Business Irish

Saturday 16 December 2017

Obituary: Robin Rennicks

The skilful racing driver also had a keen eye for business

Well liked: Robin Rennicks Photo: Gerry Mooney
Well liked: Robin Rennicks Photo: Gerry Mooney

Martin McCarthy

Robin Rennicks, who has died aged 83, was one of the finest racing drivers of his generation, winning the coveted Sexton Trophy in 1965, just prior to starting his career as an entrepreneur. Coupling an insightful marketing nous with charm and determination, he had outstanding success, first in the tyre business, then in sign-making and finally in tool-making for the pharmaceutical packaging industry - a niche he had longed to be in.

Robin was born on September 6, 1933, an only child, and was brought up in Mount Merrion, Co Dublin, attending school at St Andrew's College, Clyde Road. On his father's advice, he joined the Royal Bank in Dublin and subsequently moved to London. He handed in his notice to come back to Ireland when a move to a sister branch in Bombay (Mumbai) was in the offing.

Once home, he joined Booth Poole, assemblers of MG and Wolseley cars, but work dried up there as the economy declined. He journeyed with friends to car racing events and, while in the grandstand at Aintree in 1956, he fell into conversation with Innes Ireland, then unknown, who later became a Grand Prix winner. Ireland had good connections in Aston Martin and steered Robin to a job with an Aston dealership in Exeter, where he honed his sales skills. But he wanted to come home, and luckily a slot came up with PR Reilly, the legendary car parts distribution firm. There he met Frank Keane, who became a lifelong friend and who delivered a wonderful eulogy at his funeral. The pair were car and motor racing mad. After learning a lot in the ultimate 'sales academy' that was PR Reilly, Robin moved back into motor retailing with Huets, then Rolls Royce agents in Ireland.

In 1958 Robin competed in the first Dunboyne road race in a Formula three-style single seater. By 1961, he had acquired a state-of-the-art Lotus 18. But in 1962, lack of funds led to a complicated swap with Lingard Goulding, with Robin acquiring the burnt-out shell of an MGA that the Watkins Brothers of Waterloo Lane rebodied into the effective Phoenix Special. He won the prestigious Holmpatrick Trophy, as the best Irish driver at Dunboyne in 1962. Robin had developed into an exceptionally skilful driver and he won the Sexton Trophy in 1965. This was awarded to the driver with the best aggregate results of the season and he beat a stellar group. Amazingly for a man of 6ft 2, his greatest success was in Minis - and in 1967 he recorded the faster ever saloon car lap of Dunboyne, with an average of 86.75mph, in his distinctive yellow 'Mini Chick'.

Robin gave it 110pc behind the wheel - maximum attack all the way. This led to the occasional "off" and he survived huge accidents at Mount Venus Hillclimb and Mondello Park.

In later years he did the Circuit of Ireland in a Peugeot 404 and featured in sporting trials with his friend Tony Hennessy. In the 1990s he ran a race team in the US NASCAR series.

With Robin's love of fast cars, motor bikes and boats, he needed to have his own business, and in 1966 he took a franchise from John Cotton of Solus, Little Bray, to remould radial tyres. He set up Kentred in Bridgefoot Street, Dublin, and it prospered.

Robin had an excellent eye for business: "He could almost see around corners," said Frank Keane - and he sensed retailing new tyres might be a better bet, so he sold his remould business and he became the importer of Yokohama truck tyres. At this stage he had got married, and in Maureen he had found an ideal partner for business - as well as for life. To quote Frank, "Robin was respected and respectful. A gentleman, with a great sense of humour who knew when to start something, and knew when to sell it."

In 1970 he started Rennicks Sign Manufacturing and focused on road signs. In the 1980s he was the agent for the Japanese reflective material Seibulite, and started exporting signs all over the world. In 1989 Tony O'Reilly's Fitzwilton bought the business.

Robin always wanted to be a tool-maker. So in 1999 he bought a press tool manufacturer in Tallaght called Prodieco - the global leader in the design and manufacture of tooling change parts used in blister packaging machines for the pharmaceutical industry. Now exporting to 50 countries worldwide, customers include Fortune 500 companies operating in the branded, generic and contract manufacturing sector.

He suffered ill health in later years, but never lost the inquisitiveness or humour that made him such a popular man in sport and business.

Robin Rennicks died on January 28.

Sunday Independent

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