Tuesday 17 July 2018

Hilary Weston (76), a former model from Dublin with a sharp eye for retail, is married to Galen Weston, Canada's second-richest man and billionaires' club veteran.

Hilary, a former pupil of Loreto Abbey in Dalkey, must surely take pride in the fact that Ireland remains a key profit centre in the family's multi-billion euro global empire.

The publicity-shy family owns a vast retail portfolio that includes Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland, the Loblaw grocery chain in Canada, the high-end British chain Selfridges, and Fortnum & Mason.

The best-performing company in the Weston-controlled Associated British Foods group is Primark, the Irish discount clothing giant that is enjoying rapid international expansion.

Operating profits at Primark have soared by more than 300pc in the past decade, often riding to the rescue of the conglomerate's share price. However, its shares have been hit in recent weeks by fears an expansion into the US may falter.

Back in Dublin, department stores Arnotts and Brown Thomas helped parent company Selfridges record operating profits of £11.3m (€12.8m) in Ireland in the year to January 2017.

Turnover at the high-end retailer's Irish operations was up 38pc to £199.7m (€226.7m). This reflects the first full-year contribution from Arnotts. Selfridges completed its acquisition of Arnotts, the landmark Dublin department store, in November 2015.

Selfridges invested about £15.5m (€17.5m) into its Irish stores, according to accounts for the family's UK-registered holding company, Shel Holdings Europe.

Headed by Irishman Paul Kelly, total revenue at the Selfridges group was up £173m to £1.2bn, according to company accounts. The Westons also own a 46pc stake in Loblaw, Canada's biggest grocery chain, which saw its shares increase almost 4pc in the past year, which is valued at €20.7bn.

The family's empire in Canada dates back to the late 19th Century. It grew out of the bread factory established in Toronto by Galen's grandfather George Weston. That business prospered, becoming the country's largest bread factory and the foundation of the family's wealth. George Weston is now one of North America's largest food processing and distribution groups.

At George Weston Ltd, Galen Sr has passed the torch to son Galen Jr (44), who is married to Alexandra Schmidt, heiress to the Bata shoe fortune. Daughter Alannah Weston became a director on the George Weston board in 2016 and was named deputy chairman in 2014 at Selfridges Group after the Weston family took control over Selfridges in 2003. She is married to architect Alex Cochrane and they live in a 19th-century home in South Kensington in London with their two daughters.

Galen Weston first moved to Dublin in the early 1960s, where he met Hilary. Her love of fashion led to them setting up Penneys in Dublin. As well as their extensive retail interests, they have created Windsor, a 416-acre ultra secure luxury residential community in Vero Beach, Florida.

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