The Connector: Terry Clune

Michael McLoughlin CEO ConnectIreland, Mathew Gilfillan of Mafic, Bernadette Brannigan of Mafic, Hugh Morris who made the connection with Mafic that brought 70 jobs to Kells, Brian Dougan, managing director Mafic, and Terry Clune, founder of ConnectIreland.

By Cathal Dervan, Contributor
October / November 2013

Terry Clune is on a mission to turn the economy around by connecting the Irish on a global level.

The Italian tourists seemed lost, stopped at the top of Dawson Street with a curious look in their eye as the August sun came up on St Stephen’s Green.

An appointment at businessman Terry Clune’s office was calling from around the corner but the elderly couple, map in hand, appeared in need of a little direction.

The pair did indeed need some helpful guidance. They had already walked past their hotel in the fashionable Dublin 2 quarter, they just didn’t know it. The connection with local knowledge was made and they were sent happily on their way to bed and board at La Stampa.

The chance encounter turned out to be the perfect analogy for the conversation that followed as Clune, a Wicklow man now resident in Kilkenny, explained how the ConnectIreland concept he is funding and leading can help to turn the Irish economy around.

As Bill Clinton once said: “half the world is Irish and the other half wants to be.” ConnectIreland offers a conduit between those in business seeking to expand into Europe and those villages and towns in Ireland looking to reduce the unemployment in an economy picking itself up off the canvas post-Celtic Tiger.

Introduced by Taxback founder Clune, a former Irish Entrepreneur of the Year, at the 2011 Global Economic Forum think-tank in the government’s Farmleigh Estate, ConnectIreland is a concept that promises to create employment and boost an economy on the rebound by asking anyone who cares about Ireland to keep their eyes and ears open to opportunity.

Terry Clune is a man with a story to tell and a country to sell. His life changed forever thanks to a Guinness sports bag and a chance meeting in the elevator of a German tax office back in his student days at Trinity College.

A poor university student (his words not mine), he was more entrepreneur than scholar even in the early 90s when following bands like the Waterboys and In Tua Nua around Ireland, and promoting discos and events, was more attractive than studying business and economics.

Germany first called this son of a Wicklow farmer to its shores in 1993 and the boss of the plastics factory who hired him was impressed with his work ethic and application, so impressed that Clune struck a deal with him. He would bring 110 Irish students back to the same plant for summer work the following year – for a fee.

Dispatched by his charges to try and claim some of their tax back from the local authority at the end of that summer, Clune hit a brick wall at first. “I stood in front of the taxman with my dreadlocks and my dirty jeans, leather jacket and my Doc Martens and I must have been a sight,” explains the Taxback founder.

“He explained that our documents were in order, that our taxes were all paid and there were no rebates available. I went back to my students with the news and they told me out straight to try again.

“Second time around, another guy had a look at the P45s and mumbled something about some of us underpaying our tax. That’s when I decided to leave the building. I was in the lift on the way back to reception with all the documents in my Guinness sports holdall when the lift stopped and this giant of a man, impeccably dressed in the best suit imaginable, got in. He looked at me, first in shock and horror, and then he saw my Guinness bag. A smile came over his face and he asked me if I was from Ireland. When I said I was indeed Irish, he remarked that he was just back from a cycling holiday in Cork and Kerry and he had loved it.

“The Guinness bag made the connection with Ireland and it changed my life. He told me his name was Horst and he was the boss of the tax office. He asked what he could do to help me. I explained how I was trying to claim some tax back for over a hundred student workers from Ireland and in that instant my life changed forever.

“He brought some of his officials down to the foyer, we worked there for two hours and I left knowing exactly how the process worked to get our German taxes back. The only reason that happened for me was because of the Guinness bag. We all have connections that we don’t realize. That can be really useful if we only know how to use them.”

Terry Clune has made the most of that chance meeting with a German tax boss. He had already established his Taxback company in his mother’s kitchen before he finished his degree course at Trinity. An office followed on Dublin’s Aston Quay, beside the student travel body USIT who organize working holidays for Irish kids all across the globe.

The location offered Terry Clune’s fledgling business a stream of prospective clients on tap. A contract to sort the tax affairs of the thousands of Irish students who work in America on J1 visas every year soon followed. An Irish success story was up and running before the degree was landed.

The dreadlocks went before he began a trial as a trainee accountant with Price WaterhouseCooper, an experience that lasted all of two days.
(His mother has the dreadlocks stored in a sealed bag at the family home near Avoca where they await a public appearance).

Taxback won Deloitte Ireland’s Gold Standard company award winner in 2013, and is now one of the great hopes of Irish business with almost a thousand employees worldwide, 200 of whom are in Dublin and Kilkenny.

Its success across 94 countries, where it helps the biggest corporations reclaim tax and VAT, has allowed Clune to fund ConnectIreland to the tune of almost $4 million in the first year as it helps to fuel the Irish government’s Action Plan for Jobs.

Endorsed by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and luminaries from all walks of life including Martin Sheen, Donald Keough, Martin Naughton, Wilbur Ross, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, business mogul Denis O’Brien, Goldman Sachs chairman Peter Sutherland, actress Saoirse Ronan and Irish dance king Michael Flatley, ConnectIreland is all about connections and introductions to foreign firms looking to Europe, and working with the IDA and the Irish government to create jobs.

Connectors who make the introductions receive a reward for every job that is created, two years after the job becomes a reality. It’s a win-win situation for all concerned.

The Kieran Leavy story is typical of the ConnectIreland experience. A security firm owner in the Midlands town of Portarlington, Kieran met some American executives from the Michigan based Magni Group in the bar after a game of golf in the Heritage, a Seve Ballesteros design, just outside Portlaoise.

Over a pint of Guinness and a sociable chat, he discovered they were on their way to the Czech Republic to finalize plans to establish a Europe base there. Thanks to his strong association with Ireland’s national sport’s governing body, the GAA, Kieran was aware of the ConnectIreland opportunity.

He introduced Magni Group Managing Director Ted Berry, a direct descendant of an Irishman who left for America during the Famine, to ConnectIreland and the rest of the story will become history when the Magni Group introduce 50 jobs to Portarlington in September 2014 when their $20 million plant is completed, the first Direct Foreign Investment in the town in 26 years. Kieran Leavy will receive over $100,000 as a reward for bringing the Magni jobs to Ireland. He is not alone.

Meath auctioneer Hugh Morris introduced the Mafic group to the town of Kells where they will employ 70 people and many more in ancillary services.

Terry Clune knows there are more jobs to come in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. Now a father of four and happily resident in Kilkenny where he loves nothing more than hurling with his kids at the James Stephens Club, chess addict Terry is as passionate about Ireland as he is about ConnectIreland.

“When the world economy improves – and even a bad economics student knows the graph will go up again – Ireland will be best placed to take advantage of the improvement,” he says emphatically.

“We want to make use of that. We want the introductions to companies to give them that message, to tell them why four of the top five internet companies in the world have their European HQ in Dublin, why nine out of the top 10 global pharmaceutical corporations are already here.

“Ireland is the place to do business. We understand the American culture, we speak the language. We are in the Eurozone and we are committed to the Eurozone.

“American companies in Britain are reporting in dollars, working in sterling and selling into Europe in Euros. We offer a two currency solution and a gateway to the biggest market in the world, a market valued at $32 trillion.

“There are many American companies, not just the multi-nationals, who will look to expand into that market and Ireland is the perfect place for their European base. Anyone who cares about Ireland may have connections to those companies. All we need is to know about it.

“We will reward those who supply the information and allow us to make the pitch. The average reward is $20,000, at $2,000 a job. We have GAA clubs in Ireland looking to make introductions to pay for hurling walls. We have a community in Kerry looking to bring jobs to their town and a finder’s fee to pay for a lifeboat that is badly needed.

“Our target is 5,000 jobs over the first five years of ConnectIreland. We will have created 750 jobs by the end of year one and I know from ongoing talks that there are more to come. We are in dialogue with 250 companies worldwide. They say there are 40 million people of Irish extraction in America alone. If only 5,000 of them help us to find one company each that could produce 250,000 jobs and end Ireland’s unemployment issue.

“Imagine that. It could be the doorman of a company, or a secretary, or a cleaner who hears something and makes the

“We are talking to taxi drivers and limo drivers in Dublin, hotel doormen across Ireland, golf operators bringing Americans in to play our great links courses. They all have connections and connections can lead to jobs. We’re not asking companies to ‘please give us some jobs.’ We are asking them to listen to our pitch and let us sell Ireland to them.

“Every Christmas I travel through Dublin Airport and I see the parents welcoming their children home from abroad and then sending them on their way again after the holidays. It’s the saddest sight in the world and those parents feel helpless and powerless. But they have power, they have connections. And we can make those connections work.

Terry Clune and his wife Kate tried living in a number of towns and cities in Ireland for a week before they settled on Kilkenny as the perfect place to raise their four kids. Clune describes it as a “town of winners.”

Within his first week in town, Terry met the Kilkenny hurling boss Brian Cody, the most decorated manager in the ancient and great game, and he made an amazing discovery that inspired the ConnectIreland concept.

“I was speaking at an event in Kilkenny about how businesses can fight their way out of recession and expand in these tough times, and I asked the audience if they had connections and relatives in business abroad. The oldest lady in the room, a woman in her mid 70s, put her hand up and said that she was the last descendant left in Callan from the Candler family who had gone to America in 1820 and founded Coca-Cola with two other families in 1896.

“That fascinated me, and when I got talking to my neighbor about the connection, he told me how the man who designed the White House, James Hoban, was born only down the road from that woman’s homestead, and how Walt Disney’s family came from eight miles away as the crow flies. That’s when the idea of Connect-Ireland was born. That’s the power of the connections we have.

“We all have connections that can really work for Ireland, if we think about it. If you care about Ireland, then make the connection with us. That’s all we ask.”

More information on ConnectIreland is available at www.connectireland.com.

One Response to “The Connector: Terry Clune”

  1. tanya brady says:

    Looks to me more like “imitating” rather than “connecting.” This is IDA’s mission which they, as a government arm, have been fuflilling quite well. Imitation is not always the best form of flattery.

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