Business Irish

Monday 23 October 2017

Iconic Irish businesswoman Gillian Bowler passes away

Gillian Bowler
Gillian Bowler
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

THE iconic businesswoman Gillian Bowler has passed away.

The news of the death of the former MD of Budget Travel and chair of Irish Life & Permanent broke on Thursday morning.

It is understood that Ms Bowler, who was in her 60s, had been ill for some time.

Paul Hackett of ClickAndGo.com remembers Gillian "who had been unwell for some time" fondly.

"I worked with Gill in Budget from the 1990s and we just did some great stuff," he told independent.ie

"She was incredibly innovative and iconic at the time - and not just for the sunglasses!

"She was one part of an amazing couple, herself and Harry. It was great fun working with them being so united and living and working together too.

"It's just so sad for him - and so sad that a person so young who worked so hard is not around to enjoy it."



Along with her partner and later husband, Harry Sydner, she founded package holiday company Budget Travel in 1975. Foreign travel was in its infancy in the Ireland of the mid-1970s.

Over the next dozen years the pair grew Budget into Ireland's largest package holiday company. While Snyder stayed in the shadows, Bowler was the public face of Budget, never missing an opportunity to promote the fledgling company.

Not alone did this mean that Budget got maximum value from its initially meagre advertising spend, it also established Bowler as a public figure.

With her trademark sunglasses perched precariously on top of her head, she appeared regularly on TV and radio and in the newspapers.

This public profile served Bowler in good stead as she gradually withdrew from Budget.

Clem Walshe, formerly of lowCostTravel said that Gillian "will be missed" and that he hoped her passing was peaceful. 

He remembers a "fun, supportive and understanding" woman that was "ahead of her time in terms of creativity and innovation".

"I joined Budget in 1995 and I got to know Gill really well. Within three years, she had grown the retail division from four shops to 30 shops. When you think of the logistics involved in that, it's incredible," he told independent.ie.

"Gill helped us with all the challenges that we had to face...We had so much fun...She loved making sure that the products were different from anyone else and the Budget brochure was known for their pictures of scantily clad women."

Walshe said that it was Gill's way of treating everyone - from counter shop staff to senior members of the team - that gave her "the wonderful insight when it came to planning any aspect of the campaign".

"Nobody created a buzz quite as much as Budget did with the January travel sale. Gill would say "we're not selling insurance policies here, we're selling dreams". She was super competitive too; even though she had a good relationship with her competitors, when it came to kick off in January, you'd prefer to be on Gill's side of the pitch," he said.

In 1987 she and Sydner sold 90pc of the firm to British group Granada for Stg£4.5m. They sold the remaining 10pc for Stg£3m in 1996.

Bowler continued to work full-time at Budget until 1996 when she became non-executive chairman. She cut her last links with the firm she founded when she stepped down as chairman in 2007.

Sunway's Tanya Airey said she was "very sorry to hear about the passing of Gillian Bowler".

"She was an inspiration to all in the travel industry, particularly women," she told independent.ie.

"When I first started in the business she was at the height of her career and I would have hugely looked up to her. She was way ahead of her time and I will always think of her with her sunglasses on her head and what an attractive, glamorous, intelligent, bright woman she was.

"It is so sad that she has passed away when she should be relaxing with her husband Harry and enjoying herself after working so hard all her life."

Bowler was appointed to the Irish Life board in 1998 and, when it merged with Irish Permanent the following year to form Irish Life & Permanent, she kept her seat on the board of the new company.

Then, when Roy Douglas was forced to quit as IL&P chairman in 2004, Bowler replaced him. This was the first time that any Irish financial institution had appointed a female chairman.

Bowler was the last chairman or chief executive of an Irish banking institution to survive the 2008 banking crisis.

At the peak of the crisis, Ms Bowler had reportedly come under pressure to resign  when it emerged that IL&P had propped up Anglo with almost €8bn of deposits.

She tendered her resignation as IL&P chairman to a board meeting in December 2010.

Alan Cook took over as chairman at the time, fulfilling his six term, and overseeing extensive restructuring and rebuilding of the group during his tenure.

Earlier this year, he confirmed that he will retire as scheduled next March from the now Permanent TSB.

Funeral details

Tonight, details of Ms Bowler's funeral were announced. A celebration of Gillian’s life will take place on Saturday morning at 10am in the Victorian Chapel, Mount Jerome Crematorium, Harolds Cross, Dublin.

Online Editors

Also in Business