Inside the world of business

THE ISSUE of who actually owns Derek Quinlan’s shares in the Maybourne Hotels seems to be a source of confusion and concern in equal measure.

Paddy McKillen, who owns 36 per cent of the group, is adamant that it must be Quinlan himself and not the Barclay brothers because, under a shareholder agrement, Quinlan’s shares must be offered to him first. As a result, he argues the Barclays cannot own 64 per cent of group as reported.

McKillen, however, seems to be deliberately missing a trick as he must know well that the Barclays do not need to own the shares. They merely need to control them, which they apparently do – in part at least – by virtue of a deal last February which saw them buy Quinlan’s debt to Bank of Scotland, which was secured on his shares. This move reportedly gave them an effective lien over 22 per cent of Quinlan’s 35 per cent stake. Anglo Irish Bank had a charge on the other 13 per cent.

The Barclays have form in this regard. Their first move in the battle for control of the group was to buy Misland, the company through which the family of Manchester businessman Peter Green owned 25 per cent of the hotels.

This stake, plus the 22 per cent stake held by Quinlan, on which they have a charge plus 3 per cent bought from Davy’s Kyran McLaughlin, gives them a 50 per cent stake.

Together with their ownership of the company’s debts of €800 million, which they bought from Nama last week, and its clear who has the upper hand now.

And what of Quinlan’s other 13 per cent that was charged to Anglo? Was it included in last week’s deal or is it still in play?

Either way the prognosis is bad for McKillen. If included, the Barclays effectively control 63 per cent of the company. And if it wasn’t, it’s hard to see the State agency doing a deal with McKillen for them given their history.

Local software firms power up

LAST WEEK was a positive one for foreign direct investment in Ireland’s technology sector, with Google, Twitter and Polaris Ventures, a US fund with over $3 billion under management, making significant votes of confidence in Ireland.

But in terms of employment, the three investments will produce just 30 guaranteed jobs. Those jobs will come at a new Google data centre, which marks an additional €75 million investment shortly after it paid close to €200 million for three office blocks in the city. These moves suggest Google is here to stay.

But while the big names grab the headlines, there are an estimated 2,500 job vacancies at locally owned software companies. That’s according to the “IT’s Happening Here” grassroots campaign which is being backed by Enterprise Ireland.

International investors are recognising the strength of our local firms as well. Polaris has opened its first Dogpatch Lab outside the US just across the street from Google. Despite the frivolous name, in the last two years 100 start-ups that have passed through the three US incubators have raised $140 million in funding. Polaris decided Ireland was the obvious choice for a European beachhead and say it was unrelated to the €36 million it got from the National Pension Reserve Fund.

At Google’s announcement last week, Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton acknowledged the “challenge” for Ireland is to use our strengths in the multinational tech sector to “build an indigenous engine of growth as well”.

As Bruton pointed out, these include getting the banks back lending to exporting small businesses, getting the economy’s cost base right, and helping Irish businesses enter new markets. Some signs are positive, such as Enterprise Ireland seeing a 50 per cent increase in start-ups.

But with scant resources, Bruton will have to resist the temptation to get easy headlines and support smaller local enterprises that can create meaningful employment.

Fairer sex proves alluring for Ryanair

MEN HAVEN’T always had such an easy time of it at Ryanair – the failure of willing male cabin crew to make the necessary aesthetic grade in the airline’s annual charity calendar is undoubtedly a stubborn stain on the history of gender equality.

But while this dismaying discrimination against would-be male models in Ryanair’s employ continues, at least mankind can comfort itself in the knowledge that as far as other – albeit infinitely less glamorous – career opportunities are concerned, being of the male sex has not proven a barrier to advancement.

“Why have you no female on the board?” asked a shareholder – a woman – at Ryanair’s agm last week. Chief executive Michael O’Leary was flanked by the airline’s all-male board, with the addition of deputy chief executive Howard Millar, and with the exception of chairman David Bonderman, who was away.

“Good question,” said O’Leary. Unfortunately, there had been no suitable female candidates available up to now, he replied, adding that Ryanair’s nominations committee was currently working to rectify this imbalance. He agreed with the shareholder that the sight of so many “grey, follically challenged” men on the board was dispiriting. “We could do with a lot fewer elderly, ugly men and I would include myself in that,” O’Leary declared. The board made sure to laugh at this, lest it was not actually a joke.

For the record, the Ryanair board of directors comprises O’Leary, Bonderman, Kyran McLaughlin, James Osborne, Emmanuel Faber, Michael Horgan, Klaus Kirchberger, Declan McKeon, Paolo Pietrogrande and Charlie McCreevy.


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