Sell, sell, sell, says Denis O’Brien

Cantillon: Veteran EY Entrepreneur of Year says valuations at all-time high as market hot

Denis O’Brien:  timing – knowing when to buy and when to sell – is the “most important ingredient” for entrepreneurs. Photograph: Collins

Denis O’Brien: timing – knowing when to buy and when to sell – is the “most important ingredient” for entrepreneurs. Photograph: Collins

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In 1998, Irish businessman Denis O’Brien won the inaugural EY Entrepreneur of the Year award. The awards scheme has since expanded into a major annual programme of activity and events both for the 24 finalists and its expanding ranks of alumni.

The Digicel founder has since retained a strong association with the awards, chairing the judging panel on a number of occasions.

On Thursday, EY uploaded onto Youtube an interview that O’Brien did for this year’s programme as the first guest on its Architects of Business show. In it, he recalls how he started talking to his father – Denis senior – about business when he was about 10 years old, a “one-on-one tuition” that helped him develop “instincts for business and common sense” spread over many years.

It also taught him that being an entrepreneur meant he could be “independent” and “you could be the master of your own destiny”. Since 1988 (his first business was as a painting contractor), he has been working for himself.

Timing

According to O’Brien, timing is the “most important ingredient” for entrepreneurs and his advice on the current state of markets was clear. Sell, sell, sell if you get the opportunity.

“Right now, the markets are so hot. Private equity is just so stuffed with cash that they are trying to buy businesses all over the world.

“This is a time where people can sell their businesses at higher multiples than they ever, ever expected and I’m always a great believer that if somebody gives you a big valuation of your business, take it. Because in the space of a year things can change and you could spend the next five years with your business and not grow the value of it.

“If you are in a cycle where valuations are at an all-time high, it’s really time to sell, and I’m a great believer in trying to buy businesses when the market is down and sell businesses when the market is going up. And we are in an ‘up’ cycle at the moment and . . . if there’s a window grab it.”

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