Skilful and diligent accountant who became an expert in insolvency
KEVIN KELLY:KEVIN KELLY audited the books of so many companies as an accountant and cleaned up after so many corporate failures as an insolvency specialist that it made him the perfect candidate to manage and advise a diverse mix of businesses later in his career.
Diligent and conscientious, he approached his work with such rigour that he would seek comprehensive briefings before agreeing even minor business decisions. He was a man who disliked surprises and was meticulous in his planning.
The eclectic list of company directorships and board memberships during a career that spanned almost half a century and right up until his death last Wednesday is a testament to the breadth of his business acumen and indefatigable work ethic.
Born in Castlebar, Co Mayo, and raised in Cork, he was the son of a tax inspector.
He attended Christian Brothers College in Cork and started his career in the mid-1960s, qualifying as a chartered accountant at a Dublin firm before moving to Price Waterhouse and plum assignments in Europe.
He spent seven years outside Ireland, first in Italy and then in the Netherlands.
He returned to Cork in 1972 to head up Coopers and Lybrand’s office in the city.
He grew business by targeting the increasing number of foreign manufacturers in Munster. His work in Munster also gave him wide-ranging experience in the agribusiness sector.
His talent for attracting new clients landed him the job of developing the practice nationally in 1976.
During the economic turmoil of the 1980s, he developed an expertise in insolvency and the challenge of cleaning up after company failures.
“As a receiver, you are thrown in . . . you have to run the business,” he later said.
“You have to learn awfully quickly. There is a human side as well. It can be very difficult. There would be a lot of tension.”
He became managing partner of Coopers and Lybrand in 1982 at the age of 41, just 16 years after qualifying.
His experience was recognised at the highest levels when the Government asked him the following year to take over PMPA, the failing insurer run by the mercurial Joe Moore which covered 400,000 motorists – three out of every five drivers in Ireland.
It was a ground-breaking role as he was the first administrator to be appointed under new legislation.
He later recalled Moore leaving the company’s head office in a chauffeur-driven Jaguar on the day of his appointment and his own arrival at PMPA in a beaten-up old car. The contrasting images spoke volumes about the changes at the company, he said.
Remarkably, he ran the country’s largest insurer and one of the largest accountancy firms simultaneously until PMPA was sold to Guardian in 1989.
There was much surprise within accountancy circles when he did not follow the well-worn path of managing partners moving on to take charge at publicly quoted companies.
He instead became chief executive of the meat processor Agra Trading. He was credited with steadying the company before the crisis in the beef industry that brought down the Goodman Group.
He joined Allied Irish Banks, then the country’s biggest bank, in 1991 and later became finance director on its board.
He took over as managing director of AIB in 1995 running the retail operations in Ireland and Britain where he oversaw the development of internet banking, the introduction of the euro and the integration of 2,000 additional staff.
He left the bank in 2001 at the age of 60.
He remained exceptionally busy after AIB, taking up the role of non-executive independent director of Kerry Group, one of Ireland’s most successful companies. He held that position until his death.
Once again recognised for his skills, he was asked by the government to run the Health Service Executive after it was established in 2003 to take over the running of the national health service from 11 regional health boards.
More recently, he was chairman of engineering and architectural consultancy, PM Group, and director of Schroder Private Equity Funds.
A fan of Cork’s GAA teams (in conflict with his wife’s Kerry roots) and a keen collector of art, he was a board member of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Business2Arts and Siamsa Tíre.
“He was extremely dedicated; he gave an incredible amount of time to his work, which meant he was never able to improve his golf,” said his friend Dermot Egan, who was deputy chief executive of AIB during Kelly’s time at the bank.
He is remembered fondly by other friends and former colleagues.
He is survived by his wife Mary, his daughters Jeanne and Marianne, and his son John.
Kevin Kelly: born, June 5th, 1941; died, January 4th, 2012