Patrick Coveney: open and fran

As the Irish banks sink further into the mire of public controversy, their executives should take note of how Greencore chief executive Patrick Coveney handles trouble in far-off places. Last summer Coveney, a then neophyte chief executive, was hit with a €21m fraud at Greencore's Scottish mineral-water business.

The fraud was caused by a "deliberate concealment of costs".

Operating profit had to be slashed, there were red faces all around and questions were posed over internal controls at the company.

Coveney for his part came out swinging and admitted the company needed to review its controls and make sure similar problems were not present at other subsidiaries.

Coveney had little choice but to be as open and frank as possible seeing as he was chief financial officer in Dublin during some of the time when the fraud was taking place in Scotland.

Unlike the Irish banks, the company acknowledged the scale of the losses arising in Scotland from the start and a forensic review of its operations for wider problems was completed with ruthless efficiency.

Nevertheless, Coveney made sure the other subsidiaries were clear, managers were sacked, the auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) were given their marching orders and shareholders were given an apology.

Last week Coveney put the most definitive line possible under the whole fiasco by selling off the bottled-water business to Highland Spring for almost €20m. Proceeds will be used to pay down debt or to snatch new opportunities in the US.

The Scottish subsidiary was not only afflicted by a fraud problem, but it was also a loss maker in a market, bottled water, which is taking a hammering in the downturn as consumers cut out non-discretionaries.

Coveney is just about getting out of Scotland with his shirt on, but it's still refreshing to see Irish companies knowing when to draw the line and shift their capital to more fruitful pastures.

A year ago Coveney was being talked about as a very short-lived successor to David Dilger, but swift action and a refreshing level of frankness has now cemented him in the Greencore job.