Cullen and Lavin claim banks did them ‘a great injustice’

Apprentice star and partner speak out about loss of car dealership and hotel business

Bill Cullen and Jackie Lavin  have just opened a new car dealership in Dublin selling the Korean Ssang Yong brand. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Bill Cullen and Jackie Lavin have just opened a new car dealership in Dublin selling the Korean Ssang Yong brand. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Sat, Feb 8, 2014, 14:51

Veteran businessman Bill Cullen, and his partner Jackie Lavin, have spoken of the enormous toll imposed on their lives by the loss of their businesses.

In an interview with RTE Radio this morning the couple, who have just opened a new car dealership in Dublin selling the Korean Ssang Yong brand, were critical of the behaviour of a number of banks, whom they claimed withdrew support from their Renault car dealership and hotel businesses despite the fact they had never defaulted on a loan.

They said a “great injustice” had been done to them.

Mr Cullen, the former chief executive of Renault Motors in Ireland and main protagonist on the TV3 reality show The Apprentice, lost his Renault dealership business in October 2012.

The couple also lost control of the five-star Muckross Park Hotel in Killarney, Co Kerry in March 2013. They told Marian Finucane the banks withdrew support from these businesses despite the fact the value of their assets exceeded what ther debts.

“But that’s one of the things that’s happening. They are going to pull the people whose assets exceed the loan,” said Cullen. “We had an overdraft and they pulled the overdraft so we couldn’t write cheques, so we couldn’t buy cars. Therefore we couldn’t sell cars.”

The withdrawal of support from the hotel in March 2013 was, claimed Cullen, a “good move” for the bank as he and Ms Lavin had kept the hotel going though the leanest months between October to March, he said.

“It was when we came to the St Patrick’s week ... that’s when they pulled it, three days before and they got all the good work we had done to build the business for 2013.”

Ms Lavin also suggested the banks’ support might have lasted longer if their debts had been greater.

“I feel we were pulled because we didn’t borrow enough. We didn’t owe them enough. It was easy for them to pull us because our assets exceeded the borrowings... We were performing and we never defaulted on our loan,” she said.

When one bank pulled its support from the motor dealership, which she described as the “cash-cow” for the hotel, the banks involved in the hotel panicked.

“But basically, we had never defaulted on our loan. Up to the day they pulled the plug we were paying our interest bills... If everybody had calmed down and everybody had given us the time, we had other franchises ready to come in... Bill had done a deal with Renault. Renault were out. Bill had got an amount of money from Renault which he gave directly over the bank immediately. As soon as they got that money, as soon as the cash injection came in: [they said] ‘Now we’re done and we’re not supporting you anymore’.”