Ireland's richest man, Denis O'Brien, is confident that the Irish economy is on the way up, but feels Irish people need to gain more confidence to help it rise again.
“We’re coming out of it, I think we’re 65 per cent of the way through this jungle of uncertainty. Recovery could have been faster, but setting up the bad bank and new legislation takes time. Irish people are so worried about their reputation,” O’Brien said at an Irish Network NYC event on Tuesday.
O'Brien was a guest speaker to a group of young Irish and Irish-American professionals, and Bloom berg TV anchor Margaret Brennan emceed for the evening.
“I’d be much more worried if I were Greek though,” O’Brien said to a laughing audience.
The Digitcel founder admitted that were he to start an enterprise in Ireland today, there would be only one business that would attract him.
“I’d set up a bank,” he told the audience.
“80 per cent of Irish people have good credit, but they can’t get money. If they could, it would cut overheads and drive things to get going. It’s all about the small and medium enterprises,” he said, encouraging those with businesses elsewhere to get on a plane and bring their products out of Ireland.
“The banking system is the fulcrum of the economy and needs to be sorted. But people need more confidence, outside investors have confidence in Ireland, but people inside the economy don’t. Irish people don’t have a strong outlook, and that needs to change,” he added.
Although a globe-rotting businessman with ventures in far flung parts of the world, O’Brien believes there’s no place like home.
“Irish people are fun, they have great humor, and a good outlook. I like to go home to refill with those things, and then go off again,” says O’Brien, who spends about 100 days per year in Ireland, but is a resident of Malta.
O’Brien hires many Irish managers, but not just out of loyalty. He believes they are the best in the business.
“They are terrific, they have no notions about themselves, they see everyone as equal, so they end up building fantastic networks in many countries,” he says.
The only thing to bring him back to Ireland to live full-time? “Illness,” he said with a laugh.