Bumper year for changes at top of corporate Ireland

Biggest changeover in recent years at helm of Irish-based publicly-listed companies

Francesca McDonagh found herself at the centre of the State’s escalating tracker-mortgage scandal from the outset of her tenure as Bank of Ireland chief executive. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Francesca McDonagh found herself at the centre of the State’s escalating tracker-mortgage scandal from the outset of her tenure as Bank of Ireland chief executive. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

 

Kerry Group

The third-largest company on the Iseq by market value, Kerry Group sticks to a tried and tested formula when it comes to succession at the helm.

When Stan McCarthy, the group’s third chief executive since it was established in 1972, signalled in February that he was preparing to step down in September as he turned 60, after almost 10 years in charge, the board turned to a fellow alumnus of the group’s graduate training programme: Edmond Scanlon.

Scanlon (44), who joined the company 21 years ago, spent periods in the United States and China before becoming chief executive of Kerry Asia Pacific in 2014, where he led the establishment of the group’s regional headquarters in Singapore. The region has become a real engine of growth for Kerry in recent times, with business volumes rising by almost 11 per cent in the first nine months of the year compared with 4.2 per cent for the wider group.

Scanlon unveiled a new set of medium-term targets for the company within weeks of taking charge, including 10 per cent average adjusted earnings per share growth per annum over the next five years, excluding currency movements.

Tullow Oil

Tullow Oil has had a rollercoaster ride in recent years, grappling with oscillating oil prices and a massive debt pile. So, outgoing chief executive Aidan Heavey, a former Aer Lingus accountant who tapped 22 family and friends in the mid-1980s to rework some old gas fields off the west coast of Africa, thought it would be best to hand around his cap one last time before he stepped down this year as chief executive of the company he founded.

Tullow raised $750 million (€636 million) through a share sale in April in a bid to cut its more than $4.8 billion net debt mountain. It came as the oil group, which has slashed capital spending and written off billions of dollars of exploration costs over the past four years, prepared to refinance a massive bank facility.

Heavey’s successor, Paul McDade, formerly chief operating officer, who took charge at the end of April, secured that $2.5 billion debt refinancing deal late last month.

The deal was helped by resolution in September of a maritime border dispute between Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which enables Tullow to resume drilling new wells in its key TEN oil field, which went into production in August last year.

Heavey will remain with the company, as chairman, until 2019.

Bank of Ireland

Richie Boucher, who once said he acted as a “lightning rod” for public anger after the financial crash in order to shield other Bank of Ireland executives, was unable to protect his successor weeks after he retired as chief executive at the end of September after 9½ years in the role.

Former HSBC executive Francesca McDonagh found herself at the centre of the State’s escalating tracker-mortgage scandal from the outset of her tenure. She presided over a decision in early November to concede that an additional 6,000 customers had either been wrongly denied low-cost mortgages linked to the European Central Bank benchmark rate, or put on the wrong rate.

The move, which McDonagh hopes will draw a line under the issue, required the bank to ring-fence up to a further €175 million to cover redress, compensation and other costs – a multiple of the €25 million already set aside last year.

While the group’s main investors have given McDonagh time to settle, they will be expecting a detailed plan for the group’s €900 million technology overhaul programme – as well as medium-term financial targets – when she unveils full-year figures early next year.

Boucher, meanwhile, joined the board of Greek lender Eurobank Ergasias, which, like Bank of Ireland, was rescued by a group of North Americans during the crisis. He also joined the board of former Barclays chief Bob Diamond’s Africa-focused finance house Atlas Mara.

Independent News & Media

Independent News & Media’s (INM) recent history of contentious senior director changes continued unabated in 2017 as chief executive Robert Pitt quit in October after a year-long dispute with his chairman, Lesley Buckley.

It emerged in late 2016 that Pitt, who joined INM in 2014 from Tesco’s operations in the Czech Republic, had been involved in a stand-off with Buckley about the potential takeover of radio station Newstalk, which is owned by the media group’s largest shareholder, Denis O’Brien.

Pitt felt that a proposed price overvalued the broadcaster, prompting the dispute with Buckley, who is O’Brien’s representative on INM’s board. It culminated in the chief executive making a protected disclosure about his chairman to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE).

Pitt has since been replaced by Michael Doorly, who has worked for INM for more than two decades. Meanwhile the ODCE investigation has widened to also take in the handling of a “potential personal data breach” at the company.

Paddy Power Betfair

Possibly the biggest surprise of the year was that of intended departure of Paddy Power Betfair chief executive Breon Corcoran – 18 months after the group was created by a £7 billion (€7.9 billion) merger.

The shock announcement in early August knocked 5 per cent off the group’s share price on the day, although the fallout was contained as the group had already lined up independent board member and Worldpay UK chief executive Peter Jackson to succeed him.

Corcoran, who joined Paddy Power in 2001, led the development of the bookmaker’s original internet business as well as playing a key role in growth the business internationally.

While he left the company in 2012 to become chief executive of Betfair, he went on to steer the merger of the companies, with combined annual revenues of more than €1.5 billion, four years later.

Corcoran will officially step down on January 8th.

Aryzta

The fate of Aryzta’s long-standing boss Owen Killian was effectively sealed last January when the Swiss-Irish baked goods group issued the latest in a series of profit warnings and missed earnings targets, sending its shares spiralling downwards.

Within weeks, the group announced that Killian – who had spearheaded the creation of the group in 2008 through the merger of IAWS, which he led, with Switzerland’s Hiestand – tendered his resignation, as did his chief financial officer, Patrick McEniff, and John Yamin, head of Aryzta’s Americas business. It would be the biggest clear-out at the top level of an Irish company in 2017.

Under chairman Gary McGann, in the job only since December last year, and new chief executive Kevin Toland (who joined in September from airport operator DAA), the group has turned its focus to paying down debt which had doubled to €1.7 billion in the space of four years.

Earlier this month the group said it would raise €30 million from the sale of restaurant suppler La Rousse Foods to SuperValu owner Musgraves and a €54 million dividend from its stake in French frozen-foods firm Picard. However, investors are concerned that it will take some time before Aryzta can sell its 49.9 per cent stake in Picard, which cost the company €446.6 million to acquire in 2015.

DCC

DCC, the Irish-based fuel distribution-to-technology sales group, revealed in April that Tommy Breen was preparing to retire after nine years in charge of the FTSE 100-listed company.

While Breen doesn’t reach the usual executive retirement age of 60 until 2019, he thought he would get ahead of inevitable speculation by departing early. His successor, Donal Murphy, was plucked from the top of the group’s key and rapidly expanding energy business, which was subsequently split in two – a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) unit and retail and oil arm.

The year of leadership change also saw DCC move to expand its LPG business into Asia and the US through agreed acquisitions, while the retail and oil business acquired Esso’s retail petrol network in Norway.

The total spend on deals announced so far in 2017 amounts to £550 million, while analysts estimate the group could have a further £700 million to deploy over the next 18 months, which should keep Murphy busy.

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