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John Lynch: 'Brilliance matched by wit, humour and humility'

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Tributes: Former CIÉ executive chairman John Lynch has died at the age of 79

Tributes: Former CIÉ executive chairman John Lynch has died at the age of 79

Tributes: Former CIÉ executive chairman John Lynch has died at the age of 79

John Lynch, the former executive chairman of CIÉ, passed away early yesterday in a Dublin hospital. He was 79.

He is survived by his partner Kathy O'Shea and extended family.

Dr Lynch, who lived in Blackrock, Co Dublin, was a columnist with the Irish Independent after retiring from CIÉ. He also served until recently on the Press Council of Ireland. He was perhaps unique in being appointed to the boards of State companies by ministers from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and the Progressive Democrats.

Tributes poured in yesterday. The chief executive of AIB, Colin Hunt, said Dr Lynch's brilliance was only matched by his wit, humour and humility. "I was honoured to count him among my friends and I will miss him greatly',' he said.

Head of Kobn Advisory and former group editor-in-chief at Independent News & Media Stephen Rae said Dr Lynch had made an outstanding contribution to Irish life over many years: "John was unusual at the top echelons of Irish public life insofar as he truly admired the work of media.

"His contribution to the semi-State sector was immense but he was also an intellectual powerhouse who mentored a generation of Irish leaders in fields as diverse as public administration, finance and journalism. He was the type of guy you would always want on your side."

In a statement, the boards, management and staff of the CIÉ group of companies said: "John Lynch had guided it through a changing and challenging era, including record investment in and expansion of public transport services in Ireland under the Transport 21 programme, as well as the challenges posed by the onset of the economic crisis."

The tributes reflected respect and affection for a unique character.

Irish business can be a monochrome world of grey suits, drab annual reports and sanitised language.

Individuals adding a splash of colour, wit and vitality are often viewed with outright suspicion and consequently rarely occupy senior leadership roles, but occasionally one or two break through.

Dr Lynch was firmly among them. As a man who led a plethora of State companies and organisations throughout his career, he was not your conventional cut-glass executive or professional manager.

Even using the word 'executive' about him would invite guffaws, from the man himself.

Dr Lynch, while blessed with vast reserves of intelligence and intellectual polish, was proudly rough and tumble, not prepared to ever modify his language, tone or his thoughts.

Those qualities allowed him to lead companies/agencies as diverse as Bord Gáis, FÁS and CIÉ, and organisations beyond business, such as the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, which he chaired.

He was wonderfully devilish company, but the politicians and ministers he worked for valued his street fighter instincts, his political antennae and ability to see around corners.

His own informal management style included firm preference for conciliation over strife and a near religious belief that anything in business (or life) could be cured over a languid cup of coffee in one of his favoured spots along the River Liffey.

These meetings were invariably set up by his unofficial press spokesman and close friend, the now sadly deceased Brendan Bracken.

This 'cappuccino management' drew in the company of assorted journalists, politicians and civil servants Dr Lynch had a liking for, but he mixed easily in all social circles, essentially finding the idea of class or status almost an alien concept.

A Dubliner in spirit and outlook, Dr Lynch was also an astute adviser and mentor to a diverse set of individuals, from bank executives to journalists and civil servants.

He would tell them when they were being stupid, short-sighted or naive.

The advice could be blunt but with an underlying kindness.

Dr Lynch was a survivor too, with his longevity in a series of tough and high-profile jobs down to his street smarts and an ability to dig in and navigate the snakes and ladders of corporate Ireland in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

After a period as CEO at Bord Gáis, he ran FÁS, the training agency, from 1988 to 2000, which put him in touch with a whole range of politicians, who valued his advice.

In total, he served 14 of them, including now Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who to some people's surprise, Dr Lynch was reportedly very fond of.

Dr Lynch understood the political mind. He called them dismissively 'the pols', but in reality he saw his job, in part, to ease the public pressure on them.

Apart from the late Seamus Brennan, who clashed very vociferously with the CIÉ chief, Dr Lynch was retained as a close confidante by most of those he served under.

Dr Lynch found himself in a welter of controversies during his time at CIÉ (between 2000 and 2011), where he held the powerful post of executive chairman, but he took criticism in his stride.

With a hatful of academic qualifications to his name, Dr Lynch found a late career role as a savvy stock analyst at the Irish Independent, where he wrote with great insight, wisdom and wit about the major companies of the world.

When he eventually retired from CIÉ, Dr Lynch was replaced by a new management structure.

Asked about this development in an interview, he smiled and told this newspaper: "They are replacing me with four people." There was a deal of truth to it.

Irish Independent