Thu, May 24, 2012, 01:00

Inside the world of business


Savage at a loss over conflict of interest allegations

Number of the week: zero. This, according to Tom Savage, chairman of the RTÉ board, is the total sum of occasions he felt obliged to remove himself from boardroom discussions over the past 3½ years due to a conflict between that position and his role as a co-founder of public relations agency the Communications Clinic.

“Not a single issue has cropped up on the board that I have had to absent myself.”

RTÉ has always made clear that its board is not involved with the day-to-day running of the organisation – that is the responsibility of the executive board.

Earlier this week, in a statement, RTÉ defended Savage, saying he had complied with the terms of the Broadcasting Act, which stipulates that all members of the authority must declare if there is any conflict of interests.

It pointed out the two previous chairpersons, Mary Finan and Fintan Drury, were also involved in the public relations business.

After TDs and Senators pointed out that the Communications Clinic had an active role in public relations and political coaching that represented a conflict of interest with the public service remit of Ireland’s leading news gatherer, Savage replied: “That is impugning my reputation. It has never happened and will never happen.”

But conflicts of interest surely only have to be perceived by others to be, as Labour Senator John Whelan put it, “a problem waiting to happen”.

The point that Whelan and others were trying to make, of course, was that before he even drives past security at Montrose, there is a de facto conflict of interest between Savage’s commercial interests and his public role.

Savage was not pleased with this lack of gratitude, but he perhaps could have found a better way of expressing it than this: “Every day I give to the job would be a financial loss for what I could be doing elsewhere.”

Dissident IL&P shareholder  takes a seat in the boardroom   

Piotr Skoczylas, the dissident Irish Life & Permanent shareholder and general thorn in the side of the company, seems to have adopted a slightly different tone with the directors of the company.

Could this have something to do with the fact that he attended his first official board meeting as a director of the company on Tuesday?

The board met before the annual meeting of shareholders and, after being voted on by fellow shareholders last year, Skoczylas was in the boardroom.

Skoczylas has sued the Minister for Finance over last year’s €2.7 billion recapitalisation of the company, which wiped out shareholders, and the sale of Irish Life.

He maintains that the group has never been bankrupt, yet shareholder value has been destroyed.

Quoting Yogi Bear and John Paul II at times during a speech to shareholders at the meeting in Dublin, Skoczylas said he did not think the board was incompetent or that they were crooks but they had not helped the position of shareholders.

Asked yesterday whether his attendance at his first official board meeting as a director had changed his view of fellow directors, Skoczylas declined to comment. (He attended a board meeting on March 30th but not officially as a director as he had not been appointed at that point.)

This is not to say that peace has broken out between the company and the Malta-based investment fund manager, who bought €200,000 of IL&P shares in the autumn of 2010, or that he has been infected by Stockholm syndrome.

He is still in a dispute with the company over the fact that he has been appointed to the IL&P group company, Irish Life & Permanent Group Holdings plc, which owns Permanent TSB, and not to the board of the bank itself.

The long-running legal action taken by Skoczylas and a number of other shareholders will be before the Supreme Court today.

Beefing up our reputation abroad

They’re lovin’ it – Irish beef, that is. Multinational company McDonald’s gave a welcome boost to the Irish beef industry yesterday with the announcement that is has decided to site a new beef-processing plant in Co Waterford. The short-term dividend is 65 permanent and 100 temporary posts, but the long-term impact will be to help heighten the profile of Irish beef internationally.

Meanwhile, Chinese vice-minister Gao Hongbin from the Chinese agriculture ministry was in Ireland this week. He visited Irish meat facilities and RD food centres.

Following his visit, it was announced that a technical team from China will come to Ireland next month to gain further insight into Irish food production, safety and sustainability standards. The hope is it will be a vital stage in opening up the Chinese market to Irish beef.

Both developments are testimony to the Irish food industry’s – and particularly Bord Bia’s – skill in branding and marketing.

By promoting Irish beef’s natural, sustainable and “premium” credentials, Ireland has managed to emerge from the BSE crisis unscathed, and has transformed itself from an exporter of bulk commodities to a vendor of premium, value-added products.

This has been achieved by specific strategies adopted by Bord Bia, such as the introduction of a cost-effective system to measure the carbon footprint of beef farms to differentiate Irish beef from its competitors. This is not just a nod to environmentalism, it has a hard-nosed commercial purpose.

As the National Dairy Council’s annual conference heard earlier this week, “naturalism” is now one of the key drivers of consumer demand in the food sector globally. In other words, attributes such as sustainability and natural production methods sell products.

McDonald’s recent advertising campaign featuring Irish farmers standing in lush green fields is testimony to the commercial power of the green agenda. It is a global trend from which Ireland can benefit.

Quote of the day

Introducing eurobonds is the equivalent of ringing the bell for a happy hour so the inebriated can postpone their hangover indefinitely– unnamed EU diplomat quoted on Reuters ahead of the EU summit


Elan annual general meeting


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