Author Archives: Jack Manning

Meet the team behind EiSHT – a start-up strengthening young people’s soft skills

EiSHT is a social enterprise created by a team of management professionals and avid volunteers who together possess years of experience in recruiting, training and developing young people. Caroline O’Connor initially came up with the idea in January en route back from an event with Naas No Name! Club.  What began as a means of helping young people achieve their goals in getting their first summer jobs has evolved and adapted to what the market seeks.  It has become a programme to help arm young people with the skills, competence and self-awareness required to adapt to the rapidly evolving workplace.  “We want you to have the skills, confidence and competency to be the High Potential Leaders of the future and to realise your superpowers”. 

EiSHT was born – Emotionally intelligent, Skilled, Happy Teens – from paying attention to the recurring concerns of teenagers and young adults under 25 and of recruiters, trainers and managers of under 25s.

What sets this programme apart is that it is founded on the core pillars of employability, professionalism, self-awareness, gratitude and social citizenship.  It focusses on soft skills, which are not part of the second level curriculum, to build resilience and adaptability going into third level and beyond.  It will be delivered through a combination of self-organised learning on their online platform, psychometrics, workshops, and coaching.  “Where we are in the 4th industrial revolution, this programme will help to secure the options and opportunities for young people in the humanisation of work”.

Caroline O’Connor was elevated to the Short Term Enterprise Allowance in the summer.  Intreo supported her completion of that programme and enabled her to come to Trinity via Springboard to join Tangent on the PgC in Creative Thinking, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  “It’s been an avalanche of progress and proved that once you make the first terrifyingly challenging decision, everything else starts to fall into place and so many doors have opened”.  Caroline, mother of two, has over 20 years’ experience in hospitality and FMCG.  She has been involved with No Name! Club since senior secondary school and has run the Naas club for the past four years. 

The organisation works with TY to 6th year students on a programme of social confidence without peer pressure of alcohol and other drugs.  Conor Dalgarno is the web designer, developer and technical genius behind EiSHT.  One of the first .IE registrars, Conor works with start-ups consistently through this ownership of Silkweb Group.  Aside from being a classic car owner and enthusiast, he is the voluntary director of youth rugby with Navan RFC.  Aoife Sheehy is their coach, mentor and psychometrics whiz from their partners in Thomas International.  Aoife was on the UCC Ignite Incubator with her previous employer and is fellow volunteer of No Name! Club.  Caroline brought the team together with their shared core drive to make a social imprint and improve opportunities for young people.

Partnerships with Thomas International, Dulann.com, Silkweb Group and John Murray Headshots have propelled this idea into a fully supported, scalable solution.  The team is charging on, with help from the TES team & Incubator, the Tangent team and others.  The next stage includes rolling out further trials in second level education and development of the web platform.  The whole programme is scalable and can be exported – the key for the team is to continue to prototype and reiterate each stage of the process to its customers. Results from trials have so far proved that the team is set to make EiSHT a social success. 

Saudi Aramco’s impending IPO is set to be the largest in history

  • The oil giant’s mammoth IPO, to be formally announced this Sunday, is set to earn $40 billion for the kingdom.
  • Saudi Arabia is pushing forward after delays caused by international scandals, drone-attacks and fears of an economic downturn.
  • Investment banks are sharing in $450 million in fees paid out by Aramco in exchange for help with the listing, to the dismay of environmental and human rights groups.

Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco has been planning its initial public offering (IPO) for about three years. The energy company is the most profitable in the world, making $111 billion last year – more than the top five publicly traded oil companies combined. On Thursday the government is expected to give the official thumbs-up for the IPO to go ahead, and a formal declaration is to take place this Sunday.

The Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s hope is that selling 3% of the shares in Aramco will raise money (estimated at $40 billion) for the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, and the proceeds are going to be used to diversify the Saudi Arabian economy away from an over-reliance on oil. This means it is projected to be the largest IPO ever, with the next highest being Alibaba’s 2014 IPO which raked in $25 billion.

A portion of the oil giant’s shares will be floated on the domestic stock exchange in the capital Riyadh, called the Tadawul, with general plans to pursue a listing on an international exchange at a later date. Why is it that such a lucrative opportunity for the kingdom has taken years to come to fruition?

Intense global backlash related to the murder of the outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia’s government, Jamal Khashoggi, last year almost certainly spooked international investors and resulted in the oil company pushing back its IPO. But more recent crises have heaped uncertainty on the nation’s oil industry specifically.

On September 14, two of Aramco’s largest refineries at Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by drones, paralysing about half of the nation’s oil production (output plummeted by ~5.7 million barrels per day, which equates to about 5% of global oil production) and destabilising global financial markets. The U.S, a host of European countries and Saudi Arabia itself blamed Iran for the bombings, although the Yemeni Houthis declared themselves responsible.

Aramco states that it has recovered production to pre-drone strike levels, at about 10 million barrels per day. This remains shy of its full capacity of 12 million barrels that it expects to reach by the end of November. While this suggests the oil giant may be resilient in its ability to rebound back to its preferred output, the attacks nonetheless reveal major vulnerabilities in the firm’s infrastructure. Its seeming unpreparedness for threats of this nature no doubt worried potential investors, delaying its IPO.  

On October 7th, one of the Big Three credit rating agencies, Fitch Ratings, downgraded Saudi Aramco’s credit score by a notch given these concerns over security. In addition to all this, at the beginning of this week the price of a barrel of Brent crude measured at less than $60, and this is below the level prior to the drone attack. This signals universal fear among investors of an impending global economic slowdown.

Nonetheless, it’s full steam ahead for Aramco’s entrance to the public market, and in its effort to sweeten the deal for hesitant investors the firm is offering $75 billion in annual dividends. The kingdom is also going to pay between $350-$450 million in fees to professional advisors in exchange for help with selling its shares. This equates to about 1% of the expected proceeds of $40 billion, which is a lower proportion than many engaged in the project were anticipating. For comparison, Alibaba paid $300 million to its pool of investment bankers, coming to about 1.2% of its $25 billion proceeds.

Among those hired to sell Aramco’s shares are ex-Trump national security advisor and partner at Goldman Sachs Dina Powell, and ex- United States congress representative Eric Cantor. According to Bloomberg, “The roster of bankers reads like a who’s who of finance, underscoring the importance of Saudi Arabia a year after the murder of government critic Jamal Khashoggi prompted a brief spell of skittishness over doing business with the country.”

A question hovers over the company’s valuation. The Crown Prince originally desired a valuation of $2 trillion – but this looks to be overly ambitious. A recent Economist report which took the dividend yield as a reliable metric for valuing an energy company found that a valuation of about $1.2 trillion is closer to the mark.

The listing has incited criticism from a swathe of environmental advocacy groups (such as Earthworks and Share Action), discouraging potential investors from financing “the biggest single infusion of capital into the fossil fuel industry” since the passing of the Paris climate agreement in 2016. It has also attracted the ire of human rights watchdogs, who blast Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record in a letter sent to nine international banks associated with Aramco’s IPO (such as JP Morgan Chase and Credit Suisse). The antipathy is only set to escalate following the formal announcement this coming Sunday.

Facebook’s New Global Cryptocurrency, Libra, Hits a Regulatory Roadblock

  • In June Facebook unveiled its plans to launch a new cryptocurrency named Libra, planned to be rolled out in the first half of 2020.
  • Despite efforts to soothe privacy and antitrust anxiety, backlash to the proposal is relentless.
  • A recent Financial Times report suggests that some of its backers are due to cut ties in the wake of severe regulatory scrutiny.

Facebook have announced plans to roll out a new cryptocurrency, called Libra, in the first half of the coming year. The new digital currency can be conceived as a sort of fusion between Bitcoin and fintech services such as Revolut – users will be able to exchange their money for Libra coin and send and receive funds instantly via Facebook’s messenger services, Messenger and Whatsapp. But its ambitions are massive. The long-term aim of Facebook is to build a global digital currency and render worldwide transactions fee-free, instantaneous, and unrestricted.

Libra is an effort by the social media company to build a payments system in the west akin to Tencent and Alibaba’s success in China. There the proliferation of mobile payments – facilitated by Tencent’s WeChat and Alibaba’s Alipay (together accounting for 93% of Chinese mobile payments) – are bringing the country ever-closer to complete cashlessness. WeChat itself originated in 2011 primarily as an instant messaging app, and only integrated a digital wallet in 2014 to compete with Alipay. In this sense Facebook appears to be following a similar route in its quest to dominate the payments industry and quash cryptocurrency and fintech rivals alike – by offering Libra to the 2.4 billion users it already has on its platform.

Facebook seeks to win users over and capture a huge share of the financial payments industry by solving the flaws inherent in Bitcoin – the decade-old and ceaselessly volatile cryptocurrency suffers from long waits for transactions to complete, huge energy costs in said transactions, and an erratic and unpredictable price. The sending and receiving of Libra coin is to be near-instant, intended to consume as little energy as standard debit card transactions, and will be tied to several global currencies in order that its price remain stable.

In order to mitigate privacy concerns or uneasiness that signing up to Libra grants Facebook a disconcerting amount of access to peoples’ financial activity, Facebook says it will decentralise all decision-making related to its currency. A diverse group of 28 firms is to form the Libra Association (including Mastercard, Visa, Spotify, and Uber) responsible for monitoring Libra’s blockchain – that is, the database which keeps track of who owns which Libra coin. Facebook claims that relinquishing exclusive control of access to peoples’ financial data to this group of firms ought to soothe privacy-conscious users’ fears. It’s an uphill battle though, particularly given sustained criticism of its handling of users’ data following the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year. This is partly responsible for the decline Facebook is seeing in usership. In Ireland, the last nine months has seen a drop of 300,000 users – mostly young people. “[Facebook] have twice as many over 50s than they do people under 18,” according to Newstalk’s Jess Kelly.

This trend away from the social network does not bode well for ambitious business ventures on Facebook’s part. But it’s the red tape associated with establishing a new currency that presents the biggest obstacle to the firm’s success. An official investigation into Libra has been opened by EU antitrust agents, and a backlash from data-protection officials across the globe fuelled by privacy- and competition-concerns is raging.

The sting of such regulatory opposition is beginning to be felt at Facebook. In a Financial Times report last week entitled Facebook’s Libra backers look to distance themselves from project, FT claimed that three of Libra’s founding backers professed apprehension about the intense scrutiny of regulators, and a desire to cut off ties with the project altogether. Worsening tension between Facebook (who have “become exasperated by the [project’s] members, according to two people close to the project,”) and the Libra Association may herald a delay in Libra’s arrival, particularly if others in the Libra group share their more vocal colleagues’ dismay. If the tension devolves into outright enmity, perhaps Libra will be shelved altogether, with an augmented form of a mobile payments system to be developed in its place.

Whether Facebook surmounts the tide of regulatory hostility or not, its drive to diversify away from advertising revenue into the global payments system is clear. If this ambition is to successfully take shape in the form of Libra in the next nine months, or some other mutation of same further down the line remains to be seen.

Cold War II: US / China Trade Hostilities Intensify

  • After a breakdown in talks in May, America imposed tariffs on another $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.
  • Economic leaders have warned of the worsening detrimental impact on the global economy, as China retaliated with a $60 billion tariff on American exports. 
  • Now Trump says he will raise tariffs further (on another $300 billion worth of goods) if his Chinese counterpart fails to join him at the G20 later this month.

The US government’s weaponization of its role as an economic superpower is a dramatic deviation from prior administrations’ approach to trade. Where before America sought out multilateral trade deals with allies and open engagement with competing economies (like China’s), today Trumponomics comprises a pursuit of bilateral trade deals with allies and a confrontational approach to nations it deems adversarial.

America’s levying of tariffs and its decision to instigate a trade conflict with China is intended to serve a dual purpose – to stimulate domestic manufacturing by making it financially preferable to produce at home what otherwise would have been imported from China, and to coerce Chinese leaders into adopting fairer trade and business practices. The first ambition appears to be making at least some headway, with a recent Bank of America report suggesting that American manufacturing firms are beginning to shift their supply chains away from China and increasingly localising. The second has seen no results – after months of trade talks between the two nations, throughout which many observers grew optimistic, diplomacy collapsed, and each side walked away having gained zero concessions. The conflict quickly escalated, with America slapping a further $200 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese imports, China retaliating in kind, and the global market reeling.

The result thus far has been that, according to The US China Business Council and the US-China Investment Project, US exports to China declined by 7% and Chinese investment in the US tumbled by 60% in 2018. The figures for 2019 are set to paint an even grimmer picture with the escalation of the trade struggle.

The former Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson is gloomy about the precedents set by Trump’s America First policy, warning of a looming “Economic Iron Curtain”, one that “throws up new walls on each side and un-makes the global economy, as we have known it.” He suggests that the intensifying clash between the US and China extends beyond trade and the ratcheting up of tariffs, and that even if a deal is achieved their relationship will remain invariably tense. As set out by The Economist in The Trade War and Big Tech, “The trade war between America and China has already spread from tariffs to encompass legal extradition, venture capital and the global dollar-payments system.”

The most compelling case to be made for this is the American government’s all-out warfare on the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. On May 15th the American Commerce Department announced that domestic firms would need a special licence to do business with Huawei, and the government has attempted to shut the firm out of its technological infrastructure while imploring its allies to do likewise. America also seeks the extradition of Huawei’s CFO in order to prosecute her for eluding sanctions on Iran. The US administration argues from a national security standpoint – that such is the effort to prevent the Chinese government from exploiting Huawei devices to spy on US citizens. Huawei have responded publicly, stating that they are not obligated to do what the Communist Party tells them. Trump said last weekend that his administration’s endeavour to ban Huawei from America’s digital network could end as part of a trade negotiation with China, which appears to contradict his prior stance that the company threatens national security.

Trump’s approach to trade may be overly aggressive and economically destabilising given its erratic implementation and unpredictability, but it is important to note that many of his concerns are justified. China and its businesses are accused by the West of shirking the World Trade Organisation’s economic rules (of which China has been a member since 2001). Its system of state capitalism means Chinese firms are often impelled to engage in theft of technology at the behest of the Communist Party, and when American and other western businesses wish to enter the Chinese market, they are pressured to hand over intellectual property in exchange for permission to do business there. This is due to China’s restrictive business laws which obligate foreign companies to form joint ventures with domestic Chinese companies when they set up shop, and these enforced partnerships involve a so-called “technology transfer”. Calls for action transcend party lines in American politics – Republicans and Democrats agree that China ought to be confronted.

But many fear the current government uses tariffs less as a tool for bettering economic relationships, and more as a cudgel for wresting concessions from trade partners. America is weaponizing its role as an economic superpower not only to hurt its adversaries’ economies, but also to compel its allies into acquiescing to its demands – which sometimes are not even related to trade. On May 30th, Trump threatened Mexico with a 5% tariff on all its exports to America, rising by 5% every month to 25% by October if immigration flows do not fall. This would have disastrous repercussions for the Mexican economy – according to Citibank 25% tariffs would crush the peso’s value by 59%, stating with optimism that “the consequences of this policy could be so extreme we see it as unlikely to happen”. Even so, Trump’s use of the threat of tariffs as retaliation for something that is not related to trade (immigration levels) is unprecedented.

The US president will meet Xi Jinping later this month at the G20 summit, and the hope is that a meeting of the minds will revivify trade negotiations. Trump’s threat to raise tariffs by a further $300 billion if Jinping fails to appear isn’t exactly damning, given that there has been no indication that the Chinese president plans to boycott the summit. The US president appeared to acknowledge the emptiness of the threat, stating: “I would be surprised if he didn’t go. I think he’s going. I haven’t heard that he’s not. We’re expected to meet and if we don’t that’s fine and if we do that’s fine.” In the meantime, trade between the two nations will continue to plummet, and the global economy will bear the burden.