Seán FitzPatrick: Ambitious, charismatic and controversial

Long journey to ‘not guilty’ for former Anglo Irish Bank chairman

Wed, Apr 16, 2014, 22:18

After 43 days of evidence, the moment Seán FitzPatrick had been waiting for came just after 5pm today: acquittal.

Less than an hour later he walked out of Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. He made a short statement and left by taxi.

It has been a long journey for the former non-executive chairman of Anglo Irish Bank.

Born in Bray, Co Wicklow, in June 1948, FitzPatrick’s father was a dairy farmer and his mother was a civil servant. He grew up in a semi-detached house at the foot of Bray Head, the second of two children.

FitzPatrick went to school at Presentation College in the town from 1954.

At 18, he went to London for the first time, where he worked on a building site for the summer. He then went to University College Dublin to study commerce.

There he made friends easily and played rugby. After graduating, he studied accountancy and ended up at Craig Gardner, where he worked alongside another young accountant called Charlie McCreevy, a future minister for finance.

FitzPatrick became engaged in 1972 and with his future wife began saving for a house. Back then, mortgages were hard to get, but it was much easier if you worked in a bank. He spotted an ad in the paper: the Irish Bank of Commerce (IBC) was hiring.

His first day was April 1st, 1974. Back then, Ireland had lots of small banks and they regularly bought or merged with each other as the industry consolidated. City of Dublin Bank decided to take over IBC, and it promoted FitzPatrick to financial controller.

In 1980, another small bank called Anglo Irish Bank – half a finance house and half a merchant bank – came on the market and IBC bought it. FitzPatrick was asked to go to a recruitment company and find a chief executive to run Anglo. As he was driving to meet the recruiters he decided to ask his boss if he could take the job. He got the green light and at the age of 32 found himself the chief executive of Anglo. At the time, its gross assets, or loans, were £500,000. It was tiny but a start.

FitzPatrick was young, engaging and determined to succeed, according to people who worked with him at the time.

He was charismatic and prepared to take a chance on people and helped many business leaders, most notably a young Denis O’Brien, on their way to success.

Gradually, FitzPatrick built the bank up until it was one of the fastest-growing of its size in Europe.

Favourite of investors

It was a firm favourite of domestic and international stockbrokers as well as investors, who loved its low-cost but high-margin business model.

In 2005, FitzPatrick stepped down as chief executive of Anglo to become its non-executive chairman. David Drumm became chief executive but the two men were not close.

After years concentrating primarily on Anglo, FitzPatrick took up other board positions and began to build up an investment portfolio in stocks, private companies and even a Nigerian oil well.

Among his more high-profile roles was a seat on the board of Aer Lingus, the Smurfit Kappa Group, food company Greencore, and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

His fortune was at this point estimated to be more than €200 million.

Fast forward to last Thursday, April 10th, at 14.51pm, when FitzPatrick’s senior counsel Michael O’Higgins gave his closing speech to the jury. FitzPatrick listened attentively to the evidence. Whatever happened next, it was coming to an end. Having quit smoking before, FitzPatrick had gone back on the cigarettes some years ago, a sign of the strain. Judge Martin Nolan had already decided that charges in relation to lending to the Quinn family were not put to the jury for lack of evidence. O’Higgins was now explaining there was also very little evidence connecting his client to the other charges he was facing.

‘Unfocused anger’

In his closing speech O’Higgins said everybody was “gloriously happy” with the deal to unwind businessman Seán Quinn’s position in Anglo until “the climate change”. He said the financial regulator was “very, very happy” and the “domestic standing group” which included the regulator and the Department of Finance was “very, very happy”.

Subsequent events, O’Higgins said, led to a “viciousness and unfocused anger”, which resulted in the deal being “looked at in a different light”.

Back in the first week of the trial, FitzPatrick had listened to Seán Quinn as he told of their fateful meeting in the Ardboyne Hotel on September 11 2007.

Quinn recalled telling Mr Fitzpatrick he had taken what was to prove a fatal gamble that in its sheer scale placed the entire Irish banking system in danger.

Since his resignation from Anglo on December 18th, 2008, FitzPatrick has been a focal point for public anger.

His reputation has been reviled and he has lost his fortune. He has been blamed for much of Ireland’s economic woes and appeared at times to be the only banker in Ireland.

During the course of his trial a much more complex tale unfolded.

It is a story of many parts and many characters that involved more than just a banker or even a bank.