Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sean Quinn

Sean Quinn (right), founder and chairman of the Quinn Group; pictured with Ian Pearson, Northern Ireland Minister for Enterprise; and Viola McBride, call centre agent, at a Group call centre in Enniskillen.
The Quinn Group was founded by its Chairman Sean Quinn in 1973, developing from a small quarrying operation in Derrylin, Co. Fermanagh, into the large global organization it is today employing over 6,500 People in various locations throughout Europe.

Quinn started his empire in 1973 when he borrowed £100, extracted gravel from his farm in Fermanagh, washed it and sold it to local builders.

In a country that depends on multinationals to provide 92% of its exports, most Irish-owned companies are small and serve the domestic market.

Sean Quinn got sick of paying high insurance premiums for his various businesses and in 1996, he entered the insurance business that was dominated by units of long-established British companies. Quinn-Direct is now the third largest insurer in Ireland.

What is striking about the Celtic Tiger boom years of the Irish economy is that the Quinn Group, CRH - now the largest building materials supplier in the United States, Ryanair - Europe's biggest low-fares airline and Denis O'Brien's Digicel, which employs more than 4,000 in the Caribbean region, are the only significant Irish linked companies, that have become significant multinational operations during the period.

Last December, the town of Fermoy, North Cork, was shocked by the announcement that health insurer BUPA Ireland planned to shut its Irish operations. More than 300 jobs were put in peril.
Then in January, French company FCI Ireland BV announced that it planned to close its Fermoy manufacturing plant by the end of next year with the loss of 240 jobs.

The company said the decision is part of a global restructuring plan to move manufacturing operations to low cost locations.

On January 31, 2007 the Quinn Group announced that it had agreed to acquire BUPA Ireland's Irish operations.

Then in the week that it was reported that an American company with 4 employees had booked $762 million in revenues through its Irish operation, the Government passed emergency legislation through the Oireachtas to prevent the Quinn Group from availing of a three-year holiday period in respect of payments to the State insurer VHI.

What is ironic is that if a foreign company offered to provide 300 jobs in Fermoy, it would be provided with support of at least €100,000 per job over a number of years and the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Miche├íl Martin would be taking direct responsibility for the announcement. In addition, it would have other benefits including being in a position to transfer profits into Ireland to reduce tax liabilities.

Ireland is lucky to have a businessmen like Sean Quinn, who like legendary American businessman Warren Buffett, is an understated person who does not flaunt his wealth.