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UCD honours Niall Fitzgerald, KBE and David McCourt for excellence in business

  • Date: Fri, Dec 9, 2022

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By Beth Gormley, UCD College of Business, PR and Communications Manager

Niall Fitzgerald and David McCourt were recognised at the 2022 UCD Conferring Ceremonies with Honorary Degrees of Doctor of Economic Science for their outstanding service to global business.

Niall Fitzgerald, KBE

A BComm graduate, Niall spent his executive career with Unilever, through a variety of postings spanning Ireland, the Netherlands, South Africa, the US and the UK, serving as an executive board member for 18 years and as Chairman and CEO from 1996 until 2004. On his appointment as Chairman of Unilever, Niall was both the youngest and the first non-English person ever appointed to the position.

Unilever’s reach is immense with annual sales in excess of €52bn and over 150,000 employees globally. Its products are available in over 190 countries and are used by over 3.4bn people daily. It manages 13 of the world’s top 50 brands. 

When appointed to lead Unilever’s operations in South Africa in 1980, Niall FitzGerald ran the company as if apartheid did not exist. Despite considerable external pressure, he paid employees equal wages regardless of colour or gender and he insisted on integrated facilities at plants. Unilever's strategy in South Africa was retrospectively endorsed when Nelson Mandela asked Niall to head the UK branch of his charitable foundation, the Nelson Mandela Legacy Trust.

In addition to his outstanding career accomplishments at Unilever, Niall has chaired a broad range of companies and public bodies, including as a small sample, Reuters, Hakluyt, the Nelson Mandela Legacy Trust, the Investment Climate Facility for Africa, the British Museum, the Leverhulme Trust Board, Brand Learning and the Munster Rugby Commercial Board. 

He has also served on the Boards of Bank of Ireland, Ericsson, Merck, Prudential Corporation and is a Patron of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.

Niall was made an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2002. He has also received the Distinguished Service award from the President of Ireland and holds a number of Honorary Doctorates from American, British and Irish universities. 

Niall has maintained a very active connection with UCD and chaired the Advisory Board of UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School from 2014 to 2018. 

“In recognising the accomplishments of Niall FitzGerald, we honour one of the most influential executives that Ireland has ever produced,” said Dean Brabazon. “We recognise a career of achievement at the very highest level of international business and a man who has made an outstanding global contribution to business and society.”

David McCourt

David has been recognised by the Economist magazine as having ‘impeccable credentials as a telecom revolutionary’. In a career spanning over thirty years, he is one of the world’s leading and most successful entrepreneurs in the technology, media and telecommunications industries, having founded or bought over twenty companies in nine countries.

Taking just a selection of his current business and other activities, David is Founder and Chairman of the global investment firm Granahan McCourt Capital, Chairman, of National Broadband Ireland, Inaugural Executive in Residence for Entrepreneurial Economics and Innovation at Georgetown University, and Economist in Residence at the University of Southern California Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy.

Amongst many awards and honours over the years, David has received ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ awards from Harvard Business School, Georgetown University and Ernst & Young LLP, a Presidential award from US President Ronald Regan recognising extraordinary accomplishments by private sector businesses, the Science Foundation Ireland medal for outstanding contribution to technology and innovation, and recently, the annual 'Businessman of the Year' award from Chambers Ireland.

By the late 1980s, David had gained a reputation as a telecoms visionary with the creation of Corporate Communications Network, the first competitive telephone network in the United States. This company was merged with Metropolitan Fibre Systems creating MFS McCourt.  MFS was later sold for $14.3 billion to MCI Worldcom. 

Many other entrepreneurial ventures in the technology, media and telecommunications industries followed including Discovery TV, expansion into the Mexican telecoms industry, expansion into Europe, and TV and film production. In 2005, David won an Emmy for the series ‘Reading Rainbow’, a long-running children's show that encourages reading.

In late 2019, Granahan McCourt became the successful bidder for Ireland's National Broadband Plan with David serving as Chairman, tasked with rolling out a future-proofed high-speed broadband network to over one million people. It is the biggest single investment project in Ireland since rural electrification and has taken on added significance in the wake of the global Covid pandemic and the move to remote working.

David also has close links with the university, having served as a member of the UCD Smurfit School North American Advisory Board for many years.

“UCD is proud to celebrate the success of David, a visionary who has reshaped and is continuing to reshape the telecommunications industry in the US, Ireland and beyond,” said Dean Brabazon. “We also honour a person who has given back in many ways including through his mentoring, supporting, and encouragement of young entrepreneurs to follow their dreams and seize opportunity.”

We offer our sincere appreciation and congratulations to Niall and David on their significant achievements! 


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