Veteran business executive Gary McGann, who was a director of Anglo Irish Bank when it collapsed a decade ago, has conceded that the bank's board at the time collectively "was not up for the job".
Mr McGann, who is now the chairman of two major listed businesses, Paddy Power Betfair and Aryzta, said he believed there was "not enough financial risk averse bankers on the board" of the bank, the collapse of which eventually cost taxpayers €29.3 billion.
The businessman, who was being interviewed onstage by broadcaster Richard Curran at the Pendulum Summit in Dublin, said companies should generally have directors from diverse backgrounds, but in “certain sectors, deep industry knowledge is required”.
Of his appointment to the board of Paddy Power in 2014, Mr McGann said he had come from an orthodox corporate environment at Smurfit Kappa Group, but he joked that when he went to his first Paddy Power meeting "it was like going to Bondi Beach".
“I didn’t know whether they would love me or mug me,” he joked.
He said the opening up of the online gambling market in the US is “an enormous business opportunity” for the bookmaker.
“There is a lot to play for, but there is also a lot of complexity.”
On the subject of gambling addiction, Mr McGann conceded it is a problem that needs to be addressed but he said the company “needs legislative support”.
“Plcs can’t fix the world on their own,” he said.
Mr McGann was appointed chairman of Swiss-Irish bakery group Aryzta in 2016, when the troubled company was mired with declining performance and a plummeting share price. Shareholders recently narrowly approved an €800 million capital fund raising, but the company remains under pressure.
When asked by Mr Curran if he knew his job at Aryzta was going to be as difficult, he responded: “I like a challenge, but I’m not a masochist. The challenge is far greater than anyone had considered.”
Inertia in politics
When asked if he would still have done it, knowing what he knows now, he said he would “like to think I would . . . but maybe not. I don’t know”. He said Aryzta’s turnaround would be a “multi-year” task.
On the current state of the Irish economy and society, Mr McGann sounded a note of caution on the return of ostentatious consumerism. He said somebody told him that there was a “€450 advent calendar” for sale in Dublin over Christmas.
“I’m not sure we have learned our lesson [from the previous crash]. That advent calendar is like something from the last days of the Raj,” he said.
He criticised the State for the lack of housing and problems with the health service, as well as the “lack of a funding model” for third-level education. To applause from the 3,000-strong audience at Pendulum, he observed that a state with “some of the most talented business people and sports people in the world cannot house people or give them enough hospital beds . . . what sort of a model is that for a country like ours.”
He said he believed the State “has not had a decisive government since the early 1980s” and suggested that “too many checks and balances” in the political system, in Ireland and through the European Union, had resulted in inertia in political decision making.
Mr McGann said this had resulted in a political “vacuum” and “disillusionment” among certain sections of the public.
"Donald Trump filled that vacuum in the US . . . and 1930s Germany had a vacuum like this, also," he said.