Ireland needs Irish America’s help more than ever says top business leader
Denis O’Brien says urgent need to tap into the Diaspora to move Ireland forward
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.
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