Archive for March, 2008
Sunday Business Post – Property Section – March 30 2008
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Irish-French developer Garrigae Investissements has announced the launch of its latest scheme, the Chateau de la Redorte Estate & Spa, a 19th century Languedoc country home which is being turned into a luxury apartment hotel.
The chateau is being refurbished with the support of its current owner, the Comtesse Dominique d’Artois, whose family has owned the chateau for seven generations and who will continue to live in one wing of the property with her family.
The Chateau de la Redorte site dates from the 13th century and the current building was established in the early 1800s. The facade of the building will be retained during the refurbishment, and interior features such as marble and cast-iron staircase fixtures, timber ceilings and parquet tiles will all be retained, keeping an authentic feel to the development, according to Dubliner Karl O’Hanlon, director general of Garrigae.
‘‘All the architecture will be inspired by the existing buildings,” O’Hanlon said. ‘‘Everything that can be restored will be restored.”
The Chateau de La Redorte development will feature a total of 42 apartments. Four will be located on the top floors of the refurbished chateau, with 19 in each of two independent new buildings facing the existing chateau. Prices (including furniture) start from €258,000 for a 52 square metre one-bedroom apartment with a seven square metre terrace and rise to €352,000 for 70 square metre two-bedroom apartments with 18 square metre terraces.
The developers say they are keen to retain a link with the local community. The chateau, which sits right in the centre of its eponymous village, has historically been a focal point for the surrounding region, with sumptuous receptions and recitals for the area’s lords and ladies, while its gardens, vineyards and farmland provided employment to the local people, and food and wine to the surrounding towns.
O’Hanlon said the Comtesse would host occasional dinner parties in the chateau’s new restaurant, and the hotel would employ local people and serve local produce. ‘‘This is the real south of France, as opposed to glitzy Provence,” he said.
The Comtesse said she had decided to allow Garrigae to develop the chateau as she agreed with their plans for the property. ‘‘We are friendly with (Garrigae president) Miguel Espada’s family, which created abond of trust between us,” she said. ‘‘I like the style and the flavour of the project, particularly the integration with the local community. It is a way of keeping the family’s cultural and financial inheritance intact.”
Completion for the project is scheduled for summer 2010. The refurbished chateau will feature a bar, restaurant, games room and cinema on the ground floor, with salon, library, music room and kid’s club above. A new spa, reached via a converted 18th century tunnel, will feature indoor and outdoor hydrotherapy pools, hammam and sauna, and the raised gardens will have views of nearby villages and the Montagne Noir.
‘‘It will operate as a hotel with full restaurant and facilities,” said O’Hanlon. ‘‘There will be a really sociable atmosphere with a relaxed, informal, barefoot style.”
All of the properties are being sold through Garrigae’s sliding leaseback scheme, which makes use of French government incentives to avoid VAT on both the property purchase and rental returns.
Rental income is guaranteed for 20 years at 4.66 per cent per annum if owners do not use the property, or they can choose to take a smaller return and stay up to six months per year at their apartment or other Garrigae properties dotted around the Languedoc region.
These include Le Couvent d’He repian, a converted 17th century convent which is now a boutique hotel in the tiny Haute Languedoc village of He¤ re¤ pian; Le Domaine Des Pins, a scheme of 15 stone built villas in the Languedoc village of Durban; or the Les Jardins de Saint Benoit vineyard estate and spa in the Corbieres region.
The village of la Redorte has a number of restaurants, shops and banks within walking distance of the hotel. The picturesque Canal du Midi, with its canalside bistros, is 500 metres away, while the nearest beaches are a half hour drive away. La Redorte is a thirty minute drive from Carcassone airport, which is served by Ryanair from Dublin, Cork and Shannon, and a sixty-minute drive from Perpignan airport, which is served by Ryanair from Dublin.
LeHameau duTemple is another development that makes use of Languedoc’s historical and cultural legacy. Featuring 19 traditionally designed three or four-bedroom villas built from reclaimed stones and roof tiles, it is located in the Languedoc village of Garrigues Sainte Eulalie.
According to agents Chesterton International prices at Le Hameau du Temple start from €560,000 and the properties range in size from 110 to 190 square metres.
Independent property consultant Phillipa Pignat said the Languedoc-Roussillon region looks set to be popular with investors in 2008. Pignat pointed to figures released by the Association of the Notaires de France which showed that prices increased in 2007 by 15 per cent for resale houses, 18 per cent for resale apartments and 5 per cent for new build properties.
Pignat said the Languedoc, with its mix of cultural and historical sites ranging from Roman ruins at Nimes to colourful cobbled market towns such as Pezenas and Uze’s, was attracting investors and holiday makers away from more established regions in southern France.
‘‘Foreign purchasers are now purchasing properties inland within an hour’s drive of the sea due to the charm of the villages, the beautiful landscape of rolling hills and vineyards and the affordable prices,” said Pignat.
‘‘While Provence suffers from the mistral and the French Riviera bears the high number of tourists and construction sites, the Languedoc appears more tranquil and more authentic.”
For more information on the Chateau de la Redorte contact Douglas Newman Good International at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01-4912600.
For more information on Le Hameau du Temple contact Chesterton International on 1800-805634 or log onto www.chesterton-international.com.
Sunday Business Post – Done Deal section – March 30 2008
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Irish book retailer Hughes & Hughes has invested €1.5 million in two outlets at Heathrow Airport’s newly opened Terminal Five (T5), in London.
With a combined total of 4,000 square feet of retail space, the two new stores will employ 60 staff.
Built at a total cost of stg£4.3 billion, Heathrow’s T5 will cater for 30 million passengers annually. Hughes & Hughes, the only Irish retailer based in the terminal, will operate alongside global brands Prada, Tiffany & Co and Harrods.
Hughes & Hughes chief executive Derek Hughes said securing the T5 contract was a major coup for the company. ‘‘There is a real ‘who’s who’ of international retail represented in Terminal Five, so it is very exciting for us,” he said.
Over the course of its initial five-year tenancy agreement with the British Airport Authority (BAA), the two Hughes & Hughes bookstores are expected to generate sales of €70 million.
BAA awarded the contract to the Irish-owned retailer, following a four-month tendering and consultation process.
‘‘There was strong international competition from global retailers,” said Hughes. ‘‘We were up against people like Borders and WH Smith. It was great to come out ahead.”
The company’s background – it has been involved in the specialised travel retail sector for fifteen years – was a major factor in the BAA’s decision to award the contract, Hughes said.
‘‘We have a good track record for the last five years in London City Airport, and also in Dublin, Shannon and Cork,” he said.
‘‘The ability to deliver the design, the operational side of things and the product focus, as a specialist bookseller, was important. We also had to come up with a strong financial proposal.”
The €1.5 million capital expenditure means the new outlets feature the latest in bookstore design and technology.
‘‘They are leading-edge bookstores that surpass any other bookstore you would see in the world,’’ Hughes said.
‘‘We have put together a whole new design concept with Dublin-based design partners McCabe Design. There is a strong digital representation to the stores. We can take podcasts from the publisher websites, and there is a link with our own website.”
The first Hughes & Hughes bookstore opened in Arnotts on Henry Street in 1983.There are now 21 outlets located throughout Britain and Ireland, employing 325 staff.
The business is still owned and managed by the Hughes family. Last year, its turnover was €42 million. This year, Hughes said he expected revenue to rise significantly.
‘‘Apart from T5, we are also opening in Dundrum and in the Pavillions in Swords,” he said. ‘‘We will go over €60 million in 2008.”
Hughes said further international expansion would be key to the company’s continued growth and success. ‘‘We are an ambitious business and look to compete with the best in the world,” he said. ‘‘To attract strong talent, you have to be a growing business and create opportunities for everyone within it.
‘‘Coming through the process forT5 shows we can compete on an international scale, and we would certainly be looking over the next few years to move into other international airports.”
Sunday Business Post – Recruitment Pages – March 16 2008
Absenteeism is costing Irish business more than €1.1 billion a year. Firms must create good morale and proper procedures to deal with an ever-increasing nuisance, writes Dermot Corrigan.
Absenteeism is costing Irish business more than €1.1 billion per annum and this sum continues to rise every year, according to research compiled by Isme, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association.
“The cost of absenteeism to Irish business has doubled in the last couple of years,” said ISME chief executive Mark Fielding. “This has happened because of an increase in the number of the days lost per person, the fact that there are more people working now than there were a few years ago, and the fact that people are earning more.”
In December, Isme surveyed over 2,000 small and medium-sized companies, employing a total of more than 50,000 employees, and found that employees were absent for an average of eight days annually, excluding holidays and other authorised absences. Less than half of these unauthorised absences were due to legitimate reasons, according to Fielding.
“Unauthorised absenteeism is where people just take days off without a sick note or without getting permission,” said Fielding. “We asked owner-managers whether they thought malingering was taking place, and they said about 60 per cent of the unauthorised time taken was due to feigned illness or malingering. Five days out of every eight was down to people pulling duvet days or sickies.”
Fielding said the €1.1 billion did not include substantial indirect costs arising out of unauthorised staff absence. He said ‘unseen’ costs due to disruption, late deliveries, decline in employee morale, dissatisfied customers and deteriorating productivity, were often are greater than the direct or visible costs.
“It is like the iceberg,” said Fielding, “about one tenth is above the water and nine tenths is below. With small businesses, two people out of ten going absent really puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the staff. If you are missing deadlines and missing deliveries, your customers will vote with their feet.”
Dr. Gerard McMahon, consultant and lecturer in human resource management at Dublin Institute of Technology, said that larger organisations were even more likely to be affected by absenteeism than smaller companies.
“The public sector and large organisations, with big work groups, by default will see more than the private sector and small organisations and work groups,” he said.
Detection and deterrence
Helena Broderick, managing consultant with CollierBroderick Management Consultants, advised employers to put in place policies and procedures relating to absenteeism for employees to follow.
“There should be a proper notification procedure, and they should have to ring in themselves to their manager or an appointed person,” said Broderick. “Someone should not be texting, or having someone ring on their behalf with a story. That (approach) stops quite a lot of absence.”
Broderick said it was possible for employers to detect cases where employees are dishonestly claiming sick days.
“You should also look at the particular days that people are absent – Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays after a bank holiday are bad signs,” she said. “If they are getting the vomiting bug on a regular basis, that is a trigger in itself. If you have doubts, then you should send them to the company doctor to determine whether there is a medical issue or if they are fit to work. Having that option in the contract of employment can help to reduce absences.”
Sometimes, unauthorised absences can flag up a wider problem within the organisation, according to Broderick.
“It is often about the culture,” she said. “It can be down to morale in the workplace. You find hardly any absences in companies that have a culture of high standards, high performance and everybody giving their all.”
Bad relationships with boss and co-workers can cause absenteeism, Broderick said.
“Absenteeism can be a sign of a poor relationship with other colleagues or personality clashes, or bullying or harassment taking place,” she said. “If the relationship with the boss is not good, people will not feel like coming into work to listen to negativity from someone they do not respect.”
Unmotivated and bored employees are more likely to miss work, Broderick said.
“It can be down to the job design,” she said. “We were dealing with a case recently, where it turned out that one woman was totally bored in her job. She was not motivated at all. We made a few changes, and added variety and challenge, and that sorted the problem.”
Solving the problem
Fielding said that the first step to dealing with an absenteeism problem was to keep accurate attendance records.
“Companies need to measure it, because if they do not measure it they cannot manage it,” he said. “In many cases managers have told us that they were shocked themselves when they sat down and went through their records and discovered how many sick days they had had. “
A ‘back to work’ interview should be held as soon as the employee returns to work, McMahon said.
“These meetings or interventions serve to clearly signal to employees that their absence was noticed and that they were missed,” he said. “This approach should demonstrate that absence is a high priority for the employer and that stated policies in this area are actually being put into practice on a consistent basis.”
Fielding said that the implementation of structured ‘back to work’ interviews had cut unauthorised absences by 55 per cent among ISME members.
“We found the back to work interview to be of major help,” he said. “The morning they arrive back in after being out for three days or whatever, there is a procedure. Everybody, whether it was an authorised absence or not, needs to go to their supervisor or owner-manager and sit down and go through a structured interview.”
McMahon said that the employee’s immediate supervisor or manager should be prepared to conduct the interview.
“Managers must be appropriately trained in how to conduct these interviews, to help ensure their effectiveness, together with a high level of fairness and consistency,” he said. “In this respect the recent discovery by Mercer HR Consultants – that almost half of Irish managers with responsibility for the management of absenteeism receive no training in the area – is disturbing.”
Broderick said it should be possible to flag up potential absenteeism issues during the recruitment process.
“Psychometric tests can be valuable, but a good structured interview is the most important,” she said. “These days people are very well versed at how to present themselves at interview, so the interviewer has to be really a few steps ahead. You have to ask them for specific evidence and examples to demonstrate their level of motivation, drive, energy and initiative.”
Fielding said that, for many smaller businesses, talking to a candidate’s past employers was the most effective method of discovering a potential malingerer.
“It is quite difficult to find a malingerer at the recruitment stage,” he said. “The reference is the best way of doing it – ringing the previous employers and hopefully, they will tell what the previous attendance record was like.
Fielding advised employers to put in place a disciplinary process for individuals who do not come to work.
“Not only do employees have rights and employers have responsibilities, it also goes the other way around,” he said. “The employer has the right to expect the employee to come in and do a day’s work and the employee has a responsibility to do that. If they cannot do that, for whatever reason, then there could be a case for disciplinary procedures, and ultimately, for dismissal.”
Jennifer Clarke, senior associate in the employment, pensions and employee benefits unit of LK Shields Solicitors, said a well- constructed absence management policy helped employers to deal with absenteeism fairly.
“Such policies set out processes and procedures for both employees and those within the company tasked with responsibility for recording and managing absence of employees,” Clarke said. “They will typically include the following five stages – initial discussion or counselling interview with the employee, verbal warning, written warning, final written warning or possible temporary suspension from employment with or without pay, and termination of employment.”
“It is important that the disciplinary procedure put in place by the employer is in writing and is communicated throughout the workplace so that both management and employees are aware of the employer’s policy and procedure in relation to absenteeism,” Clarke said. “The Employment Appeals Tribunal (“EAT”) will take into consideration whether such procedures were adhered to when assessing the fairness or otherwise of a dismissal.
Clarke said employers were expected to try and solve the absenteeism problem internally, before deciding to fire an employee.
“When dealing with any form of absence from work it is vital that an employer acts in a fair and reasonable manner,” she said. “The employer must manage and seek to improve the issue of absence within the workplace and try to determine how the absence might be best dealt with. This may include for example, facilitating an employee in a different capacity or position to that which they were initially employed to carry out. Such measures should be taken by an employer prior to taking the decision to dismiss an employee.