Tough guy Mc­Court, the man who could bring down Govern­ment

Street­wise Ir­ish-Amer­i­can ca­ble con­trac­tor David Mc­Court is the type of guy who usu­ally gets what he wants, writes Liam Collins

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Comment -

WHEN bil­lion­aire David Mc­Court went for lunch in the mem­bers’ restau­rant in Le­in­ster House, he didn’t ex­actly over-ex­tend him­self, with a bill that came to €37.

But he cer­tainly has­tened the end of the min­is­te­rial ca­reer of the man who booked the ta­ble, paid for the lunch but didn’t eat it, De­nis Naugh­ten. Iron­i­cally, the Ir­ish-Amer­i­can ca­ble con­trac­tor may also have has­tened the end of the cur­rent Govern­ment.

“I’m not a big spender and I don’t like to talk about my net worth, but if you be­lieve what you read on­line you’d go for about $1bn,” said Mc­Court dur­ing the pro­mo­tion of his ‘self-help’ book for bud­ding mil­lion­aires, To­tal Re­think, pub­lished ear­lier this year.

With homes in Ire­land, Bel­gravia, Lon­don and Florida, the busi­ness­man, who will be 62 next Sun­day and is mar­ried with two chil­dren, has been spend­ing about a week ev­ery month for the last 15 years in the up­mar­ket Mer­rion Ho­tel in Dublin look­ing at busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties that cul­mi­nated in the plan to roll-out ru­ral broad­band.

He’s the type of guy who usu­ally gets what he wants, at least that’s the im­pres­sion you get from his book.

Iron­i­cally, one of the pho­to­graphs shows him­self and the re­cently re­signed Min­is­ter for Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Cli­mate Ac­tion and En­vi­ron­ment, De­nis Naugh­ten “hav­ing a laugh af­ter a day of hard-fought ne­go­ti­a­tions”. The bil­lion­aire adds: “This is a typ­i­cal Ir­ish trait I’ve in­her­ited — that we can be tough, but still en­joy a laugh to­gether when the work is done, with no hard feel­ings.”

An­other pho­to­graph shows him in the sit­ting room of his op­u­lently ap­pointed house in Co Clare, and in com­pany doc­u­ments in Dublin his ad­dress is given as South Pointe Drive, Mi­ami Beach, Florida.

David Mc­Court grew up in South Bos­ton, the do­main of crim­i­nals like ‘Whitey’ Bul­ger and said to be one of the most dan­ger­ous sub­urbs in the US. Both his grand­fa­thers, John Mc­Court and John Brod­er­ick, were hard-work­ing Ir­ish­men who had em­i­grated to the United States and im­bued an in­ter­est in busi­ness in him at a young age.

By the time he was in his late teens, he was mak­ing money out of ‘keg par­ties’ — sup­ply­ing the beer for bet­ter-off schoolkids to drink.

“I’m pretty sure that I was born a cre­ative en­tre­pre­neur. I was the youngest of seven sib­lings, liv­ing with my par­ents in Water­town, a sub­urb of Bos­ton — one bath­room shared by nine of us — my mother’s par­ents, the Brod­er­icks, lived in their own lit­tle house out the back of ours, mak­ing 11 of us in all,” he says. It was a typ­i­cal lower mid­dle-class Catholic Ir­ish-Amer­i­can fam­ily, but he and his brother Frank made so much money in their con­tract­ing busi­ness, that for his mother’s 100th birth­day, the en­tire fam­ily stayed with David Mc­Court in his house in Ire­land.

“Her phi­los­o­phy on life was that if things went wrong you should do your best to fix them, not whine, put one foot in front of the other and keep mov­ing for­ward and know that what­ever prob­lems you have, some­one else has much worse,” he said.

While still in his 20s, he was in­vited to the White House by Ron­nie Rea­gan, and dur­ing the visit stole a cof­fee cup be­long­ing to the Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B John­son’s ta­ble set­ting — he was care­ful not to steal his own cof­fee cup, but the one used by the per­son sit­ting be­side him. “When I proudly showed it to my fa­ther a few days later, he was ap­palled that I would stoop to do such a thing. ‘But Dad’, I protested, ‘no-one is go­ing to be­lieve that I was there’.”

He has plenty of names to drop in his book, busi­ness­men like Wal­ter Scott, who is in­volved in his Ir­ish broad­band op­er­a­tion, and Jack Welch, the leg­endary CEO of GE, Hol­ly­wood stars, prom­i­nent politi­cians.

The McCourts ini­tially made their money as ca­ble TV con­trac­tors, at first in­stalling the net- works that the big­ger con­trac­tors wouldn’t touch, mostly be­cause they were too dif­fi­cult. But by do­ing his re­search, he dis­cov­ered on one early job no­body else would touch, that it could eas­ily be done us­ing an un­der­ground tun­nel beneath the streets of Bos­ton that no­body else knew about.

He even learned to read up­side down to see other peo­ple’s quotes, usu­ally fanned out on the desk of the guy who was hand­ing out the con­tracts.

“Busi­ness was bril­liant, but it was volatile too,” he writes. When Chuck Dolan, at Cable­vi­sion, re­fused to pay him for one of his first ma­jor con­tracts, claim­ing they had run out of money, Mc­Court was left on the brink of disas­ter. “It was not a new story in the con­struc­tion busi­ness. The con­trac­tors are al­ways the ones who de­vel­op­ers let down first in these sit­u­a­tions, be­cause once the thing is built, they don’t need to use us again.”

His so­lu­tion was to get one of his tough Ir­ish-Amer­i­can work­ers take out a dig­ger and to­gether they dug up enough of the ca­ble to shut down the ca­ble net­work al­to­gether.

There was a “lot of shout­ing”, threats and le­gal let­ters fly­ing. But he wouldn’t back down, and at a cru­cial meet­ing, he was able to read what was writ­ten on the memo pad of the Cable­vi­sion ex­ec­u­tive who had to make the de­ci­sion: “Be care­ful, he’s from South Bos­ton.” He got paid.

“No one likes a guy who makes money when every­one else loses, sim­ply be­cause he pos­sesses in­for­ma­tion that they don’t have and that he fails to share,” he writes in his book To­tal Re­think.

“To have a sus­tain­able ca­reer in busi­ness you need to build a rep­u­ta­tion among the peo­ple you want to do a deal with in the fu­ture, for hav­ing al­ways been con­sis­tent when it came to be­ing fair and hon­ourable in the past.”

With De­nis Naugh­ten’s res­ig­na­tion, David Mc­Court will now be deal­ing with a new min­is­ter, Richard Bruton, who is un­likely to want to get as close to the tough Ir­ish-Amer­i­can.

‘He has plenty of names to drop in his book, busi­ness­men like Wal­ter Scott’

MEET­ING: Leo Varad­kar met David Mc­Court this year to present him with Sci­ence Foun­da­tion Ire­land’s St Pa­trick’s Day Sci­ence Medal

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