Business 2016: The winners and losers

It was a year of ups and downs in the world of business as some achieved spectacular success and others felt the strain

 

Winners

Patrick and John Collison, Stripe

It has been a very good year for Limerick brothers and Stripe founders Patrick and John Collison. The two siblings raised $150 million in funding for their payments company, nearly doubling Stripe’s valuation to $9 billion.

Their company employs more than 500 people globally, and counts firms such as Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, GE, Adidas, Docusign, Slack, Nasdaq and the NFL among its customers.

Both presidential campaigns in the recent US election also used Stripe.

In March, Stripe launched in Cuba with Atlas – a toolkit for start-ups – to help entrepreneurs in Cuba start new businesses.

Stripe chief executive Patrick Collison joined a delegation accompanying US President Barack Obama on his trip to Cuba, with the Irish entrepreneur flying his own plane to the island for the historic visit.

Nora Khaldi, Nuritas

Founded by Trinity-trained mathematician and bioinformatics specialist Dr Nora Khaldi, Nuritas is leading the fight to stop people developing type 2 diabetes.

The company had an exceptional 2015, raising $3.2 million to unlock food’s health secrets and winning the SVG Thrive Accelerator Award at Forbes magazine’s Reinventing America Ag Tech Summit.

However, the start-up has outdone itself this year.

Marc Benioff, the billionaire chief executive of software giant Salesforce, invested in the start-up as part of a fresh €2 million funding round.

Then U2 members Bono and The Edge came on as investors. The company expects to bring its Irish workforce up to 60 people next year, as part of a major expansion of its operations.

Brendan Mooney, Kainos

Brendan Mooney, chief executive of the Belfast-based software firm Kainos, was named Ireland’s EY Entrepreneur of the Year in October.

He also scooped top honours in the Best International Entrepreneur category at the awards. Kainos, which is the North’s largest locally owned IT services company and one of only two listed firms in Northern Ireland, began life as a Queen’s University spin-off.

Mr Mooney joined the company in 1989 as a graduate software engineer, and was appointed chief executive in 2001. He will go on to represent Ireland at the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year awards in Monaco next June.

McCann family, Fyffes

Two years ago, it seemed Fyffes would merge with Chiquita to create the world’s biggest banana company. Then it was a case of banana splits as shareholders in US banana distributor Chiquita voted against the $1 billion merger.

Ultimately, Japanese firm Sumitomo would become the pick of the bunch for Fyffes and the McCann family.

Fyffes agreed to be gobbled up by the Tokyo-headquartered conglomerate for €751 million, following a discreet dinner in Dublin’s Merrion Hotel.

The McCann family – which owns 11.8 per cent of the group through their Balkan Investment vehicle – stand to make €87.5 million from the deal.

Fleetmatics

Just weeks after announcing 75 new jobs in Dublin, which would bring the software company’s workforce in Ireland to more than 200, Fleetmatics made headlines again, this time with an acquisition.

The GPS vehicle tracking company announced it was being acquired by US communications giant Verizon for about $2.4 billion (€2.1 billion) in cash.

The acquisition reflects the major development of Fleetmatics since it was founded in Dublin in 2004, with just 10 employees, and will lead to a significant payout for shareholders, including mainly US investment funds.

Founder Peter Mitchell remains as chief technology officer, with a shareholding worth over $5.7 million at the offer price.

Fionnuala Meehan, Google

Fionnuala Meehan was appointed Google’s new country manager for Ireland in October. Ms Meehan, who is vice-president of EMEA at Google marketing solutions, will continue in her existing role as well as co-ordinating the company’s operations in Ireland.

After joining Google in 2005, Fionnuala was instrumental in the growth of AdWords’ sales and operations organisation.

She spent 18 months as chair of the EMEA women@google group representing approximately 20 offices, during which time she organised their first EMEA conference in London.

Intercom

With Intercom set to reach $50 million in annual revenue this year, it’s fair to say 2016 has been an excellent year for the company and its co-founders Eoghan McCabe, Des Traynor, David Barrett and Ciaran Lee.

If that wasn’t enough, the technology company raised $50 million in funding earlier in the year, bringing the total funding raised to date to $116 million.

It also sold out a world tour “Inside Intercom” in 12 cities globally, and opened a new office in Chicago. The icing on the cake, though, has to be the company’s unexpected cameo on the TV show Silicon Valley in June.

Ray Nolan, Skyscanner

Software entrepreneur Ray Nolan was flying high after the sale of Scottish unicorn Skyscanner to Chinese travel giant Ctrip. com for $1.75 billion.

The deal is expected to yield a nice return on investment for Nolan, who had a stake of approximately 2 per cent in the firm. This would be worth just under £30 million under the planned acquisition.

It has also been a good year for Nolan’s latest company XSellCo. The former EMEA head of Salesforce.com, John Appleby, joined the company’s board as a non-executive director. Nolan also managed to attract top talent from Irish travel start-up Boxever and media company Storyful.

Losers

Willie McAteer, John Bowe and Denis Casey

Former Anglo executives Willie McAteer and John Bowe and former Irish Life and Permanent (ILP) chief executive Denis Casey were found guilty of committing “sham transactions” designed to inflate Anglo’s deposit levels by €7.2 billion in the bank’s 2008 earnings report.

Casey received a prison sentence of two years and nine months. McAteer received three and a half years and Bowe got a two-year sentence.

The three men were involved in setting up a circular scheme of billion euro transactions where Anglo moved money to ILP and ILP sent the money back, via their assurance firm Irish Life Assurance, to Anglo.

The scheme was designed so that the deposits came from the assurance company and would be treated as customer deposits, which are considered a better measure of a bank’s strength than inter-bank loans.

Judge Martin Nolan said the scheme was “ dishonest, deceitful and corrupt”.

Petroceltic

The Irish explorer may have put up a good fight early on in its drawn-out struggle with dissident shareholder Worldview but the whole sorry saga for control of the company ended with barely a whimper.

Worldview, a Swiss-Cayman hedge fund owned by Angelo Moskov, went to war with the company’s board in early 2014, accusing it of corporate governance failings over a $100 million share placing, amid attempts to oust management.

The explorer won initial skirmishes but Worldview’s continued determination, allied to a global collapse in oil prices, finally wore Petroceltic down.

The company put itself up for sale last December after a breach of banking covenants on its debts of over $200 million.

It hobbled on into 2016 before entering examinership in March and eventually being acquired by Worldview for a knockdown cash payment of $7.8 million in June.

Car drivers

Car drivers were among the biggest losers this year. This is because motor insurance rates soared at an annual rate of up to 38 per cent during the summer, as the loss-making industry – dogged by rising claims in a recovering economy and soaring court awards – passed on the pain to customers.

While the rate of inflation has eased back in recent months, insurance costs as of last month were up 57 per cent from where they stood three years ago.

The industry has also been dogged by uncertainty over who must meet the cost of Malta-based Setanta Insurance’s €90 million of outstanding claims, following its collapse two years ago.

The Supreme Court reserved judgement in October after hearing a Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland appeal against a lower court ruling that it must carry the can.

The ruling will set a precedent for 255 Irish claims, at an estimated €6.2 million cost, on the books of Gibraltar-based Enterprise Insurance, which collapsed in July.

INM pensioners

Pensioners at Independent News and Media (INM) are faced with the prospect of having their pensions slashed – again. Pensions were cut by 40 per cent in 2013 and, under the new plan, fresh cuts of some 30 per cent – or in some cases more – were proposed.

The move was met with protests by angry pensioners and trade unions and the ensuing public outcry brought Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar into the fray.

Currently, there are talks between all the parties to resolve the issue and the Government is examining whether further legislative protections are required to ensure this is not repeated by other companies.

Twitter

It’s been a tough year for Twitter. Not only has the return of co-founder Jack Dorsey as permanent chief executive failed to propel it to the social media stratosphere, it seems to have hit a sustained lull.

The company’s main problem is growing its users. And in an era where Facebook boasts more than a billion active daily users, Twitter’s 317 million just doesn’t seem to cut it.

Then there was the buyout that never was and the ongoing abuse problem that the company has struggled to get a handle on. Another body blow was the revelation in October that it was cutting its global workforce by 9 per cent.

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