Banking never got any tougher than this

An utterly fascinating banking entrepreneur you've never heard of

· paraguay,Clongowes

We do business differently on That Great Business Show, finding you interesting stories that offer insight or encouragement to the 250,000 SMEs, employing over 1,000,000 across the country.

One man’s story that has not been told before is that of Conor McEnroy – owner of Sudameris Bank in Paraguay. His interview is essential listening to all bankers in Ireland as he says what he would do to the board of Irish banks (Bank CEO’s Colin Hunt, Francesca McDonagh, Jane Howard and Minister Paschal Donohoe please note) and why he would never allow his bank officials to sell off problem loans – Conor believes they should be a forever reminder to them of the problems the lenders caused themselves through poor practice.

We could have chatted with Conor for a full day about kidnappings, armed bodyguards on the beach, guerilla attacks on your hotel as you sleep…and what really fascinated Jamie Heaslip – ‘what happens when you buy a bank, are you given a key to vaults (we’re not sure what exactly Jamie was getting at!!!). We may have to have him back again…

Conor McEnroy on That Great Business Show E 15

Entrepreneurial resilience

Conor and Conall have known each other for decades. They first met when Conor was owner/editor of an oil and gas newsletter. Following one of the many oil price collapses Conor’s newsletter died with the falling oil price – so he headed to Thatcher’s Britain and what was on offer in the City of London. He tells stories about what he thought was his early success only to find out he was on half the salary of his pals sitting next to him were on. (lesson learnt!) Conor shares his insights on how to make your way to the top in financial services is to make yourself invaluable to the boss – always available to take on the next challenge, always willing to learn.

Next stop Italy and Latin America

His knowledge of oil and his unquestionable prowess as a salesman for a Swiss bank (you won’t stop listening to his yarns) saw him convincing an oil major of the time, Enterprise Oil, to raise money for the oil company – a funding round that brought with it a whopping £2 million fee for the bank at that time. Conor was on his way. He was then chosen to sort out collapsing oil businesses in Italy from where he was sent to sort out other ailing oil subsidiaries in Latin America. That’s where the real fun began.

Dumping the corporate jet

There’s no natural connection between oil and sovereign debt default but bankers don’t need to see any connection if there’s money to be made. Conor had sorted out some South American oil companies, why couldn’t he sort out South American banks? He tells tales of telling the sons of the owners of failing banks why they can’t have personal use of the company jet any more – and why their services weren’t being paid for anymore either. If you’ve seen the movies you know that kind of thing doesn’t always go down well so armed guards were called for.

Conor’s kidnapping

As South American economies slide towards the abyss things got particularly hairy and Conor ended up being kidnapped. We doubt there’s another business podcast that has ever given insight into what exactly goes through someone’s mind when walking away from your very nasty kidnappers, ransom paid, arms in the air, with some serious weapons pointed at you. So, if you think you’ve had a tough time in business…well we hope nobody has ever threatened to (really) murder you…

Becoming the owner of a bank

From there Conor, now Ireland’s honorary consul in Paraguay, ended up owning the tenth largest bank in that country. He has moved his bank up the value charts, currently standing at number 4, he’s sold some shares (still has over 80% of the group) and has set out on an interesting high growth, no dividend (rare for a bank), path.

Like Ireland in the eighties, he says that there’s not much future in Ireland for our younger generation and they, like him, should look further afield to make a life. He says that Paraguay is like Ireland in the 1970’s and that if young people are willing to work hard and bring their Ireland 2020 knowledge with them, that there are fabulous opportunities in Paraguay…at which point Jamie Heaslip reveals that he’d love to own his own coffee plantation in Paraguay – phone numbers were exchanged between Jamie and the Consul so we may still see Number 8 Coffee brand on the shelves?

Listen to episode 15 with Conor McEnroy now.