An American investment company may save Waterford Crystal

A U.S. investment fund, KPS Capital Partners LP, has stepped up to save the jobs of hundreds of Irish workers. When the deal is finalized, the fund also will have saved one of the most treasured name brands in the world, Waterford Crystal.

The deal will also keep the brand in Waterford, the oldest Irish city, which has seen its name become synonymous with quality throughout the world.

As a first generation Irish-American, the thought that a U.S. based company had a direct hand in the saving of this iconic brand makes me very happy.

In our home, we have several prized Waterford pieces. We recently received a large Waterford vase, for work with Irish companies in the United States. We sent Waterford to two family members as wedding presents.

Ireland, like most countries, faces a tough few years. With the housing market collapse, Ireland’s economy, once thriving and the envy of many other European countries, is now running huge deficits (Sound familiar?). Unemployment has hit rates not seen since the 1980s.

The “Celtic Tiger” has certainly taken a pause. All the ingredients for success are still there: high per capita education, remarkably low business tax rates, a unique social partnership between business, unions, universities and government. But they have momentarily “lost their footing,” as the Irish expression goes.

It still helps that the population speaks English from birth, although with a quaint brogue.  It is a knowledge-based society. Even with all that, it will take a united effort to turn things around. 

So, in a symbolic way, saving Waterford could be considered one of the steps on the way back to prosperity.  Conversely, if the company had been moved to the Far East, as originally planned, it would have been like letting the air out of another balloon of the Irish psyche.  The fact that the Irish government has committed 10 million Euros to support the Waterford deal, shows the determination the country is known for.

Even so, the real work starts now.  Luxury goods are not really selling well. Some would say that they are brands from a different era which may not be practical in the minimalist decorating of today.

KPS seems to be swimming against this tide.  With the purchase of  Waterford Wedgwood PLC, the sterling names of Wedgwood,  Royal Daulton, both of the United Kingdom, and Rosenthal Porcelain of Germany, all part of the company’s china and crystal group, come under American control.

Earlier, KPS purchased the rights to Lenox Group Inc., a market leader in quality tabletop, giftware and collectible products.

Wedgwood and Georgia are indelibly connected. One of the most basic elements that goes into Wedgwood china is kaolin, a fine white clay. Georgia and South Carolina are the largest providers of this unique clay to the world.

It will be interesting to see what a group of venture capital entrepreneurs, who now own a majority of the iconic table-top brands names, will do next.  They have cornered the best of the best brand names that we have come to love and decorate our homes with.

Jim Gaffey is president of The Gaffey Group, Inc., an international consulting firm in Atlanta. E-mail him at: