Obituary: Seán Melly, telecom millionaire and Trinity lecturer who founded several companies after selling his TCL Telecom

Seán Melly, who died at the age of 57, was a telecoms millionaire who went on to found several other successful companies after selling his first major company, TCL Telecom.

Born in London and raised in Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, where he was educated at the local Christian Brothers School, he first studied architecture at Bolton Street College. There he developed a strong interest in business and joined Trinity where he earned a degree in business administration. He then completed a Masters in Business at University College Dublin.

He left Ireland in 1986 to pursue a banking career in London and later New York, where he worked for Citi Group, which he called “the university of banking”.

“The opportunities here (in Ireland) were few and far between at the time,” he later told Simon Carswell trinity today. “I didn’t feel disadvantaged or that the government had let me down, I focused on where I could earn some hay.”

While working as an investment advisor to a wealthy Canadian real estate family, he became aware of financier Dermot Desmond, whose company NCB in Dublin was expanding his portfolio. He was recruited to work for R&J Emmett, a cream liqueur company formed to capitalize on the international success of Bailey’s Irish Cream.

According to business circles, after 10 years in banking and finance, he ‘started making his mark’ when he set out on his own in 1995 with the founding of what business journalist Martin Fitzpatrick called ‘the energetic Irish telecoms company’ TCL. While in New York, Melly had found that it cost $5 a minute to call New York from Dublin, but calling Dublin from New York was only $1 a minute. Although it was the pre-mobile era, it was an exciting time in the telecoms business as EU competition rules obliged Irish monopoly Telecom Éireann to lease phone lines to competing operators.

Melly’s company TCL Telecom was one of the first and most innovative entrants, leasing lines from Telecom and selling services to corporate customers. It was founded with his wife Heidi in his New York apartment and when he returned to Dublin he hired his first two employees while running the business from his family home in Killiney.

Early investors included businessmen Liam Booth and Bernard Somers and Paul Coulson’s Yeoman International.

Within three years, multinational WorldCom, which was also an investor, paid £17million for the whole company, which netted then 31-year-old Melly an estimated £7million for his 40 per cent stake. As part of his contract, he remained WorldCom’s Irish boss for two years. Immediately after this period he founded eTel in 1999 to benefit from the new telecommunications markets in Eastern Europe. With 400 full-time employees and 45,000 corporate customers, it has become one of the largest independent telecom operators in the sector. In 2007 he sold eTel to Telekom Austria for an estimated EUR 100 million.

With his newfound fortune, he founded his own private investment company, Powerscourt Capital, which became involved in financing small businesses and start-ups. He also became Chairman of the Board of Trinity College Business School and was an Associate Professor at the university, where he taught Corporate Finance on the MBA program.

He ran unsuccessfully for a Seanad Éireann seat in the 2016 election and, during the campaign, accused then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny of “politicizing” the normally independent seats for TCD and the National University of Ireland, a charge supported by the Fine Gael was rejected as a leader.

Seán Melly has been ill for some time. His funeral was held at St Paul’s Church in Glenageary on Friday. He is survived by his six children. Obituary: Seán Melly, telecom millionaire and Trinity lecturer who founded several companies after selling his TCL Telecom

Fry Electronics Team

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