A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Hooptedoodle #235 - The Brief Reign of Michael Dolan

[Since I have no competent hobby stuff going on at the moment, I thought I'd post a story from my old archives, to keep my eye in and in case someone might find it entertaining.]

I once worked for a very large insurance company. They were very famous – real market leaders, of impeccable repute. This company had a network of branch offices all over the British Isles, and these branches were managed by top salesmen, and staffed by people with great experience and a worthy tradition in the industry.

The salesmen used to hunt in packs – the chief salesmen in a branch would each have a team of junior salesmen appointed, and the credit for individual new policies was divided up among the team by some dark art which resulted in the most senior men getting the biggest slice of the sales commission each year. That’s how the industry worked in those days. You may imagine the characters who topped the company’s sales league tables each year – good, solid, extrovert types – the backbone of their local golf club, with a lot of private education on the CV, membership of round tables, masonic orders, and so on.

Predictably, the branches which featured at the top of the lists were places like Brighton, London West End, Manchester, Reading, Oxford and so forth. Each year, the awards at the Annual Conference went to the same old names, from the same old places, and if they hadn’t been turning over so much money it would all have been a bit tedious, I guess.

Then, one year around 1981, there was a new name at the top of the list. This was one of those brief golden ages which were occasionally handed to the insurance industry – prosperity was increasing, and there was a huge upsurge in the house-buying market, so things were going well anyway, but an unexpected star was born. Michael Dolan was a fairly junior member of staff, and he worked out of the company’s branch office in Cork, down at the southern tip of the Republic of Ireland. Yet he generated an astonishing amount of new business that year – an all-time company record – and came from nowhere to top the lists, having sold almost three times the total for the man who was second. The company, of course, was very keen on ethical sales behaviour, and even more keen on protecting the interests of their regular Good Old Boys, so there was some kind of an internal enquiry.

No problem – young Mr Dolan had simply sold a phenomenal amount of new business – almost all of it the newfangled Capital Bond type of savings contract, and all of it correctly and very deliberately allocated to his own personal sales record. There was a great deal of muttering, as you might expect – Michael was seen variously as a cheeky upstart or as a fresh hero and inspiration for the younger staff, and became the object of universal envy. The established order was under threat, but somehow it mattered rather less during what appeared to be a gold rush of some sort.

In those days, money-laundering regulations were in their infancy, and it is possible that such matters were viewed in a more relaxed fashion in the Republic anyway. Michael retained his status as top salesman of the year, but he left rather suddenly and went to work for someone else, outside the industry, which was all a bit strange, but no further details were forthcoming. Some years later, while drinking beer with some of the local staff on a visit to Cork, I heard the truth behind this great mystery.

The Dolan family had connections in the fishing industry in the area. At that time, local trawler captains suddenly found that they could make money very quickly and very painlessly by unloading their entire catch onto Russian factory ships, which worked just outside territorial waters. They got a good price for the fish, paid in cash, with no tax liability, and this did away with that messy business of conforming to official international quotas and of landing the stuff in port and hoping for good prices at auction. Of course, this was terribly illegal, but a lot of it went on, the local fishing fleet was suddenly working very hard, and the fishermen were left only with the problem of making this dodgy money disappear. What could have been more respectable than one of Michael Dolan’s shiny new Capital Bonds, all countersigned and on nice legal paper?

A trawler with a Russian factory ship
Michael was known and trusted by the fishermen, and he used to receive messages to meet various returning captains in the docks area – usually in pubs, at night. Apparently this was rather more unruly than such business deals were normally. Cars with their boots stuffed with banknotes would be at the meetings – I have a vision of carrier bags jammed full of notes, all smelling faintly of cod. The notes, apparently, were all used and untraceable. To add a quaint touch of professionalism, Michael used to employ the out-of-hours services of one Miss Hegarty, from a local bank, who could count and bundle loose cash quickly and accurately and issue an official-looking receipt. Presumably the money went into some account of Michael’s, but it was all paid very correctly into his employer’s sales account, and in the general hysteria surrounding this flood of prosperity, no-one bothered to look too carefully at what was going on.

It was too good to last. All sorts of loopholes were tightened up, the Russian ships were discouraged from operating in Irish waters, the whole fishing fleet was more carefully policed, money-laundering regulation of the finance industry arrived in a very large truck indeed, and it was all over. Exactly who would have been in trouble if it had come to the eyes of officialdom, and in how many ways, is an interesting thought.

Anyway, the mystery disappeared very quickly - it simply never happened. The people in our Cork branch obviously dreamed up the whole thing, to amuse themselves, and they certainly changed the names and the locations in the process, to add to the amusement.

Nothing to see here – move along please.

Michael who…?


  1. HAHA Simply brilliant story.

    (For some reason I found myself reading it in a Cork accent?!?!)

  2. This could possibly be a very interesting film. Complete fiction of course.

    Best Regards,


  3. Lovely story. For those who believe in government regulation, it's a cautionary tale of why the grubby hand of the market shouldn't be left to itself.

    1. The fishermen won in every possible direction for a little time - while they could ignore the regulatory catch limits, they got the tax free dirty money and, of course, the reduced amount of fish which made it back to Cork was fetching very high prices at auction. Win-win-win. Obviously they became indiscreet, and blew it, but the feeling of the day was that the trawlermen knew their future was bleak, and the aim was to earn enough quickly to get out of the business. It would be interesting to know how much fishing goes on there now. A friend emailed to say that the same combination of short-term greed and Russian factory ships effectively killed the Cornish fishing trade around the same time. Interesting - though untrue, of course (said with a Cork accent).

      It has always been a feature of ethical businesses that their eyesight is sometimes obscured by the pound (or dollar) signs in their eyes.

  4. I had a fishy smelling five pound note in my change the other week... though I was in the fish and chip shop at the time.. :o))

    1. There you go, you see - I rest my case...