And I’m sure in another few years there’ll be another major jump in an opportunity that will be attached to a cell phone.
O’D: Let me ask you about the Irish diaspora,. Do you think the potential is tapped in Ireland, or do you think people fully comprehend?
O’B: Well, do you know, I was so disappointed with the Institute of Directors when several Irish American business leaders offered to serve on Irish boards
Their chief executive came out and said ‘We do not need these people, you should be appointing people in Ireland who have expertise in Ireland to the boards, we don’t need people from the States.”
And I thought, that is just such a closed mentality. You know, Ireland is globalized now and there are so many talented people in the diaspora who have something to commit. You take a guy like Craig Barrett – you say Holy God, he is one of the iconic figures of the information age CEO of Intel and he’s the perfect guy to bring in your board.
So why would you rule out the opportunity to bring in a Craig Barrett for any business in Ireland, any state-owned company?
O’D: What other areas do you see the diaspora being helpful in?
You know, there’s so many Irish Americans who have had a real experience of crisis – financial crisis or whatever. Many of them worked on Wall Street, many of them were in government, and it’s just a matter of tapping them.
Maybe it’s too late now because most of the steps have already been taken by the government, but if you were back in 2008 again, you wouldn’t be ringing Merrill Lynch, you’d be ringing 3 or 4 Irish American guys like Adrian Jones at Goldman Sachs who you’d have on a list as your crisis cabinet.
O’D: What do you see when you look at Ireland now?
O’B I’m positive, There’s recognition in Wall Street here, writers on what is happening in Europe are saying basically Ireland has taken its medicine in a serious, serious way. You know, they’re still fighting away in Greece about what they’re going to do, whether it’s going to be 11 or 12 billion, and it’s really an academic argument at this stage about whether or not you’re going to do it. So Ireland has taken all its medicine.
O’D: So you’re happy that Ireland is going to deal with its problems?
O’B: Well, we’re well, well past the point of return now, and we have been the model country in terms of handling our problems. Everybody else has done a bit but not enough, and you can never do enough in this area.
O’D: Do you ever look at something like the Forbes 400 list, see your name on it and say, “Who’s this guy? How did I get here?”
O’B: [Laughs] Not really, not really, no.
O’D: Where does your acumen come from? Was it your parents?
O’B: You know, I think all business acumen comes from… I’d like to think it comes from the farming background.
O’D: Right, buying and selling.
O’B: Buying and selling. My mother, both my parents, my father was born in Cork but my mother was born to a farming background in Armagh. My whole father’s side of the family came from a small farming background, and I think that is where it comes from. City kids miss that.
O’D: What is it, going to the fair?
O’B: Yeah, going to the fair, looking at that whole thing of trade – when do you sell, when do you buy, the whole emotional intelligence. If you go to a mart you’ll learn an awful lot, it’s like a life’s education in a day.
O’D: Is that what you did with your dad?
O’B: No, I didn’t really, but I would have gone to Tandragee in Armagh and they had a chicken farm at that stage, you know what I mean? So I understand what’s the price this week for eggs and so on.
When I look at managers, some of our best new managers in Digicel come from Kerry; they come from country, hard-livings.
And I look at kids today in, say Dublin, and they’re the 4x4 generation. They don’t have that toughness. I think physical toughness transfers into business and you become more resolute if you’ve had a harder upbringing.
And, you know, now there’s probably no science to what I’m saying, but it’s just kind of my instinct. I listen to presentations in Digicel and these tough country guys are up talking about what’s going on, and it might be a tough market, so you need these men. In fact some of our harder markets, we put the mountainy men in!
O’D: When I told a couple of people I was interviewing you, they had the same question: Is he going to keep paying Trapattoni the Irish soccer manager ?(Denis O’Brien allowed Trapattoni to be hired by underwriting his salary)
O’B: Well I am, I have a gentleman’s understanding with John Delaney. Look, we need to be realistic. I went to all three games in Poland and it was a fantastic atmosphere. I know everyone was beating back home about how we got killed, but look, we were up against the two finalists and Croatia, who are one of the best central European footballing nations. But obviously the team did not perform to its ability and you have to ask why – was it because they were tired? Was it because they were in camp for too long? But at the end of the day Trappatoni is a hell of a manager. He got us there, he nearly got us to the World Cup only for a handball, and the fact that he got us all the way to the European Championships is a great achievement.