March 8th 2021
Our speaker today is Ola Garawany - From the land of the Pharaohs to the Emerald Isle.
Forthcoming Speakers and Events
Mar 15th Mark Redmond – CEO of American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland
Mar 16th Joint meeting with RC Sacramento – St Patricks Day
Mar 22nd Tony Fox, Fish Ireland - A review
Mar 29th President Alan: Socialising with his Team.
Apr 5th Easter Monday. No meeting.
Apr 12th TBA.
Apr 19th Gerry P Cahill, Presenter 103.2 Dublin City FM.
Apr 26th James Innes - Bitten by the Black Dog
May 10th AGM
May 17th Rotary Foundation: Transforming the World.
June 28th Club Assembly
Jul 5th Presidential Handover
President Alan was in the Chair at our meeting last Monday.
Visitors and Apologies
For today's meeting we received apologies from PP Brian George, David Horkan, Jonathan Pim (who had internet problems), IPP Mariandy Lennon, Rana Aldamin and PP Tom O'Neill (who later joined the meeting). There were 21 Members in attendance.
Rotary Rangers Schedule
Rotary Rangers outings are cancelled until further notice.
Thought for the Day
The thought for the day was given by PP Ted Corcoran who focused on President John F. Kennedy, the events of the first 10 years of our Club from 1911 to 1921, what has transpired in the last 10 years and how we will cope with the next 10 years.
Presidents Announcements: President Alan explained that while there was no formal agenda for the meeting, he would like to say a few words about the Auction which will be held on the 26th March. Our guest speaker will be Prof Luke O'Neill and we will invite other clubs in Dublin and Wicklow to join us for the occasion. The Auction will aim to raise €10k for St Vincent De Paul. Some valuable donations have already been received and offers of valuable goods and services are welcome. Roger will be the auctioneer on the night.
Rotary Club Dublin Project Management
Roger Owens gave a presentation on the procedure for bringing projects to fruition which was discussed and will be brought to Council for its consideration. His PowerPoint presentation is available in the “Membership information” section of the Members part of the website – meaning that members will need to log in order to see them.
Log in as usual or follow this link:
The Digital Future of the Club
PE Alexander gave a presentation on the digital future of the club once we return to lunch meetings in the Grand Canal Hotel. It seems that a hybrid type of meeting is not viable but online evening meetings could be held as well as meetings in a pub. The intention is to offer different formats in order to appeal to different people and attract new members.
These two contributions stimulated much lively discussion and their content will be followed up by Council.
Getting to Know You: Tom O’Neill Tom is a Dub. He grew up in Cornmarket in the Liberties where the family lived over the pub that they leased in what was then a depressed inner-city area. When he was only eight years old, Tom remembers being sent to the bar for a message before breakfast, sampling a tumbler of some liquid while there and subsequently getting very sick. His parents panicked, wondering what on earth he had drunk. Tom told them that the bottle had a man on it and his distressed parents realised that that it had been Sandman’s Port. It was to be his last alcoholic drink until he finished his degree.
The first major disruption of his life occurred in 1946/47 when the teachers in Dublin went on strike for nine months. Tom was dispatched to county Clare to stay with his grandmother. The intention was that he would attend a local school, but it never happened. Instead, he had “a wonderful nine months”. His uncles were cattle dealers and so he walked and walked, minding the cattle and sheep, taking them to fairs all over the county and often to the rail head in Ennis for shipment to England. Understandably, he was not keen on returning to Dublin.
But he did, to attend the Christian Brothers in Synge Street where, inter alia, he was a star chess player. (Tom’s chess playing career - a story in its own right - will be featured in a later edition of The Dubliner). Thence to UCD, having won an entrance scholarship in maths and chemistry. The prize was £200, equivalent at the time to two and half years’ fees. He studied chemical engineering, at the time a new course in the university with as yet no graduates and a high attrition rate. In the first four years of the programme, 40 students started and only 18 graduated. On day one, Tom recalls, Professor Hogan, the Dean of Engineering, assembled the ten incoming students and announced "Gentlemen, when you graduate there will be no jobs for chemical engineers in Ireland and probably none for ten years. If you want to change, see my secretary before 12 noon. Gentlemen, good day”. And with that, he departed. Undeterred by this Cassandra like pronouncement, Tom graduated in 1959 in a class of what was by that point only four. He stayed on for a further year as a tutor because his father was dying at the time and Tom did not feel that it was the right time to leave the country.
After the death of his father, Tom moved to Canada where he joined International Paper in Trois-Rivières in Quebec as a quality control and development engineer. In 1962, following the sudden death of his mother, he returned to Ireland and became the official licensee of the pub as well as the nominal father of four including a young brother aged 11. Nonetheless, his business career continued apace. He joined Clondalkin Paper Mills where he was at various times a technical engineer, customer service manager, chief chemist and production manager. He was also secretary of the works council which he set up with the trade unions. In his role as head of customer service he travelled extensively (whilst still managing the pub back in Dublin!). He continued to manage the pub until 1970 when it was compulsorily purchased by Dublin Corporation for a road widening scheme. During this period Tom was an active member of Toastmasters and served as President of the Dublin club in 1967/68.
He was also Secretary of the University Club from 1969 to 1972. Tom had made three attempts to do an MBA, but had been foiled each time by promotions, the challenge of holding down two jobs and the time constraints of both. Then, in 1974, he joined Belinda Manufacturing as General Manager. Their main product was Belinda Baby Pants, well known to mothers of the day, but completely unknown to the current generation. Tom rearranged the work schedule to allow him to complete an MBA in UCD, moving the company’s starting time from 9.00 am to 8.15am in three steps. There are always unintended consequences in such moves. Belinda had a young, 92% female, work force and the results of the three-step time change included major improvements in attendance, time keeping and productivity. Belinda’s parent company bought up many rivals, but Dublin, despite being profitable, was deemed surplus to requirements, so it was turned into a marketing operation resulting in 90% of the staff, including Tom, being made redundant.
Tom’s next move was to CPV in Clones. Clones is on the border of Monaghan and is surrounded on three sides by the county of Fermanagh so half of the workers lived in the North - despite the fact that four of the roads leading north had been closed and blocked. CPV manufactured containers designed to carry hazardous chemicals. The business was tightly regulated. Every unit had to certified by a Lloyds Register of Industrial Services Engineer. CPV’s “bankers” were Foir Teoranta (the government’s company rescue agency). CPV was not in great shape when Tom arrived. It had sales of £1.5 million, debts of around £1 million and had made losses in six of the previous seven years. Tom was its fourth MD. Turning the company around was a challenge. It had a good existing product, good customer relations and a new product offering in a new sector. It also had a committed workforce with great engineering skills in design, stainless steel and aluminium fabrication and assembly. What was missing was leadership. This Tom could provide and under his guidance the company not only made a profit the following year, but within five years had fully repaid Foir Teoranta, profits at that stage having reached £0.5 million a year. The business was 100% export. Tom introduced Computer Aided Design and built a new facility to replace an old engine shed. He persuaded the IDA give them £0.5 million plus £50,000 for computer training. These steps improved productivity in a fast and increasingly competitive market. Employment increased to over 200, and the company’s apprenticeship scheme produced several champion apprentices. In the years 1986 to 1991 Tom travelled extensively in the USA in an attempt to acquire an American manufacturing base. One deal came close, but failed because of tax problems. In 1993 however, he resigned following a strategic disagreement over the direction of the company. It was subsequently acquired by Powerscreen. Tom had joined the Monaghan Rotary club 1978 and served as president of the club in the year 1984/85. During the late 1980s, he also served as chairman of the Engineering Industry Association and the European Container Manufacturing Committee.
The next stop in Tom’s career was in 1994 when he joined Lissadell Towels, another Foir Teoranta client; this time a company with a £7 million turnover and debts of £2 million. The company specialized in supplying high quality terry towels and robes to the hospitality industry and cruise lines mainly in Ireland, the USA and the Caribbean. It had a lot of old equipment and a workforce which felt underpaid. It was time for some badly need surgery and a strategic re-boot. Tom’s first step was to source materials, particularly towelling, from Turkey. They imported lightweight cotton summer robes to many of which they added embroidery for five star hotels. In parallel, old machinery was retired and there were some redundancies – a challenge given the company’s tight cash position at the time. They did achieve profitability, if only marginally, but they were surviving on invoice discounting; great when business is growing, a disaster when sales fall. In 1998, the company went into examinership. It found a passport investor who invested €1 million (in return for which, after 5 years, he was given passports for his wife and child). This allowed Lissadell to continue with its strategy of retiring old equipment, reducing numbers and increasing sourcing while heading towards a marketing operation. But it was all very slow. Debt was still too high and they were still discounting invoices when the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre finished the business off. Shipments stopped, sales ground to a halt and cash flow dried up. The company tried for another examinership, but no investor could be found and it had to be liquidated making Tom and the 90 remaining staff left redundant again!
Meanwhile, Tom continued to work as a director of other companies including ones producing engineering hardware for fish farms, equestrian equipment and design engineering. All of these were clients of Foir Teoranta. All were rescued and all survived. Most were Irish owned.
Tom served as president of the Dublin Rotary club in 2014-2015. He and Maura celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last April. Maura’s magnificent flower arrangements have enhanced many a Rotary and Inner Wheel occasion. These arrangements were usually auctioned for charity at the end of the events. Maura has singlehandedly raised in excess of €15,000 for Rotary supported charities over the years. For her work, Maura was given a Paul Harris award.
Tom and Maura have two children, Fergal (in Limerick) and Ciara (in Washington DC.).