herald

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Businessman 'driven to the brink' by the banks dreamed of his own funeral

A BUSINESSMAN has revealed how he was driven to the brink by callous banks.

George Mordaunt says that his whole life fell apart along with his once successful car dealership.

The father-of-two visualised his own funeral as he felt victimised by Irish banks.

"You get into this frenzy of scheming for survival and it takes over your life and everything else gets parked and it becomes a seven-day-a-week frenzy," he told the Herald.

"Some of us go over the edge and others manage to turn back."

Now one of the so-called pillar banks are enlisting the help of the Tipperary man who runs the Mordaunt Group.

He and his father had a very successful car business, but after irreconcilable differences, the young Clonmel man took on the full responsibility of the family business in 2001.



Expanded

Two years later, on the back of a booming car market, the group expanded rapidly by building and opening four new dealerships.

"In hindsight I expanded rapidly and I had a target that by the age of 40, I was going to transform our motor dealership into a motor group which I did with five franchises, four locations and 60 staff by 2007.

"I intended to spend the next 30 years reducing debt, but eight months later Lehmans went under, the world went over the side of a cliff and car sales were non existent, and the banks wanted all their money back," he said.

George put up a tremendous fight to keep his head above water, but bit by bit he had to close operations and sell cars at a huge loss to try and protect the 30-year-old family business.

And so began the three-year battle of being badgered by the banks to repay millions which brought George and his family "to the edge emotionally, financially and in every capacity of life."

The brink for George began when his entire existence became obsessed with managing his cash and checking his bank balance.

All of this stress was coming from three banks who had been only too obliging to advance George the vast loans at the height of the Celtic Tiger.

"One lender brought me to a meeting in Dublin and left me with no illusions that they would take everything.

"I went home terrified and that night I couldn't sleep with heart palpitations" he says.

That night George visualised his own funeral and his two children walking behind his hearse.

"I let this sort of obsession take place and it rattled me to my core as suicide was quite rampant in my hometown at that time.

"I made a decision that night, I was going to start fighting back," he told the Herald.

Despite mounting debt of €17m and daily hounding, George took on the banks and has survived to tell the tale.

"I'm guilty of working my ass off and buying a greenfield site and stimulating growth.

"I'm not guilty of using drugs or murdering someone," George explains.

With his company now in calmer waters and the excess showrooms sold or rented, George is involved in a five-year programme of cooperation with two of the remaining banks.

"There are clear differences in bank strategy in this country; we have one pillar bank who have said to me they want to move on, there is a willingness in that bank to heal.

"We have another bank that is harassing people in an extreme fashion," said George.

With no help out there for small businesses, George has been met with an onslaught of people who want to deal with him and follow his formula in how he dealt with the banks.

"There are mentors and consultants and taxation companies but there isn't a Joe Soap who has been through it and in February I am going to start an advisory service to give people the benefit of my experience over the last three years," he said.

George welcomes the call for banking staff to get training to deal with stressed customers who are heavily in debt.

"Banking staff are being sent into a room to confront creditors, not knowing the mental state of that person" and he claimed it was only a matter of time before someone affected by suicide took a legal case against a bank.

Having written a personal letter to current CEO of Bank of Ireland Richie Boucher and sent him a copy of his book Shepherd's Pie, which outlines this painful and emotional demise at the hands of the banks, George hopes this will effect change.

Officials from one Irish bank have even approached him to share his experience as a customer with them so they can engage with people in a positive way.

"Some bank officials have asked would I be interested in sitting across a desk with them so they can take my experience and put it to better use working with their clients."

Shepherd's Pie by George Mordaunt (Mercier Press, €13.49) is out now

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