Sean Quinn, Ireland’s Richest Man, Ends Up Broke

Losing billions

I suppose “broke” to someone like Sean Quinn doesn’t mean quite the same thing as “broke” in your world or mine, but we do live in a world where all poverty is relative, so I suppose we should have some compassion for him.

By all accounts, Sean Quinn is a decent enough fellow, well-regarded by his employees and by those who did business with  him.  I met him once, briefly, and he struck me as a reasonable individual without the usual airs and graces we associate with Irish people who became mega-rich.  Quinn had no interest in K-Club shenanigans or being photographed in the social pages of the Sunday Comic along with the leathery old wives of industry captains who caught their fake accents off a sun-bed.

He still played his game of 45 every Friday night with the same crowd who sat with him around the card table when he had nothing.

I doubt if he has nothing, but he certainly lost the bones and guts of seven billion, thanks to ill-advised transactions in Anglo-Irish, the worst bank in the world. |(Take a bow, Fitzy).

Quinn was trading in things called Contracts for Difference, which, I think, amounted to nothing more than bets.  He and his family had built up a 28% stake in Anglo by the time the whole rotten edifice collapsed in 2008 when the markets realised the bank was nothing but a bottle of smoke.

In 2008, Quinn was variously reported to be personally worth anything between three and six billion euros, but after his disastrous ventures into so-called high finance.  I heard him speak publicly and ruefully about this, in a speech laden with considerable self-mockery and I have to say that I was impressed by the man on a personal level.

The Anglo debacle is not about personalities, but it’s impossible not to be drawn in when an individual as wealthy as Quinn becomes a casualty.

However, I’d still like to know if Sean Quinn’s “broke” is the same as my “broke”.

When I’m skint, I stay at home looking at the tv or writing this sort of nonsense on the internet.  Sean, I’m guessing, can still afford the Friday night game of Forty-five in the pub.

23 thoughts on “Sean Quinn, Ireland’s Richest Man, Ends Up Broke

  1. Did you hear Noonan yesterday saying he felt sorry for him on a personal level. Bad move.

    The guy gambled crazy money and lost. Tough shit. I wonder how himself and Seanie are getting on these days.

  2. I agree with you, Bock. Seems decent enough and ran a good comapmy – I had car insurance with them when I lived in Ireland … when I initially signed up they were way cheaper than anyone else (didn’t anyone notice or bother back then?) and they were always professional and courteous to deal with whenever I called, which was frequently due to my circumstances (and that couldn’t be said too much of general levels of customer service in Ireland a few years back). He also staffed his business locally, and perhaps that was the reason for the levels of loyalty he enjoyed.

    Now Seanie Fitz on the other hand … well, I had the pleasure of meeting him once, smack in the middle of his ‘we need less bank regulation’ gloating phase. All I can say is that he reminded me of that comment about Andrew Llyod Webber – that people took an instant dislike to him because it saved time ….

  3. Well that’s something I’ll never have to worry about. Keeping an eye on a load of billions and worrying about losing it. And if I did someohow come across a load of billions I’d give it away.

    His broke is probably different than our broke all right.
    I suppose it’s all relative. As my mother used to say to me “eat your dinner, there’s people starving in Africa”.

  4. I’m at my richest when I have friends sat about me, creamy pints and small glasses of whiskey without the ‘e’ to rest my hand upon. Sean Quinn has pals aplenty it would seem. Apart from a good mutton stew and a female form to warm your bed, what more could the man who had everything possibly want?

  5. This is only my personal opinion, but I don’t think Sean Quinn is motivated by the acquisition of personal wealth. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe he led a particularly flamboyant or ostentatious life.

  6. He must have been motivated by personal wealth otherwise why strive to be the Richest man / familly in Ireland, why not just rest on your laurels with say, one billion

    The whole Anglo roll of the dice was only for acquistions of personal wealth and the power of owning or controlling his own bank.

    IMHO he has managed to dodge many of the bullets he was due, over the catastrophic collapse of the banking sector in Ireland by discrediting the Irish banks globaly, and showing them to be completely Mickey Mouse, in turn prompting an exodus of international deposits.

    Never met the man probably, quite a nice man, it would appear though way out of his depth, good PR Company though has kept him from the flak he deserves.

    Not begrudgery, but I think there has been some justice finally in the past few days.

    I made a single protest of cancelling my Health Insurance with them in protest, at how dodgy they were as a Company and to personally protest at Sean Quinn’s hand in the state of the nation.

    I can see why people might have sympathy for the job creation, but Richard Curran spoke very honestly about him on prime time last night, which you don’t see much. And apportioning a big chunk of the blame with Quinn.

  7. It probably makes no difference really, but I think Quinn’s motivation was about playing the game and making the thing he built even bigger.

  8. Here’s an intresting Quinn Insurance scam I stumbled across

    Insuring a work van with named drivers cost me lets say 200 per year by chance I asked them shortly before I stopped insuring vehicles with them.

    ” how much for any driver insurance ?”

    which they neglected to advise me prior to that moment, was cheaper than the named driver, lots of fuss, produce driving licences and fax them through to them, insurance I had been enjoying for 3 years previous.

    To me thats just dishonest practice, unforgiveable, haven’t insured a vehicle with Quinn since.

    Nobody likes to feel ripped off

  9. Any chance it was foreign bond holders whose one of many motives were to aquire Ireland’s biggest companies. They could have got seanie and co at Anglo to advise Sean Quinn to buy in to the Anglo dream. As soon as Sean borrowed too much, like others – bang – a run on the banks deposits. All loans forced to be called in and Mr Quinn loses what he has, plus interest.

    Anglo owns Quinn. So who owns Anglo? The Government is it? Aren’t they now owned by foreign bond holders and the IMF?

    Just a thought.

  10. “It probably makes no difference really, but I think Quinn’s motivation was about playing the game and making the thing he built even bigger.”

    I agree but would go even further; I wonder how many houses were bought, kids sent to college, good lives lived, etc, based on jobs he created, something he built by himself. The funny thing about people with that much weatlh when generated from their own hard work is, they generally know how to world works and would not be able to just rest on their laurels knowing that they have a responsibilty to their business and by extension the people whose lives depend on it.

    He’s not one of the bad guys as far as I can see. After all, no-one is bailing him out!

  11. Sorry Steve don’t get that arguement, the same could be said of Seanie Fitz and Fingleton, who are generally perceived to be the bad guys.

    Quinn and self preservation decisions were a catalyst for a lot of the catastophe. If he hadn’t borrowed multiples of his worth he wouldn’t be broke.

  12. Perhaps we should wait to see how well-reserved Quinn’s Insurance companies are before we pass judgment on whether he was a good man who took a rash bet, or something much less innocent.

    Insurance and Banking are odd businesses in that you book profits up front and only discover the true cost of goods sold years later. Hence the “profits” at AIB, Anglo et al right up to their collapse – due to under-reserving for loan losses. We may find that he ran the insurance company well, or that it was the actuarial equivalent of Anglo. Time will tell.

    In deference to your main point, neither outcome will show what his motivation was – quite possibly just to play the game as you say. However, if the cost of his errors falls to the taxpayer, then I am angry regardless – both at him and at the relevant regulators if a failure of oversight facilitated this.

    It may be years before we know.

    Bock, I don’t think any of the above contravenes your site policies on reasonable comment. I apologize if it does, and understand any deletions/corrections you may choose to make.

  13. Thank you for that contribution, which is welcome. A well-expressed and logical comment never contravenes the site rules. There aren’t that many rules anyway, and most of them have to do with showing respect to other commenters and not taking me for a fool.

  14. Thanks Bock. I’ve always felt that your terms were very reasonable. I was more concerned that I might wander outside the lines in expressing my own views – I am generally blind to my own prejudices.

    As an aside, I was watching “Dr. Zhivago” the other night. Had quite a shock when I saw you in the railcar scene:

  15. @LE, my point was, and I now qualify it with Spike’s erudite post on the matter, was that he gambled and is now bankrupt but the business he founded (QI) is still running and the people there still have jobs. As opposed to the bankers who gambled and lost and now WE are paying for it whilst they continue to get huge salaries and bonuses.
    I don’t think anyone is going to have to bail Quinn out, he lost his own money, not the taxpayer’s.
    Unless of course it comes out that he did, in which case, hang him high!

  16. @ Steve could it not be said that he also gambled with some of the tax payers money as the knock on effect of his gamble is that Anglo has been trashed, and the tax payer has been bailing it out to the tune of however many billions, (lost track of the current figure, thieving fatigue).

    And his recklessnes has brought direpute on to the already beleagured Irish Banking sector, causing it to lose depositors and credibillity worldwide.

    Now while he is not entirely to blame by any means he should take a bigger share of the shit thats flying, is all that I’m saying. And I’m amazed that he hasn’t, some of it is good PR, and some of it has to be loyalty from employees, but it doesn’t get away from the negative role he has played.

    He wasn’t in anybody’s face and the PR machine is wheeling out the local stories, but he was the catalyst as far as Ireland was concerned in my humble opinion.

  17. Quinn, along with those depraved traitors in Fianna Fail and every stupid bastard ever voted for them, has destroyed this country. He should be down on his knees giving thanks that he has destroyed a country singularly distinguished by the moral cowardice of the shower of pussies who people it, and not a decent self-respecting country where they put fuckers like him up against cold stone walls for a hot lead injection.

  18. As a follow-on from the above, it would appear that Quinn Insurance may have been both under-reserved and taking risky bets with its investment portfolio:

    Insurance is conceptually an easy business: You get cash up front in return for taking certain risks, which you will pay out on later. Between now and then you get to invest the premiums and make money. Most good insurance firms try to underwrite profitably (ie: premiums alone cover losses and administration costs) and the investment proceeds are extra profit. To do this they hire actuaries and price risk carefully – after all, any fool can grow rapidly if they under-price for the risk. The losses may not show up for years depending on the risks insured. I read the following about QI:
    “only upon its takeover, Quinn Insurance hired its first actuaries. And said actuaries revealed the company needed to increase professional liability premiums more than ten-fold to be adequate. And the company just this week failed to gain re-entry to the UK commercial market because its finances were too dodgy.

    So perhaps – but only perhaps – rates would go up because they are currently too low.”

    Clients are no doubt upset that their rates will rise, but based on the above, they were too low to begin with.

    On the investment side, property/casualty insurance companies generally invest conservatively in high quality bonds etc so as to always be sure to have capital to cover insurance claims – they’re not meant to swing for the fences with large positions in equities and land. But we read that:

    “Quinn has always maintained a higher risk asset base than other large insurance companies in Ireland. The likes of Zurich, Axa, Aviva and Allianz all put roughly half their available assets into government bonds.

    By contrast Quinn Insurance more than doubled its property exposure between 2006 and 2007 to €574m – more than a quarter of its total reported 2007 assets of €2bn – at a time when property prices began plunging from record highs. Quinn also reduced its investments in shares over the same period from €600m to €175m.”

    Obviously, I don’t know what actually happened at Quinn Insurance. But if an insurance company under-prices its policies, and tries to make up for it by taking on risky investments, then that’s a financial time bomb. The head of any such company would be little better than Fingers or Seany Fitz in my eyes, since they kept any winnings, but the price of their gambling would eventually fall on either policyholders or the taxpayer.

  19. Spike (comment no. 13), don’t we know for about a year that Quinn was deemed by the Regulator not to have enough reserves to meet potential claims? Wasn’t there a big row at the time, with all the Cavan politicians asking the govt to get the Regulator to back off. Seems like pretty reckless behaviour to me. I admire what the guy has done in building his empire, but that kind of behaviour says to me that at heart he was a cowboy (or maybe he started out ok and greed just took over).

  20. Essodee,

    Good point – thanks. I live overseas and missed the row involving the Cavan politicians. I guess what I’m driving at is that I hear a lot of people saying that Quinn should be admired for how he built up his empire. I think that there is plenty of reason to question that admiration.

    I don’t know and can’t know without access to insurance records, how bad the underwriting was at Quinn Insurance, and for how long – nor how reckless the investing and for how long. I want to respect Bock’s site by being very careful in how I phrase things.

    All I am saying is that if I were allowed to run an insurance company where I sold policies at half the right price, I’d have a lot of cash to spend elsewhere in the short-term buying and speculating, building up an empire, before the bills for claims came due. That would hardly be admirable, it would be as bad as the behavior of Fingers and Fitzy. To my eyes, it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, and I’ve done some ornithology in my time.

  21. Everyone up my neck of the woods admires Quinn, or did until recently if I were to include myself in that. My oul man bought sand and gravel from him for years, and of course we all knew he was a cute hoor as they say, with his northern Ireland registered lorries (saving him a fortune in Republic excise duty) and NI fuel and him selling both sides of the Border indade there was always a winkin eye question as to whether only sand and gravel filled them lurries or whether other goodies might have been concealed beneath. Not talking terrorism of course, but back in the eighties when I and my mates ran beer from Enniskillen Cash & Carry down the unapproved routes (23pence sterling a can in Enniskillen, sold out of the boot of my oul Celica outside the Carraig Springs at 2AM on a Sat/Sunday when all the partiers emptied outta the dishco, for 2 quid Irish a pop and glad to get it) there was money in running anything across the Border, tyres, videos, televisions, anything. It was always cheaper up North and you can bet yer ass anyone who could, did. I just did beer. Mate of mine did condoms as well, that you couldn’t get in the preeshteen-ridden South, and he made an absolute killing selling them and sandwiches plus cheap Northern Harp at the Bob Dylan concert in Slane the year of the riots. Anyway. Quinn hauled sand and gravel by hand using a dunkey car, before he got his first Scammel. Up round the Border we didn’t have much time for rules and regulations, nor outsiders nor lawmen nor anyone in fact who’d try tell us what to do. I don’t think Quinn would have been any different from the rest of us back then. And it doesn’t seem, unlike some of us, that he’s changed in that regard. A cowboy. Ho yeah we were all cowboys, breakin for the Border. some of us stayed good, some of us stayed bad, and one or two, Quinn first amongst them, IMO turned ugly. He’s helped ruin this country. for that he deserves nothing but our opprobrium.

  22. OK maybe a bit of our pity too. Like any fella crashed and broken in the ditch deserves. But he’s put a lot of others in the same ditch too, by his actions. And most weren’t driving Rolls Royces like him but ballashiteanisopon they could barely afford to keep on the road. For the purposes of analogy I mean. Still he’s only human. Reckon he forgot that fact along the way. Judge not and all that. Must be gettin soft maybe.

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