Sean Gallagher may have been runner up in the race for “The Aras,” but today he is leading the way in providing business parks throughout Ireland.
As CEO of Clyde Real Estate, the former investor on Dragons Den is at the cutting edge of entrepreneurial support and I met him to discuss his strategy.
Mr Gallagher told me that “all businesses need a good business idea, capital, a good team and a property from which to run the business.”
In recent years he saw that the lack of development of office and industrial space, especially for overseas companies looking to establish in Ireland, was a serious challenge for the country. The lack of modern space was also affecting large corporations already here and indigenous companies looking to expand, especially in export markets.
The Cavan native, along with Waterford native Colm Piercy, established Clyde Real Estate to provide the modern space that the market was not developing. Colm Piercy is also CEO of Viatel which last week sold its European fibre network for €95m.
Funded by their own equity and other private investment they have made several acquisitions and are targeting investment opportunities on a number of fronts.
Their provincial backgrounds sees them comfortable operating regionally, as well as in Dublin, although Sean Gallagher told me that their strategy is not to compete for low yielding properties in Dublin city centre. “Our model is entrepreneurial investment and we are focusing on Dublin suburbs and the regions,” he told me.
“We look at large urban areas with a good road infrastructure and a third level institute or university,” he said.
Suburban acquisitions to date include a 30,000 sq m building in the IDA Blanchardstown Business and Technology Park, part let to Alcatel-Lucent and Citibank and with land for future development. Another investment nearby is “Stratus House” a 2,900 sq m office and data centre building on the IDA College Business and Technology Park.
As well as having office and industrial space at the IDA Business Park in Dundalk, the pair closed another major deal this year with the acquisition of the former Braun building in Carlow.
Comprising 21,000 sq m on a site of 12 ha, their plan is to develop this as a modern business park for the south-east and they have rebranded the property as Carlow Business Park.
Mr. Gallagher told me that they are actively seeking similar office and production buildings and sites in Cork, Limerick, Galway, Athlone, Waterford and Sligo.
His background in technology and Colm Piercy’s experience in telecoms and data centres sees them keen to develop “technology parks,” which he says is all about providing the right environment and services.
“Businesses function much better as part of a cluster,” he emphasised.
Clyde Real Estate’s positioning sees them working closely with IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and local authorities and Mr. Gallagher says that the private and public sectors need to work together to support job creation. He tells me he is impressed with IDA Ireland’s attitude and focus on the regions.
Another positive example he cites is Fingal County Councils re-launch of the Blanchardstown area as Dublin Enterprise Zone with a pro-business environment and investment in infrastructure.
Sean Gallagher is also looking to acquire properties arising from the sale of loan books by Nama and banks.
Again, they will look at buying properties in the regions, “that the big funds may not be comfortable with.” They will buy vacant or part-let properties and will manage and develop them.
“We really want to scale up now” he told me. “We are also looking to provide finance to debtors who can’t get the funding to buy their loans back from the big funds.
“We are open to doing joint ventures with property owners. We have the funds, the expertise and the entrepreneurial mindset. The owners know the property best and importantly they have the personal motivation to stay involved.” Clyde Real Estate is also seeking to acquire properties abroad and is looking for opportunities in Europe and the US.
On the ground, Clyde can already offer offices and production space in a variety of locations. Sean Gallagher is “hands-on” with the buildings and told me he’s going through a “crash course” in building and mechanical and electrical services.
When I asked him if he harboured any political ambitions, he smiled wryly. “I’m totally focused on property. That’s more than enough to keep me busy for now.”
Photo: Tony Gavin