary McGann had accepted the invitation to become Anglo directors. Wright had been chairman of the Smurfit Group in Ireland and had been appointed by the Government to plum jobs like the chair of RTE and deputy chairman of Aer Lingus.

He was one of four people to select Fitzpatrick's successor David Drumm for the role of chief executive

Ned Sullivan was also a heavy hitter. A former group managing director of the food giant Glanbia, he also worked in a senior role at Grand Metropolitan.

According to the book, these were the most influential and formidable characters on the board. They were also both close friends of FitzPatrick.

Drumm formed the impression that when the board met, FitzPatrick had already thrashed out the issues on the agenda, sometimes at informal dinners, with these key directors beforehand, so they would all have agreed a position before going into the meeting. The outcome was therefore a foregone conclusion.

From the construction sector, Michael Jacob was deputy chairman of SIAC Construction and was president of the Royal Dublin Society. He was also one of the four directors on the selection committee that appointed David Drumm.

Other directors included Fintan Drury, who founded Drury Communications, the public relations company that advised Anglo for years. He was also chairman of Paddy Power and a close friend of Taoiseach Brian Cowen, whom he knew since their days at University College Dublin.

It is interesting to note FitzPatrick's comments about Drury. FitzPatrick claims that while Drury was clearly someone who had strong political links, the chairman never asked him to use those connections to help the bank.

"It never struck me once in my whole life that Fintan (Drury) would be very useful because he was on our board and because he knew Cowen so well. It never struck me once," he claims.

"In my life, I never asked him to do anything with the Minister for Finance when he was on the board of the bank ever. Never even gone near it," FitzPatrick says.

However, Brian Cowen's diary as Finance Minister reveals that he had at least 10 separate meetings with Drury.

Another director, Lar Bradshaw, was the head of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

FitzPatrick describes acco-untant Donal O'Connor as "a very good personal friend of mine and an admirer of me and the bank". And Anne Heraty, the founder of the recruitment company CPL and a director of the Irish Stock Exchange, also joined the crew.

They were a powerful bunch, but none more powerful than FitzPatrick.

Corporate governance exp-erts will find plenty of material in the Anglo collapse to strengthen the safeguards for shareholders in light of its collapse.

Allowing a forceful individual like FitzPatrick to move from the chief executive's role to the chairman's office was obviously a recipe for disaster. He was still calling the shots and interfering in the day-to-day business of the bank. And whether the directors "just loved" Anglo's culture or not, they owed it to shareholders to keep a closer watch on what was happening at the bank.

Irish Independent