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Primark's Penneys add up as Halford bids farewell

Seamus Halford, one of the so-called 'gang of four' which propelled the discount Primark chain to Europe-wide success, has stepped down from the business more than 40 years after being poached from Dunnes Stores.

A spokesman for Primark-owner Associated British Foods (ABF) confirmed yesterday to the Irish Independent that Mr Halford officially retired at the end of May. His departure comes two years after former Primark chief executive Arthur Ryan relinquished day-to-day control, retiring at the age of 73 and taking on an advisory chairman role at the retailer. He was replaced by Paul Marchant.

It's understood that Mr Halford, who was deputy managing director at Primark, will not be engaging in any further advisory capacity at the company.

Confirmation of Mr Halford's retirement came as shares in ABF jumped after it said yesterday that sales at Primark, which trades as Penneys in Ireland, rose 13pc in the 40 weeks to June 25. That bucked a wider retail trend that has seen rivals post stagnant or marginal increases.

Mr Halford and Mr Ryan were headhunted from Dunnes Stores in the 1960s by businessman Galen Weston, whose family still control ABF, as well as Selfridges and Brown Thomas.

Another former Dunnes Stores executive, Breege O'Donoghue also joined Primark at the same time. Along with Paddy Prior, the quartet helped to transform the Primark brand into one of the most successful high street fashion chains in the UK, with its cheap and cheerful line of clothing being adopted in recent years by hordes of celebrities.

In the last decade, Primark also began expanding aggressively into mainland Europe, with stores opening in Spain, Belgium, Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands.

There are 220 outlets in total and last year Primark generated a £341m (€358m) operating profit for ABF in the financial year to the end of last September. That was up 26pc on the previous year.

The ABF spokesman said that there was no current intention to fill the specific deputy managing director role that had been held by Mr Halford. He added that Mr Marchant had a core executive team surrounding him and that the structure differed from what would have previously been in place.

Ms O'Donoghue (67) and Mr Prior (68) still work for Primark. Mr Prior is a director of Primark Holdings, while Ms O'Donoghue is a director of Primark Ltd. She has been a non-executive director of drinks group C&C since 2004 and is also the chair of the Labour Relations Commission.

In its interim management statement yesterday, ABF said Primark achieved unspecified like-for-like sales increases in the UK and Ireland and that sales at the chain in mainland Europe "remained strong".

Irish Independent