IN­TER­VIEW

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

AT DIN­NER in the White House, Ir­ish-amer­i­can busi­ness­man David Mc­court was sur­prised that Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan had light stub­ble on his chin. Later, the young Mc­Court, a scrappy cable layer en­joy­ing his first big breaks, would qui­etly slip a White House china cup down his trousers to prove to his friends back in Bos­ton that he re­ally had been there, right next to the Pres­i­dent.

More than three decades on, it is clear that the staff in the Mer­rion Ho­tel know the pub­lic face of Ir­ish com­pany Enet well and are un­con­cerned about the fate of the ho­tel’s china.

“My friend just sold his art gallery to Janet Jack­son,” he says, fin­ish­ing up a meet­ing with a non­plussed English­man, his strong Bos­ton ac­cent car­ry­ing across the room. Asked later, he ex­plains that the gallery is aimed at pro­mot­ing street artists: “I re­ally like it be­cause it’s sort of a bot­tom up idea... I’m a big David and Go­liath type of guy be­cause I’m the runt of the lit­ter.”

Es­ti­mates of his net worth range any­where be­tween €500m and €1bn. That for­tune will grow if, as ex­pected, his com­pany Enet gets the nod from the Ir­ish Gov­ern­ment to fi­nally roll out the Na­tional Broad­band Plan (NBP). His sto­ries come from the priv­i­leged life he has cre­ated for him­self, with ref­er­ences to pres­i­dents, ti­tans of in­dus­try and beau­ti­ful film stars aplenty. But Mc­court is al­ways keen to take his ref­er­ence from the Bos­ton streets where he grew up.

So, back in the 1980s, when he no­ticed the Pres­i­dent’s stub­ble, he thought im­me­di­ately of his own fa­ther’s habit of show­er­ing and shav­ing at night rather than the morn­ing.

“I guess it was a cus­tom that came from times when most men did man­ual labour dur­ing the day and wanted to clean them­selves up be­fore go­ing to bed with their wives,” he writes in his new book, To­tal Re­think — part bi­og­ra­phy, part man­i­festo for what he calls “cre­ative en­trepreneurs”.

A con­ver­sa­tion with Mc­court — like his new book — is pep­pered with such cu­ri­ous tan­gents. His abil­ity to no­tice the small de­tails — like Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s stub­ble — is a key ta­lent, he says.

“This car­pet has a clover on it and I would have no­ticed that,” he says, his eyes fixed firmly on the Mer­rion’s ceil­ing. “They changed this car­pet seven years ago. When they re-car­peted the stair­wells last year I no­ticed. I no­tice lit­tle things that other peo­ple might pass by. To me it’s all rel­e­vant.”

Mc­court in­sists he has no ex­tra­or­di­nary ta­lent: “I have or­di­nary ta­lent with an ex­tra­or­di­nary per­sis­tence.” But per­sis­tence, he says, is a weak­ness too. “Some­times I don’t let go of some­thing that I should,” he says. “I can waste an in­cred­i­ble amount of time on some­thing that I’m cu­ri­ous about but ac­tu­ally is not go­ing to fur­ther my cur­rent goals.”

Yet per­sis­tence has paid off with the NBP. Enet — of which his com­pany Grana­han Mc­court Cap­i­tal re­tains a 22pc share af­ter SSE Air­tric­ity and the Ir­ish Strate­gic In­fra­struc­ture Fund (ISIF) bought in last year — is now the last re­main­ing bid­der for the NBP.

Mc­court has pre­vi­ously made no se­cret of his frus­tra­tion at what he per­ceives as neg­a­tiv­ity and pol­i­tick­ing around the NBP. Nei­ther too has he held back from crit­i­cis­ing Eir, which pulled out of the process leav­ing Enet as the pre­sump­tive win­ner of the huge state con­tract. Eir con­tin­ues to ex­ert a cru­cial in­flu­ence over the even­tual cost of the NBP be­cause it has the right to be paid for the use of its ex­ist­ing poles and ducts in many ar­eas.

“The NBP is a very am­bi­tious plan and I don’t think peo­ple in Ire­land are giv­ing politi­cians enough credit for the balls they’ve had to un­der­take this. This is a big un­der­tak­ing,” says Mc­court.

It will take an “un­be­liev­able amount of cre­ativ­ity to fix it”, he says. “My in­sa­tiable cu­rios­ity will hope­fully bring some cre­ative so­lu­tions to a very com­plex prob­lem. If I have to string the cable my­self, I will. If I have to get out with the Min­is­ter [De­nis Naugh­ten] and dig the holes my­self I will.”

Mc­court him­self has bought a home in ru­ral Co Clare and has cen­tred numer­ous other tech-re­lated busi­nesses here. He es­ti­mates he has in­vested more than €100m in Ire­land and wants to in­vest more. “And I’ve never gone, you know, to IAD or DIA or what­ever it’s called that you go to get tax breaks. We never got any of that stuff. We just qui­etly wanted to do busi­ness here.”

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