Denis O’Brien is optimistic about Haiti and Ireland
Irish billionaire talks Ireland, Haiti and the future of media
“We built them all over Haiti, which needs to build about 1,000 schools. So within the next year we will have built 150 of them, so we are building 15 percent of all new schools. That's the largest school building project within the Caribbean region.
“We are trying to do serious things quickly, faster than anyone else but also in a very comprehensive way.”
O’Brien, who is on the U.S. board of Concern Worldwide, describes the Irish charity’s work in Haiti as fantastic as he details their latest efforts, the Your Dollar Our Future campaign, which aims to raise $2 million to help get Haiti’s kids back to school.
In the 18 months since the earthquake struck, O’Brien has traveled to Haiti 29 times. The thing that stays with him the most is the shared sense of pride among Haitians.
“If I can walk down any street in Port Au Prince people never ask me for money, they ask me for jobs,” the billionaire told the Irish Voice.
“They are a very proud people and that is the most amazing thing I think. They are very poor obviously but they will never ask you for money.”
O’Brien recently acquired a 1.4 percent stake in APN News and Media in Australia. When asked if it is fair to say he’s passionate about media, he laughs.
“What do you call passionate, it being my greatest investment?”
On the topic of Irish media he seizes the opportunity to take a snipe at Independent News and Media (IN&M), where he is a major investor and has recently sought a reshuffle of the senior staff.
“I think there is a growing view amongst investors that the strategy of IN&M is flawed. Paying down debt is not a strategy to develop a business, unless you are developing new revenue sources, basically you are going over the Cliffs of Moher,” O’Brien warned.
Despite O’Brien being IN&M’s biggest shareholder with a 21.6% stake, he describes himself as a “minority investor.”
“If you think of any of our radio businesses scattered around Europe, we spend 50% of our board meetings on our digital initiatives,” he says.
“Our strategy is to focus absolutely on building those revenues.
“That is the problem with IN&M, you have a CEO that just doesn't understand digital,” he says of the current CEO Gavin O’Reilly, adding to their ongoing standoff.
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