Belfast Telegraph

Billionaire 'shycoon' lost winning streak after high-stakes bet

Notoriously private tycoon Sean Quinn began his multi-billion pound empire in 1973, borrowing a few hundred pounds to set up a gravel business, quarrying stone from a small pit on his his family farm in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, as a teenager and selling stone to local builders.

Towards the late eighties, with the aid of grants, he set up a large cement plant before branching into the by-product of glass and in the mid nineties Quinn Insurance was born, selling commercial and vehicle insurance.

The firm grew and grew, and in 2005 the Quinn Group bought the Belfry hotel and country club near Birmingham for £186m, after selling the Hillgrove Hotel in Monaghan in 2004.

The family also owns the prestigious Slieve Russell hotel and the Hilton Hotel in Prague.

There were also leisure interests in Poland and Bulgaria and in 2007 he added another string to his bow by snapping up private healthcare company Bupa Ireland's customer base for £100m.

He was hailed as a modest man, despite his wealth, who liked to watch Gaelic games, play cards and spend time with his wife and five children, all of whom worked in the family firm.

But it all began to unravel in 2008 over what was essentially a bad bet.

The insurance industry started to decline and investment returns collapsed in 2008 as the global financial markets imploded.

But as claims skyrocketed due to freakish weather and other insurers were protected by larger parent companies, Quinn had only its own reserves - which turned out to have a €448m (£396) shortfall.

It also emerged that the previously savvy tycoon had lost over £1bn on his stake in Anglo-Irish Bank.

The firm's woes continued and Quinn Insurance was placed into administration 12 months ago to the dismay of thousands of staff on both sides of the border.

While initially angrily refusing to consider a sell-out, last year Sean and wife Patricia resigned from the board of the Quinn Group and yesterday Sean Quinn finally renounced any association with firm which made his billions.