Denis O’Brien’s Topaz nominees bring excess baggage on board

Businessman’s appointments could be seen as a message to his critics

Denis O’Brien, like most uber-successful entrepreneurs, possesses an inherent anti-establishment bent. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Denis O’Brien, like most uber-successful entrepreneurs, possesses an inherent anti-establishment bent. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Sat, May 3, 2014, 12:39

Chutzpah, thy name is Denis O’Brien. The billionaire’s decision to appoint Brian Cowen and Colm Doherty to the board of his fuel retailer, Topaz, could be construed as a message to his critics in the media and the wider public.

Yes, the two men have obvious personal and professional qualities that would make them perfectly acceptable appointees to the board of most businesses.

Cowen, as well as being a man with the bulging contacts book you would expect of a former taoiseach, is also a qualified solicitor and has a well-won reputation for intellectual robustness.

Doherty, who is also a director of O’Brien’s Siteserv, spent seven years
on the board of the biggest bank in the country, albeit he was the man driving
the bus when it crashed into a wall.
Not as bad as Cowen, who was driving when an entire country crashed into
a wall.

But of all the men (or women – Lucy Gaffney is the sole female among the nine directors of Topaz), in all the bars, in all the towns, in all the world, are Cowen and Doherty, with all their baggage, really the best appointees he could find for the country’s largest chain of fuel stations?

O’Brien, like most uber-successful entrepreneurs, possesses an inherent anti-establishment bent, and one could imagine that he enjoys winding up his critics by appointing these two to his company.

Angered by what he sees as the injustice of the Moriarty tribunal, which found Michael Lowry had “delivered” a mobile phone licence to him, O’Brien possibly
empathises with the two men’s outsider status with Joe Public.

We’ve seen him do similar things before, such as when he announced there would “always be a steak” at his barbecue for former Anglo boss Sean Fitzpatrick, even if that statement was more motivated by loyalty to his friend.

O’Brien must have known the
kerfuffle the appointment of Cowen and Doherty would cause. Perhaps that was the whole point.

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