Sir Anthony O’Reilly, one of Ireland’s leading businessmen, 1936-2024

Sir Anthony O’Reilly, who has died aged 88 after making and losing one of Ireland’s biggest fortunes, was a rugby star who became a businessman, philanthropist and his country’s most famous tycoon.

He first became famous in business circles as the creator of the successful Kerrygold marketing campaign for Irish dairy products in the early 1960s. But he was already a familiar figure thanks to his performances. Brilliant performance on the rugby field. He was capped 29 times for Ireland between 1955 and 1970 and also played for the British Lions.

O’Reilly, who was better known as Tony even after being knighted in 2001 for his services to Northern Ireland, was born in 1936, the son of a senior civil servant. He had a conventional Irish middle-class upbringing in Dublin, but things took an unusual turn when, at the end of his school days, he discovered that his parents were not married to each other. . His mother simply took O’Reilly as her surname according to the deed poll. There was no divorce in Ireland, his father remained legally married to another woman and had three children.

After this information was made public in a 1990s biography, some speculated that O’Reilly’s unusual background may have motivated him to achieve the success he achieved in both sports and business. joint.

Tony O’Reilly, playing for the Lions, defeats DJ Davison of the Junior All Blacks in a match in Wellington, New Zealand in 1959 © Getty Images

Whatever his talents, O’Reilly drew on his unusual qualities of intelligence, determination and stamina, along with humor and charm, to remarkable effect. tell. He began his business career as a management consultant to clients including a gnome gardener whose later problems gave him a rich trove of anecdotes about many after-dinner speeches he was invited to give.

His first executive role was in Dublin in the early 1960s when he was put in charge of An Bord Bainne, a new government organization aimed at promoting Ireland’s dairy industry. O’Reilly has created a viable manufacturing and marketing strategy, At the age of 26, brought Irish butter and cheese to the international market with the launch of Kerrygold.

When a board member objected that “there are no cows in Kerry”, O’Reilly replied that the British housewives the brand was targeting didn’t know that.

O’Reilly met US president Bill Clinton in Dublin on 21 May 2001. © Reuters

Praise for this achievement prompted the Irish government to ask him to take on the job of rescuing state-owned Erin Foods, which was losing money in the mid-1960s. He cautiously declined to do so. that is unless he can also run Erin’s profitable parent company, Irish Sugar.

Erin would be key to the next three decades of his business life. Looking for an international partner to improve its distribution and reputation in the UK, O’Reilly formed a joint company with Heinz. The American ketchup maker soon asked O’Reilly to become its UK chief executive.

Over the next two decades, O’Reilly rose to the top of Heinz, becoming chief executive in 1979 and, in 1987, its first non-family chair. He transformed the company’s sales and profits and became its largest individual shareholder, but the company’s stock had dropped by the time he retired in 2000 due to a merger between Competitors pushed Heinz to second place in the industry.

His early success at Heinz gave O’Reilly the financial resources and connections necessary to establish an investment firm in Dublin in 1971, which enabled him to pursue a career in business. parallel business in Ireland as he shuttled between Heinz’s Pittsburgh headquarters and Castlemartin, the art-filled stately home on the River Liffey where Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton were among his guests.

His most successful business was the newspaper group Independent News & Media, which he bought effective control for £1 million in 1973 and developed extensive interests in the UK, France and Portugal. Nha, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

O’Reilly bought Waterford Wedgwood in 1990, recapitalizing and restructuring the Anglo-Irish crystal and porcelain company, and hailing Waterford crystal as one of Ireland’s big four brands, along with Guinness, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Kerrygold.

In 2000, he told the Financial Times about his ambition to build Waterford Wedgwood into a global luxury goods group competing with Gucci or Richemont. He poured most of his fortune into the effort, only for the debt-ridden group to fall into receivership in 2009.

That same year, he lost a fierce battle for control of INM to Denis O’Brien, the Irish telecommunications magnate, depriving him of the dividend income his newspapers once provided. . Pursued by creditors, he sold Castlemartin and other valuable assets but in 2015, the man believed to be Ireland’s first billionaire was declared bankrupt.

It was a humiliating fall for a man once famous for his philanthropy. Most notably, O’Reilly established the Ireland Fund to become a major channel for channeling finance into constructive community projects on both sides of the Irish border.

O’Reilly has been married twice. He had six children with his first wife, Susan. His second wife, Chryss, whom he married in 1991, was a member of the leading Greek shipping family Goulandris. A famous horse breeder, she passed away last year.

On Saturday night, Simon Harris, Ireland’s taoiseach, described O’Reilly as “a giant of sport, business and media” who left “lasting legacies in all three”. “He lived one of the great lives,” his family said in a statement.

O’Reilly, who cites Winston Churchill as an inspiration, told his former rugby team-mates in 2018: “You win and you lose, and if you don’t know how to lose, you don’t know how to live ”.


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