Saturday, June 22, 2024

Meet the secretive Apple executive riding high at Cheltenham

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Cathy Mariga was giddy with excitement, as would be any novice owner who had seen Maskada, their 22-1 outsider, cross the finish line more than six lengths clear at the Cheltenham Festival this week.

Amid the cheering crowds the middle-aged woman celebrating with her family passed almost unnoticed.

Yet under her maiden name of Cathy Kearney, she is the powerful yet secretive woman behind Apple’s operations in Europe. And she is estimated to have become one of Ireland’s richest businesswomen.

Kearney and her family celebrate Maskada’s win on day two of Cheltenham

TIM GOODE/PA

The mother of three has avoided publicity while overseeing the extraordinary growth of Apple and an impending £12.5 billion tax fight with the European Commission.

Maskada’s victory on Wednesday and her family’s growing horse racing and stud interests will force her increasingly into the spotlight.

An Irish business expert estimated this week that she was already worth €50 million to €100 million. There is no public record of the share options received from Apple, however. Since she joined the company in 1989 its share price has increased by 38,400 per cent.

Although the Mariga family is a minnow compared with JP McManus and Michael O’Leary, the giants of Irish horse racing, it is investing heavily in the sport of kings.

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Kearney, 59, helps her husband, Kieran, 63, a dairy farmer, run the Coolmara Stables on the outskirts Cork in southern Ireland.

They suffered heartbreak last year when Magic Of Light, the runner-up in the 2019 Grand National, who they bought for £165,000, died after giving birth to her first foal.

The family has significant land holdings in the area and has helped to promote local racing by creating a course for Killeagh point-to-point at Carrigarostig, about 20 miles from Cork. Kearney is a graduate of the local university and lives on a dairy farm outside Youghal, a seaside town a short drive from the centre of Cork.

A racegoer celebrates St Patrick’s Day yesterday

A racegoer celebrates St Patrick’s Day yesterday

PAUL CHILDS/REUTERS

Friends say that despite her wealth she has a modest lifestyle centred around her family, church and, increasingly, horse racing.

She is a powerful figure in the region as head of Apple’s operations in Hollyhill. It is the tech company’s second biggest base worldwide and the largest private sector employer in Cork, with 6,000 staff.

Kearney was working with a company of accountants in Cork on a project for Apple’s relatively small operation in the city when she was recruited. The Irish company last year recorded sales of $211 billion but profits fell from $70.3 billion to $26 billion. Products include the Beats headphone range founded by the producer Dr Dre.

Although Kearney avoids publicity she gave a rare interview in 2021 before the 40th anniversary of the start of Apple’s Irish operation in Cork, which has a population of only 220,000.

“Cork is genuinely a second home to Apple,” she said. “This is down to the people here. There’s a calibre of talent and a reputation here that is well established globally. We have built credibility here.”

The Marigas are fast getting used to winning ways. A week before the victory of Maskada, they had their first winner, Lantry Lady, who triumphed on her debut at Gowran Park, in Co Kilkenny. Henry de Bromhead, the trainer of Maskada, said: “The Marigas are great supporters . . . they put a lot into the game.”

Apple has spent more than 40 years in Cork

Apple has spent more than 40 years in Cork

Green shoots

• Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, opened a small factory in Cork in the Irish Republic in 1980 after the Dublin government promised tax advantages. Cathy Kearney, a young local accountant, joined the company nine years later and was appointed head of the Cork operation in 2004.

• Cork became the headquarters of Apple’s operations covering Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa. As a result billions in sales and profits flowed through its accounts.

• The European Commission ruled in 2016 that Ireland let Apple pay “substantially less tax than other businesses”. It said Apple’s corporation tax rate was as low as 0.005 per cent in 2014.

• The commission ordered Ireland to recover unpaid taxes from 2003 to 2014 of up to €13 billion, plus interest. The European General Court found in 2016 that the ruling was illegal — a decision that is now subject to an appeal.

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