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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“There are some very good people, good managers and journalists in IN&M but they need to be liberated and shown a new direction, certainly not by the CEO who is there at the moment.”
O’Brien concludes, “It's digital all the way”
Jetting around the globe monitoring his vast investment portfolio, O’Brien admits talk will often inevitably turn to Ireland’s economic woes.
“I am very positive about Ireland but it's not because I am Irish. I actually believe we have now really addressed our problems,” he says.
“A lot of really heavy lifting and really radical things have already happened that people would have never contemplated before in terms of spending cuts.”
Despite his optimism he admits that the average Irish person may not share his sentiment.
“They have had so many body blows between wage cuts, pension cuts, extra taxes, levies. When that is happening to you, you say, ‘Where is this all going to end?’
“It's a terrible thing to be unemployed. It's only when you are unemployed that you really realize how miserable it is and how demeaning it is.”
As the founder of the international media company Communicorp, among his other Irish businesses, O’Brien has overseen extensive layoffs and wage reductions, partly as a result of drastic drop in advertisement revenue in his media based corporations.
“It’s been horrendously difficult and miserable so I am hoping now there will be a bit of growth in the market,” he says.
However, O’Brien is not troubled by Ireland’s mass emigration, testifying that experiences acquired by those abroad will be easily reapplied in Ireland once the economy returns.
“It's a really difficult thing to leave home, to leave your friends and your family and rock and roll, and go off and live in a different country, but you are better off there doing that than being miserable back in Ireland,” he said.
Tapping into the Irish diaspora is essential for Ireland’s future he says.
“Ireland has a very strong reputation in the developing world because of the missionaries,” he says.
“In recent times, Bono, our artists, our writers, our poets, have also had a huge impact on the reputation of Ireland.
“It’s all about keeping that connection and using that culture as the carrier of that connection,” O’Brien says.
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