Eddie Hobbs: a salesman who’s best at selling himself

Since ‘Rip-off Republic’, his popularity has waned but he keeps a foot in both camps

Eddie Hobbs at the launch of Lucinda Creighton’s new political party. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Eddie Hobbs at the launch of Lucinda Creighton’s new political party. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

Eddie Hobbs has undoubtedly done this State – or at least its citizens – some service, but characterising him as a universally popular people’s champion who is always on the money is wide of the mark.

His carefully self-cultivated reputation as a plain-speaking man of the people, keen to call out cronyism, plays well in some quarters, but his popularity is nowhere near what it was when he became the touchstone for Irish consumers’ rage in the middle of the last decade.

Yesterday Hobbs said he would be the new party’s recruiter-in-chief and might consider running in the next general election. He has one strength which should serve him well if he does. Since he made his debut on the public stage, Hobbs has shown an almost uncanny, some might say brazen, ability to keep a foot simultaneously in seemingly opposing camps.

This dexterity has allowed him to comfortably castigate government ministers and their quangos one minute, and accept a seat on the board of just such a quango the next.

Darkly apocalyptic

Hobbs is sometimes (wrongly) described as an economist but at his core he is a salesman – and what he is best at selling is himself. Born in November 1962, he started his professional life selling insurance and rose to become Eagle Star’s marketing director by 1990.

He joined Tony Taylor’s Taylor Asset Management in 1991 and was a director five years later when it went spectacularly bust.

There is no suggestion that Hobbs was guilty of any wrongdoing. He was in fact instrumental in highlighting Taylor’s fraud in the first instance and played a role in bringing him to justice after he fled the Republic.

Hobbs also exposed huge problems with stockmarket-tied endowment mortgages and the positive publicity that came his way as a result was the making of him. He became the Consumers’ Association of Ireland’s spokesman on financial matters and developed a significant media profile while running a new financial services company.

‘Rip-Off Republic’

Rip-Off Republic

He never replicated the show’s success but his star still shines brightly. Between 2007 and 2010 he was editorial director of You & Your Money – a magazine which featured Hobbs as its cover star every month – and wrote columns for several newspapers.

Between 2010 and 2012 he co-presented RTÉ’s The Consumer Show along with Keelin Shanley but eventually left the show, accusing RTÉ’s ‘powers that be’ of stifling him.

Then there was the risky business. In 2006, more than 1,200 Irish investors signed up to buy apartments on the Cape Verde Islands through a company called Cape Verde Development after Hobbs helped to promote it in a nationwide roadshow. It was soon mired in legal difficulties and the destination never became the tourist hotspot investors hoped it would.

Property vehicle

Brendan Investments

That was a bad start and it has struggled ever since, reporting a pre-tax loss of €3.3 million for the year to the end of January 2011.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal in October 2012, Hobbs nailed his political colours to the mast in response to Time’s lionisation of Enda Kenny. “The truth,” he wrote “is he [Kenny] leads a Vichy government – captive externally to creditors that still insist on loading bank debt on to the sovereign, and internally to a tribe of insiders led by union godfathers in a deal that protects the Government’s own excessive pay and pensions while bankers lean over its shoulders to rewrite insolvency laws. This isn’t just crony capitalism. It’s crony democracy.”

Maybe he thinks his big chance to reshape that “crony democracy” has now come.