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Demise of Quinn a sad but salutary tale

Published 12/11/2011

The financial demise of Sean Quinn is a vivid personal example of the devastating effects of the recession and the earlier banking crisis which is currently causing such concern in Europe, and also casting a dark shadow across the international scene.

It seems incredible that only three years ago Mr Quinn was the wealthiest man in Ireland, but on Friday he declared himself bankrupt in the High Court in Belfast. This was the latest dramatic twist in the story of a self-made visionary who started from humble beginnings. He developed a worldwide empire in glass, hotels, insurance and cement. In doing so he demonstrated a remarkable skill as an entrepreneur in making the right calls over many years.

During this process he provided jobs for thousands, and he was widely respected as a good employer. It seemed he could do no wrong but when he began to lose his way the end came quickly. His fatal mistake was in building up a 25% stake in the deeply flawed Anglo-Irish Bank through a high-risk manoeuvre known as "contracts for difference".

A whole series of factors leading to the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, and of many other Irish business empires, proved his undoing.

Perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, the real merits of his business acumen will be seen in their true perspective, but for the time being he will be regarded as a man who flew too close to the financial sun, with a consequent meltdown.

Sean Quinn still is a clever man, and he may well rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

However his career has shown that the so-called small man can reach great heights, and that successful entrepreneurship can benefit not only an individual and a family, but also a much wider community.

We need many more entrepreneurs if this province and island are to prosper. Sean Quinn showed what could be done, but his sad story is a dire warning of what can happen when things go wrong.

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