Former Coca-Cola CEO Isdell Bets $25 Million on Ireland
Former Coca-Cola Co. Chief Executive Officer Neville Isdell is taking a €22 million chance on Ireland in the shape of a new tourist attraction in Dublin.
Isdell, 72, left Northern Ireland as a 10-year-old. Two years ago, he came back to the island to buy CHQ, a shopping mall on the banks of the Liffey in Dublin, for about €10 million. Now, he’s upping the ante with a €12 million-euro attraction to bring people to the area in one of the nation’s biggest-ever private-sector investments in the tourism industry.
When he bought CHQ, some people were calling it a “morgue,” said Isdell, who stepped down as Coca-Cola’s CEO in 2008. The 19th-century warehouse, built as a tobacco and wine store close to the city’s docks, was converted into a mall in 2007, just before the economy crashed and devastated consumer spending.
“I wasn’t looking to invest in an operating company, a turnaround, or something that was losing money,” Isdell said in an interview on Wednesday. “I did all three. ”
Isdell has revitalised CHQ by adding high-end cafes and bringing in Dogpatch Labs, which provides working space for tech start-ups that has just announced a link-up with Google in Dublin. The “visitor attraction” will chart the history of the Irish people, which will be housed in CHQ’s sprawling vaults. He described the investment as “quite significant for me.”
Isdell is aiming to attract 400,000 visitors, paying between €10-15 each, a year when it opens in May. He’s hired the team behind the Titanic experience in Belfast to design and run the operation. Design, content and the accompanying sets will cost €8 million.
“It’s not all about the famine, not all doom and gloom,” said Isdell, who retains a trace of his Northern Irish accent, despite having moved as a child to Zambia, where his father worked in law enforcement. “It’s how about Ireland has made itself bigger than it really is, through the diaspora.”
Isdell is hoping the museum will draw more visitors to CHQ, mostly deserted once the recession hit in 2008. The occupancy rate is now up to about 60 percent from about 25 percent when he took it over.
“Marketing is key,” said Isdell, a self-described rugby fanatic who kept in touch with Ireland through following the nation’s international team. “Given where I come from, I do understand the need for marketing.”
Isdell began at Coca-Cola in 1966 in Zambia, and took over as chairman and chief executive officer in 2004. In 2006 and 2007 alone, he was paid a combined $62 million by Coca Cola.
“If it all collapses, I would not be on the dole," said Isdell. That said, “You don’t do these things without being nervous, very nervous."
Bloomberg news, edited by Hospitality Ireland