Saturday 19 October 2019

Superquinn founder and former senator Feargal Quinn has died aged 82

Former Superquinn chief Feargal Quinn. Photo:
Former Superquinn chief Feargal Quinn. Photo:
Former Superquinn chief Feargal Quinn
Feargal Quinn
Senator Feargal Quinn in 2008.Pic Tom Burke
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

Businessman and former senator Feargal Quinn has died following a short illness.

Mr Quinn was aged 82 and is survived by his wife Denise Quinn, their five children and 19 grandchildren.

In a short statement, the Quinn family said he had passed away peacefully at home in Howth, Co Dublin.

“First and foremost Feargal was a loving and caring husband, father, grandfather, and brother.

Superquinn founder Feargal Quinn in one of his stores. Photo:
Superquinn founder Feargal Quinn in one of his stores. Photo:

“To everyone else who knew him, he was an ebullient businessman, entrepreneur, innovator and former Senator,” the family said.

He is best known for founding the Superquinn chain which pioneered new levels of customer service and innovation in the Irish retail sector and which he successfully sold to a consortium of investor for €420m in 2005.

Superquinn was subsequently bought by the Musgrave family’s Supervalu chain. As well as work in the private sector, Feargal Quinn was active in the public sector on numerous boards including as chairman of An Post until 1989.

Feargal Quinn was elected to the Senate on the National University of Ireland panel and served as an Independent Senator from 1993 to 2016, where he was recognised as a strong voice for the national business community.

Family business: Feargal Quinn with his son Eamonn (left).
Family business: Feargal Quinn with his son Eamonn (left).

Feargal Quinn was born in Dublin in 1936, into a family with its roots in Newry. Former Labour Party leader and cabinet minister Ruairi Quinn and businessman Lochlann Quinn were cousins.

Feargal Quinn’s father Eamonn established a grocery business Payantake, and later the Red Island holiday resort in Skerries, Co Dublin.

Feargal Quinn was educated in Newbridge College, and studied Commerce at University College Dublin.

After working in France in his youth he founded the Superquinn chain aged just 23 and built it into one of the country’s biggest grocery chains, carving out a niche with innovations like loyalty cards and self scanning coupled with famously high levels of customer service and stand out products – including in store bakeries and the famous Superquinn pork sausages that proved so popular the brand has been retained by Supervalu.

In his media work he was an enthusiastic supporter of emerging businesses, including a regular advice column with the Irish Independent and as the presenter of RTE’s Retail Therapy, where Feargal Quinn drew on his long career in business to offer insights and advice to aspiring and struggling entrepreneurs. 

He continued to work for the Irish Independent right up to this week, with his latest column appearing today.

Among numerous awards Feargal Quinn is received a papal knighthood, was a fellow of the French Order of Merit, and the recipient of five honorary doctorates from education institutions.

Fionnán Sheahan, editor of the Irish Independent, described Mr Quinn as “a true advocate for the consumer.”

“Feargal Quinn's legacy will be his emphasis on putting the needs of the customer front and centre in business decisions. He was a true advocate for the consumer," Mr Sheahan said.

“His personal approach raised the bar which other retailers followed. He also ensured the voice of family and small businesses was heard clearly within the political system.”

President Michael D Higgins has spoken about Mr Quinn's commercial and political work.

He said: “Feargal was a gifted entrepreneur, whose vision of customer service and innovation transformed the landscape of the retail trade in Ireland over many decades.

“As a lifelong supporter of small businesses and start-up companies, countless numbers of people benefited from his wise counsel, which was based on a highly successful career at the coalface of Irish business.

“He will be deeply missed not just by his family and wide circle of friends, but also by those who served in the Seanad with him, where he will be remembered as a force for change, as a passionate advocate on business and related matters, and as an eloquent debater.”

Mr Quinn was the first Chairman of An Post and today the organisation reflected on his legacy.

An Post Chairman Dermot Divilly said: “He worked tirelessly over a decade from 1979 to set the postal service and post office network on a sound, forward-looking, modern footing.

“He showed exemplary dedication and vision during these formative years and he remained a loyal supporter of An Post throughout his life.

“He is remembered with the greatest respect and fondness.”

The Musgrave Group called Mr Quinn “a visionary in Irish food and a retail pioneer”.

Chris Martin, CEO of the Musgrave Group, said: “We are saddened to hear of the passing of Feargal Quinn.

“As the founder of Superquinn, Feargal was a visionary in Irish food and a retail pioneer. Beyond the world of retail, Feargal made a significant and lasting contribution to Irish society and to political life as a member of Seanad Eireann.

“He was a leader who will be deeply missed. Feargal was also a good friend to Musgrave and on behalf of everyone here, I would like to share our condolences with his family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time.”

Meanwhile, Patrick Coveney, chief executive of food group Greencore, tweeted that Mr Quinn was “a giant of the Irish retail and food industries, while also giving so much back to society. It was a privilege to know him. I hope his family are very proud!”

Mr Quinn has been remembered as “the voice of European retail” by IBEC.

IBEC CEO Danny McCoy said this afternoon: “Feargal will be remembered as pioneer of Irish retail, a dedicated Senator and strong advocate of Irish business at home and internationally.

“He left a very significant and positive mark on Irish life. In his role as President of EuroCommerce he was the voice of European retail, commanding the respect and support of the sector right across Europe.

“His tenacity and skill in business was matched by a sense of duty and dedication in his public roles.”

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