After 5 years, Mullins is making big switch and leaving Bord Gáis

The man who led the ‘Big Switch’ campaign in the Irish electricity market is about to make a massive change in his own working life — John Mullins, the chief executive of Bord Gáis, leaves the company this month.

The 44-year-old thought he was leaving his desk yesterday, but then Bord Gáis chairman Rose Hynes rang him just before lunch to tell him he would be needed until the end of the month. He’s happy to oblige.

Hynes will be sorry to see Mullins go. He has brought revenues to €1.6bn, adding €400m in sales in his five years with the company, and increased the value of the firm’s assets to €4.5bn from €3.2bn when he started as a 39-year-old.

Mullins says he told the chairman who appointed him, Ed O’Connell, that he would stay for five years — he did just that.

“I’ve implemented in full the strategy I set out to do. I do want to try something new, something different. Clearly the company is moving in a very different direction towards being a water company in the main with a gas network company at the back. The water company is going to dominate the company in the future. It’s going to be about 80% of asset value,” he told the Irish Examiner on what he thought was going to be his last day on the job.

Looking to the future, he says he has always been an ideas person, an innovator.

“I think I can bring that, and the techniques I have learned over the last while, to the fore. The work I am going to do will be a combination of advisory work, private equity work, and I have been asked to chair and be the director of a number of companies,” he says.

He plans to take up offers to be chairman of two companies, join two other boards, and run his own consultancy firm.

One of his biggest successes was changing Bord Gáis from a gas supplier to a gas and electricity supplier, and it now serves close to 1m customers after signing up thousands as part of the Big Switch campaign

“We never believed, even with the precision we put into the planning of the Big Switch, that it would be so successful; maybe it’s a lucky general, maybe it was right in the heart of the recession that we went out with a price point that made an enormous amount of sense.

“We changed the brand of the company to actually make it one that had a relationship with customers and clearly we got involved in sponsorship. Things like the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre are not just about the naming of a theatre, they are about loyalty programmes, and we now have 100,000 customers who are actually members of that loyalty programme,” he says.

John Mullins would not be drawn on what price he believes the sell-off of the energy side of Bord Gáis would achieve for the State as part of the disposal of state assets that was agreed with the troika.

“I have a figure but I’m not telling you,” he says.

Mullins says the team he has had over the last five years deserve an enormous amount of respect for what they have achieved. “There is a real opportunity for that business to grow further, there is potential for further acquisition under potential new ownership. It’s a process that will take the next year to complete. Clearly the Government has taken a view on the sale and frankly chiefs executive implement and the new chief executive will implement the wish of the shareholder.”

Looking back on his five years at Bord Gáis he recalls driving a lot — 50,000km a year. “I have driven around the world five times in this job,” Mullins says.

However, he says he enjoyed every minute of it. “I have enjoyed the experience, the people I’ve worked with, it’s been a fantastic challenge and I’ve learned a lot. My PA gave me a memento which said, ‘You never stop learning’, and I will hang it in my office,” he adds.

On his battles over pay cuts, he says he accepted the will of the shareholder. “I did what was required of me; I took the voluntary reductions. Clearly in a private company, what I have done over the last five years, certainly would be, let’s say, acknowledged differently, but in a state company that’s the will of the people.

“To be fair a lot of the people out there are suffering and frankly you are doing a public duty, as well as a commercial duty, it is a very difficult mix to be in that type of role,” he added.

He said that at the end of the day it is nice to leave the company in the best state you can get.

“That is the international bond markets saying that this company is very investable,” Mullins adds.

He says his is leaving on very good terms and that he is handing over the company “in good stead”.


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