Headhunted chief has solid track record in cost-cutting


Cathal Magee started a major restructuring of Eircom’s cost base when he was acting chief executive

THE MAN chosen to take over as chief executive of the Health Service Executive (HSE) has a background in banking and company management.

Cathal Magee (56) wasn’t among the initial front runners for the post but the HSE will be relieved to get someone of his experience to take on the job.

He spent part of his early career working in the former North Western Health Board but returning in September as the HSE’s chief executive at a time of major cutbacks will be a huge challenge.

The Cavan-born father of four left Eircom in February after 15 years with the company. He was head of Eircom’s retail arm for several years and spent six months as acting chief executive of the company last year before losing out to Paul Donovan in the race for the top job.

As acting chief executive last year, he started a major restructuring of Eircom’s cost base, following negotiations with its trade unions, and helped to scuttle Australian financier Rob Topfer’s attempt to capture the business on the cheap and make a second turn on Eircom.

Prior to joining Eircom in 1995 as group human resources director, he worked for the National Australia Bank Group in the UK and Ireland.

Before that, he was director of human resources and business restructuring with Bord na Móna.

He is a non-executive director of the VHI.

Mr Magee’s role as non-executive director in EBS has come into the spotlight in recent years. At the society’s AGM last year, one shareholder questioned why Mr Magee, who chaired the EBS risk committee, had not resigned in light of the lending decisions taken by the society. Mr Magee said at the time that while he, and the other directors had considered their positions, continuity was important, although he did intimate that it might be “timely” to consider his position after new directors had been appointed.

Mr Magee’s role as non-executive director again surfaced at yesterday’s agm. Two EBS members called for his resignation. Pointing out that he had received €300,000 in fees from the building society over the years, one member said that having been on the credit committee Mr Magee was involved in approving loans to developers.

The member said he was urging members to write to the Minister for Finance – who now owns 51 per cent of the building society- requesting Mr Magees removal from the board.

Referring to Mr Magee, EBS chief executive Fergus Murphy said he had been “a very strong performer in our organisation over the years” and pointed out that it was the executive management, and not the non-executive directors, who need to take responsibility for the building society’s performance.

It’s understood Mr Magee was among a number of candidates approached about the HSE job after the front runner for the post – the former director of the State’s national cancer control programme Prof Tom Keane – pulled out of the race in March.

While it was claimed Prof Keane had withdrawn over a failure to get assurances from the HSE board about resources to do the job and other issues, Minister for Health Mary Harney said he had opted out for “personal and family reasons”.

Mr Magee lives with his American-born wife Rosaleen and their family in Co Wicklow. They have four children - two sons and two daughters.

The chairman of the HSE board Liam Downey said it was very pleased to have attracted “a highly experienced professional” for the position.

“Cathal Magee has an extensive record of implementing change and performance improvement in a number of organisations and different environments. He has worked in both the public and private sectors and demonstrated a high level of achievement and successful engagement with a wide range of interests and stakeholders,” he said.

Mr Magee takes up his appointment on September 1st.