Business Irish

Saturday 24 March 2018

Camera-shy Penney's boss takes a bow with award

Aideen Sheehan

HE HAS rarely been photographed in public and he doesn't give interviews.

But one of Ireland's most successful businessmen stepped into the limelight to accept a major award for his life's work.

Penney's boss Arthur Ryan, who set up Penneys/Primark as a single store in Dublin's Mary Street in the 1960s and built it into a global empire, was honoured in London for his achievements.

Despite doing for fashion what Michael O'Leary did for air travel -- piling it high and selling it cheap -- Mr Ryan differs from the Ryanair boss in studiously avoiding the limelight.

The 73-year-old Dubliner is notoriously camera/publicity-shy and has never before been photographed or interviewed about his role in pioneering the cheap chic fashion chain's expansion into a world player with an estimated turnover of over €2bn.

Mr Ryan last Thursday received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contribution to Retail at the prestigious Oracle Retail Week Awards in London's Grosvenor House Hotel.

"I've had an extraordinary career. It's like Robinson Crusoe; I've got the opportunity to sail a ship and here we are in Park Lane. We're just here for water and supplies until we head off to Russia or somewhere," he told the audience.

Topshop owner Sir Philip Green paid tribute to his friend of 20 years by videolink at the ceremony.

"This is a man who richly deserves this award. He's tirelessly developed and built one of the UK's great businesses. Commercially, he may be many people's enemy, but he's my friend," he said.

George Weston, who owns Penneys/Primark parent company Associated British Foods, said Mr Ryan's influence on the company would continue into the next decade as chairman.

"Arthur truly changed the face of retailing in Ireland and the UK. From a standing start in 1969, he and his team have built what is now the outstanding retail success story of the decade," he said.

Mr Ryan founded Penneys on Mary Street in 1969, and expanded the chain into the UK in 1973.

It now has around six million square feet of floor space in 196 stores in seven countries.

The popular store built its name around getting the latest fashion trends to the market with incredible speed and at rockbottom prices.

The chain has attracted some controversy in recent years because of concerns that it exploited workers in Bangladesh who produce its ultra-cheap garments.

However, Primark said it has responded by expanding its ethical trade division and carrying out more independent annual audits of its suppliers.

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business