Exclusive Interview with Denis O’Brien

news: Exclusive Interview with Denis O'Brien

In an exclusive interview with the Algarve Resident, Irish businessman Denis O’Brien, the owner of Quinta do Lago golfing and property resort since 1998, lifted the veil of secrecy, but only slightly, on a new multimillion euro project for the Algarve and spoke candidly about bureaucracy in Portugal and why he feels at home here.


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Denis O’Brien is aware that Portugal is known for its bureaucracy, however he says this has never been an obstacle for his business dealings in the country.

“I must say that we have not found bureaucracy to be a prohibiting factor in any of our businesses,” he said. “While things do move a little slowly, we have seen a greater impetus in recent years and a better focus on the necessary initiatives in relation to promoting inward investment.”

He believes “a sharper focus on expediting planning consents for worthy developments would deliver large and consistent revenues for the Portuguese Exchequer”.

Taking the opportunity to comment on a project for the region still very much under wraps, he said: “We have one such project currently in the approvals process that has a projected investment in the initial stages of €426 million with annualised tax revenue of €114 million in the initial years.”

Denis O’Brien said the project would create direct employment for 330 people, “which I believe is something close to half the current unemployment figure in the parish of Almancil,” he said. Although it can be assumed that the development will be sited in Almancil, the businessman was not forthcoming about the exact location of the project.

“We are capital ready and looking forward to scaling up our operation in Portugal,” he said.

The Irish billionaire went on to warn the powers-that-be to be mindful that investors will put their capital to work elsewhere if there are undue delays. “Ultimately, the lack of decision-making on big projects is stifling project investment and employment,” he stressed.

Quinta do Lago

When asked how Quinta do Lago featured as a chapter in his life, the businessman said he always looked forward to coming to the resort. “It is a great sanctuary of peace and tranquillity set in beautiful natural surroundings,” he said.

He confidently describes the resort as one of Europe’s most attractive natural tourism and leisure destinations. “It is no wonder that it is one of Portugal’s treasures for the national and international tourism markets,” he said, adding that he could not think of a better place to have family time.

Praising the region for its many attractions, Denis O’Brien highlighted the natural habitat and weather, which have “deservedly” put the Algarve on the global tourism map.

But despite his business successes, the entrepreneur is not immune to the crisis and admitted that “it has been an incredibly difficult time” for the hospitality industry in the Algarve.

“We saw the industry collapse in 2009, with a drop off in operational revenues of 35%,” he admitted. “More worryingly was the short-term strategy adopted by many hospitality businesses which engaged in an on-going price war.”

Sticking to his business strategy, O’Brien said his vision for Quinta do Lago has always been long term. “We continued with our long-term investment roll-out, and I am happy to say that 2012 has been one of the most successful years for the resort ever,” he said.

“We are in the fifth year of a €29 million five-year capital invest cycle, and we have already approved the subsequent five-year investment portfolio.”

Encouraging investment

Planning for the future, the businessman confirmed that “some exciting initiatives” would be unveiled in the next few months and that they will be “game changers” for his businesses in Portugal. O’Brien commented that investment in improving the quality and quantum of hospitality products and services available in Quinta do Lago would be continuing.

Asked about what advice he would give the Portuguese government about ways to encourage economic growth and investment, and whether current austerity measures were a necessary evil, he said: “Taxes are necessary, but I am a firm believer that the best way to avoid increasing taxes is to encourage increased levels of business.

“If you get an increase in capital investment and a subsequent increase in spending, you can avoid having to increase taxes.”

He concluded: “This is the model I would prefer because it leads to longer term growth and prosperity. It also helps to grow employment and offer great opportunities for young people who are looking for jobs.”

||Who is Denis O’Brien

Denis O’Brien is Chairman and principal shareholder of the privately-owned Digicel Group, one of the fastest growing cellular companies in the world with annual revenues in excess of UShttp://.5 billion (circa €1.9 billion).

O’Brien founded Digicel in 2001 when the company launched a GSM cellular phone service in the Caribbean. The Digicel Group has since extended its operations to 31 markets, with over 13 million subscribers throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America region, and Asia Pacific region.

In 1991, he founded Esat Telecom Group (Esat) to compete against the former state-owned telephone company in Ireland, Eircom plc.

Esat established itself as the number two telecommunications company across the full spectrum of telecommunications services (corporate and residential), fixed-line, GSM mobile, data and Internet services and brought real competition and choice to the Irish telecommunications market. Esat Telecom Group plc was sold to British Telecom Group plc in January 2000 for UShttp://.8 billion (circa €2.1 billion).

O’Brien was voted Ireland’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998 in the inaugural running of the worldwide competition organised and sponsored by Ernst & Young.

O’Brien is also a director of a number of private companies which hold some of his other business interests including Quinta do Lago SA and Communicorp Group Limited.

In addition, Mr. O’Brien is the Chairman and Co-Founder of Frontline, the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and a member of the board of Concern Worldwide.

He also chaired the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Ireland. It was the first time the Summer Games were staged outside the US with teams from 160 countries and over 30,000 volunteers.

He holds a BA degree from University College Dublin and an MBA from Boston College, and he has an honorary Doctorate of Laws from University College Dublin.