The standout people of the business world in 2012

Elizabeth Dunne

Earlier this month, Seán Quinn, formerly Ireland’s richest businessman, took up residence in Mountjoy Prison.

The nine-week sentence was handed out by High Court Judge Elizabeth Dunne in November.

She had previously handed out a custodial sentence to his son, Seán Jr, having found both Seán Jr and his cousin Peter Darragh Quinn guilty of contempt of court for trying to put assets beyond the reach of the IBRC, which is seeking the return of €2.8bn from the Quinns.

Judge Dunne has been praised for her handling of distressed debtors appearing before her court.

This year, she identified a flaw in the 2009 Conveyancing Law Reform Act, which meant lenders could not seek repossession where a demand for full repayment of the loan was made after Dec 1, 2009.

In June, she ruled that the Master of the High Court, Edward Honohan, “acted outside his powers” in transferring an application to the High Court.

In July, she ruled that the property developer Tom McFeely, the former hunger striker behind the construction disaster that is Priory Hall, should be declared bankrupt in Ireland and not in Britain.

In October, she ruled in proceedings being brought against Seán FitzPatrick and his senior colleagues at the former Anglo Irish bank.

Judge Dunne is to be praised for not flinching when faced with the formidable Quinns and their passionate, sometimes intimidating, supporters.

Paddy McKillen

The famously low-profile property developer broke cover to take on the might of the British establishment when he duelled with the equally secretive Barclay twins, owners of Telegraph Newspapers, at the High Court in London.

McKillen has been battling the Barclays for Coroin, the company controlling the Maybourne Hotel Group — which includes three of London’s top hotels: Claridges, the Connaught, and the Berkeley. The Belfast-born developer faced down Derek Quinlan, the suave tax inspector-turned-property man, the membership of whose property syndicates has proved so financially draining for many Irish professionals.

The media snappers were finally able to update 20-year-old pictures of McKillen, who failed to persuade Judge David Richards that the Barclay twins’ acquisition of assets in Coroin was unlawful.

Counsel for the twins painted McKillen as a “man of straw”, but the Belfast native had the last laugh when he confirmed that he would be able to match a huge cash call from the Barclays, thereby blocking any dilution of his shareholding in Coroin.

The UK supreme court will rule on McKillen’s appeal next year, determining whether he will face damages, possibly in excess of £20m (€24.5m).

Barry O Leary

In January, the IDA reported its best performance in 10 years, with 6,000 net new jobs for 2011, boosting the total working in IDA-backed companies to 146,000.

More than 5,000 jobs were announced in the first six months of 2012, with high-profile announcements at Eli Lilly and PayPal, among others.

However, long-serving CEO Barry O’Leary sounded a warning: “There are challenging headwinds facing the IDA and Ireland... due to lack ofdomestic demand and budget deficits, many companies are ramping up their attempts to attract inward investment.” And looking much more closely at the tax-avoidance practices of companies with large Irish operations, he might have added.

Planning for the future, O’Leary held talks with Nama on moves to increase office space in the Dublin area. There is concern that lack of supply in Dublin, Cork, and Galway could hit plans to land further major service-based investments.

Stan McCarthy

The biggest feather in the cap of the IDA and of Jobs Minister Richard Bruton was provided by Kerry Group when it announced plans to invest €100m in an R&D campus at Naas, with 900 positions on stream by 2016 (and 800 by 2015).

The decision disappointed some people in Kerry, but the proximity of Naas to Dublin Airport and to key motorways proved a clincher.

Forty years on from its foundation, Kerry Group remains an extraordinarily consistent performer, now the world’s leading food ingredients company.

Stan McCarthy is also benefiting from the good financial husbandry of his predecessor Hugh Friel, as well as the vision of founder Denis Brosnan.

The chief executive is pressing ahead with plans for significant acquisitions in emerging economies.

Jim Woulfe and John Moloney

The Dairygold and Glanbia chiefs moved their companies closer to being in a position to take advantage of the upcoming abolition of milk quotas, due in 2015.

Glanbia’s John Moloney pressed through his plan for a separation of milk processing from its highly profitable nutritionals business, two-and-a-half years after the narrow rejection by farmer shareholders of a similar de-merger proposal. The move paves the way for the construction of a large new dairy facility in the South-East.

Dairygold’s Jim Woulfe is putting together a €120m investment plan focused on the company’s existing plant at Mallow, Co Cork.

The group has returned to its core activities, having dabbled disastrously in property development and retailing under former CEO Jerry Henchy.

Margaret Heffernan

The veteran Dunnes Stores boss spent the year in hand-to-hand combat with German discounter Aldi, which welcomed a growing army of Irish customers with a clever discounting strategy based around homegrown products.

Heffernan’s boom-era mistakes came home to roost when Nama petitioned for a wind-up of Dunnes Stores over a €21.6m debt in relation to a Kilkenny shopping outlet. The petition was withdrawn after Dunnes paid.

Dunnes was caught in a similar battle with property developer Harry Crosbie over outstanding sums held to be due on an agreement to let part of his Point Centre shopping complex. Judgment has been reserved in a case brought by Crosbie over a failure to fit out a store at the centre.

It all contributed to question marks over the performance of a group noted for its privacy.

The departure of Sheena Forde as head buyer did little to counter the sense of drift at the group, where a transfer of responsibility to the next generation of the family has been long awaited. A recovery in market share in November was helped by a cash-back promotion.

This hints at a new aggression in the months to come.

Heather Reynolds

As director of operations at customer contact firm Eishtec, Heather Reynolds is a hero in the South-East, following the announcement of 250 jobs at a centre in Wexford on top of 250 more announced in January in Waterford, where almost 400 are employed.

Reynolds formerly worked for the now defunct Talk Talk before leaving to set up Eishtec with Brian Barry and Colm Tracey.

Waterford was hit hard when the British-owned Talk Talk pulled the plug on almost 600 jobs.

However, it is contracts with UK companies and with Everything Everywhere, Britain’s largest communications firm, which are driving Eishtec’s expansion.

Meg Whitman

In Ireland, HP is not a brown sauce. It is the employer of 4,000 skilled people in Leixlip and Galway.

The year has been difficult for Hewlett-Packard’s US parent and chief executive Meg Whitman, an unsuccessful candidate for the California governorship.

The group announced an $8.8bn (€6.7bn) writedown that largely related to its late 2011 acquisition of UK software group Autonomy, which was founded and run by Irishman Mike Lynch.

HP insists there were serious accounting improprieties at Autonomy, a claim Lynch fiercely denies.

The HP share price plunged 12.5% on the day the writedown was announced.

Nerves in the HP Ireland operation must be frayed. Boss Martin Murphy has added over 1,000 jobs to the business, but head office announced plans to shed 27,000 jobs out of a global workforce of 350,000. The concern is that the Autonomy fiasco could lead to deeper cuts — perhaps hitting Ireland.

Richie Boucher

It has been a funny old year for boom-time banking’s great survivor.

Bank of Ireland got a €250m subordinated bond issue away, the first such by an Irish bank since the onset of the crisis, albeit at a 10% coupon. The bank previously broke new ground with bond issues. It has also avoided the worst of the mortgage debt crisis, but Boucher, the chief executive, has been pilloried in the media over his large salary, criticisms of the government guarantee (which kept his bank afloat), and his bullish utterances on the subject of debt forgiveness.

Boucher is clearly dancing to a tune set by his new US owners and he has been quick to distance himself from the State-controlled banks.

All of which spoils what has been a pretty good year in the bond markets for Ireland, with 10-year yields dropping to 4.5%, below Spain and Italy, and with the NTMA issuing €7bn in debt.

Deirdre Somers

Will the last company please lock the door on the way out? The future of the Irish Stock Exchange is in question as never before.

True, the ISE has a large funds and growing bond trading business, but isn’t a stock market supposed to be about companies floating and raising further finance?

This year, the market’s leader, CRH, moved its main listing to London. Others departing included Elan, Greencore, and United Drug.

Cork-born Somers, ISE chief executive, has tried to shake the place up since arriving in 2007. Right person, wrong time, perhaps.

It is all a contrast to the 1980s, when the stock market boomed during the recession with the flotation of food companies, led by Kerry Group, and the vogue for transforming shell companies into property vehicles.

Does it matter? Yes, says Somers, who warns that fostering entrepreneurship will not be enough to promote development if owners simply sell out before their creations reach critical mass.

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