O’Brien changes the tune at Communicorp

One More Thing: Mark Paul looks at Communicorp, Eddie Hobbs, Jay Bourke et al

The overhaul of the officer class at Communicorp, Denis O'Brien's radio group, continues apace. Stephen Kane, who once soldiered for O'Brien on the Central American front with Digicel, has been parachuted in as chief financial officer. Staff were informed of the move during the week.

Kane, a fresh-faced (that will change) accountant was plucked from the reasonably comfortable nest of the mobile operator O2, which is, of course, descended from Esat Digifone, another former O'Brien business. The man is everywhere.

There has been a mini-revolution at the top of the company in recent months. At the beginning of the year, the long-time O’Brien loyalist Paddy Halpenny picked up his coat and hat after 17 years as chief executive of Communicorp.

He was replaced by former advertising executive Gervaise Slowey, who’s sister Vanessa is also a senior Digicel executive in the Pacific. Slowey wasted no time in crow-barring senior management from their seats in group head office, moving them all down to Marconi House to be nearer the troops.

Next to go was Frank Cronin, the loquacious Corkonian who brought a splash of colour as chief executive of Newstalk. He was replaced by former Kingspan executive Gerard Whelan. Then Chris Doyle, the boss of O'Brien's baby, 98FM, left in May.

The fate of loss-making Communicorp was a known unknown while O'Brien was stalking Independent News & Media, with predictions that he might have to jettison bits of it on plurality grounds it if he wanted to control the newspaper company.

Now that the dust has settled on his war with the O’Reillys he has obviously decided to knock his radio interests into financial shape.

A slick move by Hobbs

Now that the recession has slayed the Rip Off Republic (hasn’t it?), Eddie Hobbs is turning his attention towards the eye-wateringly generous terms on offer for oil and gas companies to drill off the Irish coast.

Hobbs told me during the week that the campaign he is fronting, Own Our Oil – Ooo for short – plans to bring out a book highlighting the mess that is the Irish regime for hydrocarbon exploration.

The campaign sent a pre-budget submission to the Department of Finance last week, calling for a tightening of the terms governing the "flipping" of exploration licences.

Opponents of the group argue the entire system is generous for a reason: Exxon, for example, packed its bags after hitting squat in Dunquin this week.

Conference

Hobbs is helping draft a tome on the inadequacy of the regime, with contributions by "business people, scientists and two of the top barristers in the country". There is even, he says, a senior civil servant involved in the campaign, which is also fronted by Stephen Vard of the well-regarded design agency, the Vard Partnership.

Ooo is also planning an international conference next year, to which industry chiefs will be invited. Let’s hope the campaign’s name catches on. But everything can be tweaked. How about Billionaires Own Our Oil (Booo), or Who Owns Our Oil (Wooo)?

Jay hasn’t gone away, you know

Stubbornness, thy name is Jay Bourke. Battered and bruised, bloody but unbowed, and with several enemies as well as friends in Dublin’s bar and restaurant trade after some bitter financial disputes, you’ve got to hand it to the former star of RTE’s The Mentor – Bourke’s cojones could prop up a house.

Nede, formerly Bourke’s acclaimed Eden restaurant in Temple Bar (it’s the old name backwards, geddit?), is set to expand just a few months after its spring relaunch, his former companies’ litany of creditors will be delighted to learn.

Bourke no longer owns Nede, which is inspired by the moss-serving Danish restaurant Noma. “I’m a consultant,” he yelled at me yesterday.

A what, Jay? I can’t hear you. “A CON-SULT-ANT. Sorry, it’s the wind. I’m cycling my bike.”

Quicker bites

Bourke is negotiating on behalf of Nede to take over the Charlie’s II takeaway, so beloved of starving revellers, next door.

The lease is available for €60,000, which seems a snip for such substantial road frontage onto Essex Street, one of the busiest in Temple Bar.

The expanded part of Nede will serve tapas and quicker bites than the more formal eaterie next door.

Tapas is on a roll in the Dublin restaurant scene at the moment, with new joints opening up all over the place.

There has been a definite lightening of the mood amongst the city centre’s bar owners and restaurateurs in the last six months. Paddy McKillen and his son, for example, are opening new premises at a rate of knots.

Bourke reckons his empire-building days are behind him. He was hit hard during the bust. But he hasn’t gone away, you know.

Cutting losses at ‘Indy’

Slowly but surely, the Russian investor Aleksandr Lebedev is making inroads into the mountainous losses at the London Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers.

The oligarch bought the newspapers in 2010 for the princely sum of £1 from Independent News & Media when it was run by the O’Reilly family, themselves once pillars of Ireland’s O’Ligarchy.

The Indy/Sindy losses were a bugbear of Denis O'Brien when he was battling for control of INM. It's easy to see why, looking at the latest accounts for Independent Print, the company behind the titles.

Even after shaving about £5.5 million from the operating costs, the company still made a loss of about £19 million for last year.

Lebedev’s retained losses on the two titles are now hurtling towards £40 million. And to think people thought their £1 price tag was cheap.

This week, journalists at the papers warned they were reaching “tipping point” with the latest round of proposed job cuts.

They should be careful when it comes to taking on Lebedev. this month he received 150 hours of community service in Russia after bopping another man on the nose live on television in a fraught debate.

Capital call for Pilot

The accounts for the fund manager Pilot View Capital show that two of the directors had to stump up loans to it after the company breached the Central Bank’s capital requirements for fund promoters.

Pilot View is owned by some of the great and the good bodies of Irish corporate life. No, really. Bruce Ashmore, the former Goodbody stockbroker, and James Osborne, the Eason chairman and former partner in A&L Goodbody solicitors, are among its shareholders.

Captial breach

The company directors and the two lads' fellow shareholders include Charles Peel, the founder of Peel Hunt stockbrokers in London; former Deutsche banker Paddy Shanahan; Gerry O'Reilly, another Goodbody alumni; and the former chief financial officer of Smartforce Johnny Fortune, a wonderfully-appropriate name for a hedge fund manager.

Investors in its funds have included Senator Fergal Quinn, according to the Seanad’s register of interests.

The company accounts state that Peel and O’Reilly coughed up €50,000 each after the capital breach, but all is well again.

Life has been tough enough, though, for some of the Pilot View funds. The highly-geared Atlas fund was launched at the peak of the market madness in 2007, and incurred heavy losses.

To be fair to Pilot View, they weren’t alone. Investors everywhere had to fasten their seatbelts during the crash.