Happy new year? Who in Irish business is facing a big 2018

Only one thing is certain – some will get big opportunities, others will face major challenges

Francesca McDonagh: the former  HSBC banker was only in the door of Bank of Ireland when the industry-wide tracker mortgage scandal exploded. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Francesca McDonagh: the former HSBC banker was only in the door of Bank of Ireland when the industry-wide tracker mortgage scandal exploded. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The time has come to look forward to 2018: 2017 is history now. Nobody knows the future, but we can predict with some certainty that 2018 will be a defining period for several of the most prominent names in Irish business.

Some will grapple with major challenges, others can look forward to huge opportunities. As Auld Lang Syne dies down, who will be braced for 2018?

Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ

The first female head of the national broadcaster is facing into a seminal period in its history as she attempts to close a near €20 million deficit.

RTÉ has faced financial challenges in the past, but this time it feels different. It isn’t just a case of battening down the hatches until the recovering economy does the rest. There has been a structural change in the media and advertising markets. RTÉ must also find its way in the digital age.

Will there be further redundancies in the year ahead? Forbes would also like a substantial increase in the licence fee. Can she convince the Government to sanction it? A recent Oireachtas committee report recommended collection of the fee be switched to the Revenue Commissioners. If she can secure the sanctioning of this, it will make her 2018 easier to bear.

Philip Lane, governor of the Central Bank of Ireland

It is just over two years since the Trinity College economist was appointed to succeed Patrick Honohan in the regulator’s hotseat. Could 2018 bring a fresh opportunity at the Frankfurt headquarters of the European Central Bank?

Lane already sits on the ECB’s governing council, a non-executive position by dint of his Irish role. He is believed, however, to covet one of the executive roles on the executive board that will became available soon.

Vitor Constâncio, vice-president to Mario Draghi, retires in May from the six-member executive board. A founding member of the euro, Ireland has never had an appointee to this grouping. Could Lane be the first?

Leslie Buckley, chairman of Independent News and Media

The battle-hardened Corkman has seen off many foes over the years in a plethora of roles. He currently finds himself, however, at the centre of an intense and widening investigation by the State’s corporate watchdog, which is homing in on issues related to his role on INM’s board.

The investigation arose following a whistleblower complaint by INM’s former chief executive, Robert Pitt. The watchdog, which is examining issues including a proposal to buy Newstalk from Denis O’Brien and a “potential data breach” at INM, has gone to the High Court seeking documents from Buckley.

The documents sound intriguing, and include communications with cybersecurity specialists about access to INM’s IT systems and refer to contacts with an army-trained security specialist. The issue is due back in court in January.

Who knows what, if anything, the watchdog might eventually uncover. Buckley is aged 73 and cannot chair INM forever. Will he still be chairman in 12 months’ time?

Francesca McDonagh, chief executive of Bank of Ireland

The more than eight-year reign of Richie Boucher ended in October. His successor, former the HSBC banker McDonagh, was only in the door when the industry-wide tracker mortgage scandal blew up in her face.

To her credit, McDonagh has staked her reputation on cleaning up a mess that she didn’t create, and has put herself front and centre of BOI’s response. She is also determined to change the bank’s stuffy culture to make it more consumer oriented.

She must also decide the future of a sweeping €900 million overhaul of its IT system, which was planned before her arrival. Expect McDonagh to lay out fresh financial targets for the bank in 2018, as she makes the job her own.

Kevin Toland, chief executive of Aryzta

The former Dublin Airport chief is only four months into the job, but his head must be spinning already.

The Irish-Swiss food group has, since 2015, endured the most turbulent period in its history, with an assault on its share price and investors angry after a slew of strategic errors from the previous regime.

Toland – along with chairman Gary McGann – has been tasked with finding a way out of the fog. He is looking to restructure the whole operation, and has already made his first move: selling its La Rousse brand to the Musgrave Group for about €30 million.

Aryzta will also receive more than €50 million from once-off dividend payment from French frozen food firm Picard, in which it holds a 49 per cent stake.

A small bit done. Much, much more to do.

Peter Jackson, incoming chief executive of Paddy Power Betfair

Giddy up – the former Worldpay boss will succeed Breon Corcoran in the bookie’s hotseat on January 8th. One of the biggest issues facing the new boss will be how to manage creeping regulatory pressure on gambling companies in its key markets of Ireland, Britain and Australia.

Britain, in particular, may prove a challenge after the government there announced plans to clamp down on lucrative in-store betting machines, which critics have dubbed the “crack cocaine” of the industry.

Whatever 2018 holds for Jackson, you can bet on one thing: at Paddy Power, it is bound to be interesting.

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