Top hotelier Pat McCann blows whistle on five decades in the business
Arsenal fan says he didn’t want to go out like Arsène Wenger, who ‘stayed on too long’
Dalata chief executive Pat McCann. ‘People think you’ll spend all your time looking at the hotels you built. But for me it was the people and what we built together.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Pat McCann, the chief executive and founder of the Dalata hotel group and a veteran of more than five decades in the industry, is a committed Arsenal football fan. In January, he was reading My Life in Red and White, the book by the team’s long-serving former manager, Arsène Wenger.
“He was writing about how he had probably stayed on too long in the end, and it struck a chord with me,” said McCann. “I said to myself – the board of directors is good at succession planning, we have the strategies and processes in place, so maybe now is the time.”
McCann kept his decision mostly to himself, apart from a “quick word” with John Hennessy, Dalata’s chairman.
“Then I handed him a little letter on Monday. The board discussed the matter at about 10pm last night, and that was that.”
McCann will formally step down from Dalata later this year, but will stay on as a board member until the next agm after that date. He retains a stake of almost 1 per cent in the business he founded, worth close to €10 million.
The Sligo native started out in the industry as a teenager with a summer job in the well-known Rosses Point hotel in his home county. After the hotel was taken over by the Ryan group, he trained as a manager.
He later worked in the UK for another company before rejoining the Ryan group, becoming one of the youngest general managers in the business when he took over the group’s Westport hotel aged 31.
McCann moved on to what was then one of Ireland’s premier hotels, Jurys in Ballsbridge, in 1989. He ended up running the entire Jurys Doyle group until shortly before it was broken up at the height of the Celtic Tiger to realise its property assets.
The hotel market was booming at the time and, with private equity backing, he led a buyout in 2007 of 11 former Quality Hotel and Comfort Inn properties that became the nucleus of what was later known as Dalata.
The sector was soon rocked by the crash, however, and Dalata began running bust hotels for receivers. This deft strategic pivot saw it through tough times. It survived, thrived, and is now by far the largest Irish hotel operator, with 41 properties in Ireland and Britain operating under its brands, Maldron and Clayton.
“We still have a very big job to do this year with Dalata,” says McCann, who predicts another summer propped up by domestic leisure tourists, with the possible return of international business travellers near the end of the year and international leisure returning in 2022.
He has worked with his nominated successor, Dalata’s deputy chief executive Dermot Crowley, for 20 years.
“We have seven new openings planned for between the last quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2022.”
While he will remain on the board for that hectic period, the executive decisions will be mostly Crowley’s responsibility. But there is no chance of McCann putting his feet up to retire.
“I am in my 70th year but I have good health and a lot of energy. I will have plenty going on and I like getting involved in start-ups.”
Among his private investments are Alkimii, a Skerries-based supplier of human resource management software: “I’ll do a little more with them.”
He would also like to do more with another company in which he has invested, London-based Ufurnish, a digital marketplace for furniture founded by a fellow Sligo native, Deirdre McGettrick. “That’s if they’ll have me,” he jokes.
Rather than any one deal or investment, he insists the thing that stands out most for him over his career was helping people better themselves by moving up the ladder.
“People think you’ll spend all your time after you leave looking at the hotels you built. But for me it was the people and what we built together. I still have a lot of Jurys people with me, even now, in Dalata.”
He remains on the board of housebuilder Glenveagh Properties and is an immediate past president and current director of Ibec.
McCann will also have more time to watch his beloved Arsenal. He previously bought an apartment at Highbury in London when the club redeveloped its old stadium, in part because it got him a season ticket for its new stadium.
“Yes, but I’m going to step back now a little bit and let Dermot [Crowley] take the limelight. I’m not going to be like Alex Ferguson, watching down on him from the stands.”