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Kevin Kelly

Pioneering accountant made his mark in the profession and shaped standards in the industry, writes Niall Deasy

When I heard the terrible news of top accountant Kevin Kelly's passing, I was struck by the thought of the unpredictability of our lives, which, in Kevin's case results in an old friend and close professional colleague (and a partner of mine) passing away so suddenly, and at such a comparatively young age.

Following Kevin's schooldays in Cork, he and his family moved to Dublin, where he served his articles as a trainee chartered accountant in Hayden Stuart/Brown, a well-known Dublin-based firm of chartered accountants.

Following qualification and admission to membership of our institute in 1965, Kevin joined Price Waterhouse and worked with the firm in Holland and Italy for a number of years. It was a period of which he spoke warmly in later times, partly because the Dutch business world seemed to be so different and cosmopolitan in contrast with the more sedate world in which the Irish business community was operating.

Kevin left Price Waterhouse and joined Cooper Brothers in London, from where he quickly moved to the new Dublin firm of Coopers & Lybrand Ireland (C&L).

Kevin joined the new firm shortly after its start date, with the brief to "train in" the new personnel in the C&L way of doing things (a process which we dubbed "Cooperisation"). Whatever the process was called, to those of us who were on the receiving end of it all, it was fascinating and dynamic because no-one else seemed to be moving in such a progressive way in the Dublin world of professional accountancy.

Kevin, for his part, lent himself to his new task with great enthusiasm and gusto, and his lectures were always fascinating learning experiences. His presentations were always fully attended with even a few partners dropping in to see what was to be expected of them in the new way of doing things.

It was at this time that Kevin and I renewed our acquaintance, as we had not met since the end of our schooldays in Cork (at the end of the Fifties).

My memory from this time was Kevin's commitment to the concept of ongoing training and his clear understanding was that everyone needed training at every level in the organisation and it had to be viewed as an ongoing process throughout the lifetime of the professional -- a point of view which everyone saluted (at least, in public). It's interesting to see that all of the leading professional bodies have adopted this concept over the years, with continuing professional education now viewed as a basic standard.

The Seventies were years of great development of the firm, especially after we joined the EEC in 1973, as we had strong roots in the agri-business sector through a long list of farming co-operative clients. C&L probably had the largest agri- business client base in the country, one which Kevin worked with assiduously to promote and develop, with substantial benefits to our clients and to the standing of our firm. These clients included Avonmore (now Glanbia), Drinagh, Golden Vale and Bord Bainne.

But C&L was not just about agri-business, it also had a vibrant list of other Irish clients, subsidiaries of leading multinational groups, state-owned companies, hospitals, state agencies, PLCs, and a strong presence in the financial services sector. And as if all of this were not enough, our firm was also well-represented in insolvency activity.

In 1983, Kevin achieved a notable honour in becoming the first administrator to be appointed in this country following the passage of new legislation after an overnight Dail session and great debate. He was appointed administrator of PMPA (one of the leading motor insurers in the Irish insurance market at that time), now AXA. [This model was repeated some years later in the case of the Insurance Corporation of Ireland, which in turn led to the not-too-warmly received "insurance industry levy" of the late Eighties which we all ended up paying for as an add-on to our insurance premiums.]

Kevin's standing and reputation in the world of professional accounting services was now at its height. He had formidable experience in the agri-business sector and the commercial world with his responsibilities for the running (and subsequent disposal) of PMPA, in addition to his many other dealings with C&L clients.

Kevin became managing partner of C&L in 1982, and served in that role for the next six years before stepping down in 1988. Following his term he decided to move on to pastures new, firstly by joining Agra Trading, a leading firm in the agri/financial services sector, and then joining AIB as its finance director in 1992.

Kevin's years at AIB inevitably produced more challenges, including the introduction of internet banking and the arrival of the euro.

Kevin became managing director of AIB's retail division in 1998 and retired from the bank in 2002 at the relatively early age of 60 (a rule which applied to all of AIB's senior executives at that time).

Following retirement from the bank, Kevin joined a number of boards of leading Irish businesses and cultural bodies, including Kerry Group.

He became chairman of PM Group (the engineering and architectural consultancy firm) and the Irish Management Institute. He also joined the boards of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Business 2 Arts, Schroder Private Equity Funds and Siamsa Tire. He took on the role of interim chief executive of the Health Service Executive in 2004/05, taking what many perceived to be a highly demanding assignment. His commitment to every position was always serious, dedicated and focused.

Kevin changed and enriched people's lives for the good. Above all however, was Kevin's deep love, affection and commitment to his wonderful family, his wife Mary and their children Jeanne, John and Marianne, of all of whom he was immensely proud.

Great enjoyment was had over the years with Kevin and his children, including when he embraced new technology, to the point where he reached iDad status.

Notwithstanding my deep feeling of sadness at the loss of a dear old friend and professional colleague, it pales in comparison with the great loss that Kevin's family are going through at this time. Kevin will be sadly missed by everyone who knew him, but our happy memories will live for a long time to come.

Niall Deasy is a former partner, Coopers & Lybrand

Sunday Independent