Take a look at this startling profile of Denis O’Brien in Forbes and then look again at the man’s allegations of boardroom cronyism at Independent News & Media.
No doubt about it: The O’Reilly clan’s taste in non-executives belongs back in the 1970s, where it originated. Sooner or later, 21st century norms of corporate governance will intervene.
But the picture thrown up by Forbes of O’Brien sitting in an office in the “pacific hellhole” of Papua New Guinea, surrounded by razor wire and armed guards . . . is something else entirely.
O’Brien runs his $2bn-turnover third world mobile phone company like General Douglas MacArthur. (“You run like MacArthur from island to island – and you conquer. This is going to be a very big business.”)
He takes tea with Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama of Fiji, who has organized two military coups in the space of a decade. And he runs a mobile operator in that well-known human rights paradise East Timor.
He’s even got an operation in Haiti, where discussions about corporate governance are notoriously subtle and complex.
There, the lack of an electrical grid means that donkeys are used to transport the diesel that powers the generators at each of his company’s cell phone masts.
When O’Brien first arrived in Haiti, he had 75 of those towers impounded by Customs for nine months. Getting them released involved a visit to see a “hard-to-find” government official at his mistress’s house.
Despite all of this exotica (not to mention an ongoing investigation in the Irish Republic), O’Brien is adamant that he has never been asked for a bribe, or given one. Indeed, Forbes even calls the man “a tyrant’s worst nightmare”.
Which is reassuring.