IN­TER­VIEW

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

THREE years ago, John Con­roy walked away from Mer­rion Cap­i­tal, the firm he founded with six of the coun­try’s lead­ing bro­kers in 1999, tak­ing with him a key les­son on building up a suc­cess­ful busi­ness. Find­ing the right peo­ple is as im­por­tant as iden­ti­fy­ing an op­por­tu­nity in the mar­ket. Hav­ing kept a low pro­file since then, Con­roy has this month launched his new ven­ture, the Ac­ton Health and Well­ness Fund, again bring­ing on board an im­pres­sive team.

The fund, which has been ges­tat­ing for some time, brought in Olympian Eamonn Cogh­lan and for­mer Eir­com vice-chair­man Con Scan­lon at an early stage. Sev­eral lead­ers from busi­ness, the food sec­tor and med­i­cal world have also now come on board, in­clud­ing: Niall Fitzger­ald, the for­mer chair­man of Unilever; Paul Fin­nerty, the for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of ABP Food Group; and renowned US in­vest­ment banker John Duffy.

For Con­roy, he wanted to mark his new project out by the cal­i­bre of the peo­ple in­volved.

“There are a huge amount of in­vest­ment ideas com­ing through any fam­ily of­fice now. I think we have an ad­van­tage be­cause a lot of peo­ple have a per­sonal in­ter­est in what we are do­ing,” he says. “It gets us in the door. Af­ter that, it is down to the qual­ity of the prod­uct and the peo­ple.”

The new fund seeks to ride the grow­ing wave of in­ter­est in well­ness and the op­por­tu­nity which tech­nol­ogy might bring in terms of mak­ing us health­ier.

Con­roy ex­plains: “What are the is­sues today? From a gov­ern­men­tal per­spec­tive, the very high spend­ing on health world­wide and an in­creas­ing bur­den on the bud­get as peo­ple are liv­ing longer.

“You have this di­chotomy, a sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion is fit­ter than ever and an­other sec­tion has ma­jor health is­sues.”

There are sev­eral op­por­tu­ni­ties for busi­nesses de­liv­er­ing so­lu­tions, such as “try­ing to re­duce the re­liance on pri­mary care and other trends are that more peo­ple want to take con­trol of their own health and more peo­ple are us­ing more tech­nol­ogy.

“The two si­los we are fo­cus­ing on are con­sumer-fo­cused dig­i­tal health and also func­tional foods. We feel that the op­por­tu­nity is big in th­ese ar­eas,” he says. “So we are look­ing to in­vest in com­pa­nies oper­at­ing in those sec­tors, mainly in Ire­land.”

Con­roy be­lieves that Ire­land also has an ad­van­tage in th­ese ar­eas, with 18 of the world’s lead­ing medtech com­pa­nies hav­ing op­er­a­tions here. In ad­di­tion to this, Ire­land has pro­duced Kerry and Glan­bia, two world lead­ers in the food sec­tor.

He says that in the area of func­tional food “not many peo­ple have made money out of it yet but I think we are at an in­flec­tion point”.

Con­roy, orig­i­nally from Port­laoise, started his ca­reer by study­ing civil en­gi­neer­ing in UCD, be­fore join­ing Dublin County Coun­cil and be­ing sec­onded out to Mccarthy & Part­ners. With an in­nate in­ter­est in busi­ness, he took an MBA in the evenings at Trin­ity Col­lege, Dublin.

Con­roy was then re­cruited into NCB stock­bro­kers in 1986, which was at the time break­ing the mould in Dublin’s cosy stock­broking world.

He im­pressed peo­ple with his ap­petite for hard work, his in­tel­lect and abil­ity to read world pol­i­tics and busi­ness and un­der­stand its im­pli­ca­tions for Ir­ish busi­ness. Start­ing off as an eq­uity an­a­lyst, he soon moved into man­age­rial roles, even­tu­ally be­com­ing head of eq­ui­ties.

NCB was later bought by Ul­ster Bank and in the late 1990s af­ter a new ceo had taken the reins at the bro­ker, Con­roy de­cided to break away from NCB and set up a new firm with sev­eral of his col­leagues. The team in­cluded Adrian O’car­roll, who Con­roy says was “the best stock­bro­ker in Dublin”.

“Mer­rion was an ex­cit­ing enough ad­ven­ture,” re­calls Con­roy. “The crit­i­cal thing for us was at the out­set to get a good part­ner on board. We talked to many, many peo­ple, both do­mes­ti­cally, in the UK and one or two in New York.”

He was in­tro­duced by the Smur­fits to Allen & Co, a renowned but low-key bou­tique in­vest­ment bank, which went on to take a 30pc stake.

As far as Con­roy knows, Mer­rion has been its only in­vest­ment out­side of US.

Allen & Co has tremen­dous busi­ness links in the US and is be­hind the an­nual Sun Val­ley

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