US billionaire who invested in BoI tipped to join Trump’s cabinet

Wilbur Ross is a leading candidate for commerce secretary role in the US

Wilbur Ross remains involved in Ireland through a joint venture fund with Cardinal Capital Group

Wilbur Ross remains involved in Ireland through a joint venture fund with Cardinal Capital Group

 

He has Richie Boucher and possibly Minister for Finance Michael Noonan on speed dial. So, news that US billionaire Wilbur Ross has emerged as a leading candidate for a senior position in US president-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet is probably not the worst news in the world for Ireland plc.

Activist investor and long-time Trump supporter Carl Icahn said this week that Trump is considering Ross for the position of commerce secretary, while former Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin has been short-listed to become treasury secretary.

Ross, whose private equity firm WL Ross & Co focuses on investing in and restructuring ailing companies, is best known in this country for leading a group of five investors that acquired a 35 per cent stake in Bank of Ireland in 2011 for €1.1 billion – saving it from nationalisation.

Ross, Canada’s Fairfax Financial Holdings and three US investment firms – Fidelity Investments, Capital Group and Kennedy Wilson – acquired the stake at the height of the crisis, just after the then government’s borrowing costs peaked at over 14 per cent and Moody’s cut the State’s credit rating to junk following its international bailout.

Confidence

At a time when positive PR on Ireland was in short supply, Ross never missed an opportunity at investment seminars and events internationally to trumpet the State’s efforts to sort itself out.

This, of course, served his hand well, with Bank of Ireland’s shares subsequently soaring as confidence returned.

Ross sold his shares between 2013 and 2014, making a €500 million profit, while leaving most of the other investors in the bank. The State continues to hold an almost 14 per cent stake.

The New Jersey native remains involved in Ireland through a joint venture fund with Cardinal Capital Group, which provides subordinated debt financing for property development and investment.

Ross stepped down from the board of Bank of Ireland as he exited the investment. He’ll have to resign from a raft of other board positions – including the world’s largest steel company ArcelorMittal and Bank of Cyprus – if he joins Trump’s team.

The normally hands-on investor would also have to put his interests into a blind trust. Could that tall ask, as well as the fact that Ross turns 80 next November, ultimately stand in the way of his appointment?

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