A clever team player who stuck around too long at Anglo
Within the bank, Willie McAteer was seen as on the way out before the crisis began
Former Anglo Irish Bank executive Willie McAteer: As finance director, he was there for a 15-year stretch of continuous growth and expansion as Anglo became Ireland’s third-biggest bank. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA
Willie McAteer often listened with his hand to his chin as he sat in the dock over the last 10 weeks. His wife, Marie, was in court every day to support him. McAteer kept cool during the trial but the strain could be seen on his wife’s face as she sat at the back of the courtroom.
McAteer grew up in Co Donegal and qualified as a chartered accountant in 1975. “Willie is a nice guy but very private. He never spoke much about his personal life,” a former colleague in Anglo said. “He wouldn’t be Mr Charisma but he’s clever and a team player.”
After becoming a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers, McAteer became managing director of Paul Coulson’s Yeoman International Leasing, a venture capital lending firm.
In 1989 Yeoman bought a company called CLF, a publicly quoted leasing firm, advised by investment bank Warburg. The deal went sour and Yeoman successfully sued Warburg for €49 million. “The litigation left a bad taste and Willie decided to move on,” a financial source said.
McAteer was offered a job by Seán FitzPatrick, then chief executive of up-and-coming Anglo Irish Bank. He led a four-strong team when he started in 1992. Back then profits were under £10 million.
As finance director, McAteer was there for a 15-year stretch of continuous growth and expansion as Anglo became Ireland’s third-biggest bank, with interests in North America, the UK and eastern Europe.
Softly spoken, McAteer slotted into the role of an impressive numbers man who travelled frequently selling the Anglo story to international investors.
“Seán FitzPatrick, when he was younger, was incredibly dynamic but he needed a solid sort like Willie on the numbers front,” a retired Anglo banker said.
Anglo was pushing fast overseas. In 2003, McAteer told London’s Financial News : “We operate in greater Ireland. London is eastern Ireland, Boston is western Ireland and then there’s mainland Ireland. Culturally they are very similar regions: it would terrify us to lend money in France, for example.”
McAteer worked with an experienced team built up by FitzPatrick but gradually this group retired as wealthy men. McAteer stuck around but, like his peer, he already had an eye on the exit. “I’ll probably stay on another three years. I won’t go on until I’m 60 – I don’t need to, thankfully,” he told UK publication Finance Week in 2005.
When David Drumm was appointed as an inexperienced chief executive of Anglo in 2005, he relied on McAteer to introduce him to key investors. He worked hard talking to the ratings agencies and helped the bank convince Standard & Poor’s to give Anglo an A rating in March 2007. During the Drumm era, the bank doubled in size and McAteer was given responsibility for risk as well as finance.
Within the bank, McAteer was seen as on the way out before the crisis began. Matt Moran, his chief financial officer, who was granted immunity by the State in the Anglo trial, was seen as McAteer’s heir apparent. Unfortunately for McAteer, he hung on too long. On January 7th, 2009, he resigned from Anglo Irish Bank. Eight days later the bank was nationalised.
McAteer’s address during the trial was given as being in Auburn Villas, Rathgar, but he sold his family home some years ago to pay back loans owed to his former bank. He now lives in a small house in Tipperary built on land owned by his wife. He enjoys golf and likes hill-walking and has two grown-up children according to acquaintances. The 63-year-old is thought not to be working but to be in retirement.
Patrick Gageby SC, for McAteer, spoke the least of all the senior counsel during the trial but his interventions were usually incisive and well thought through, reflecting his client’s approach.
In his closing speech Gageby said his client would not be in the dock except that Seán Quinn “did what he did” by carrying out a “spectacular gamble” on Anglo. He said the “nub” of the 16 charges was that McAteer had breached his duty to ensure compliance with the Companies Acts. He said his client passed instructions to Moran in relation to executing the transaction.
“It was not an instruction to do it at all costs or to do it without compliance,” Gageby added. “I ask: when did Mr McAteer cut corners, dispense with things that had to be done? I don’t see it.”
Unfortunately for McAteer, when it came to lending to the Maple 10, the jury yesterday did not agree.