Business Irish

Thursday 19 September 2019

Tributes for 'inspirational, dynamic' icon of business

Ms Bowler passed away on Wednesday night following a long illness. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Ms Bowler passed away on Wednesday night following a long illness. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Louise Kelly and John Mulligan

Tributes have flooded in following the death of iconic businesswoman Gillian Bowler, the high-profile entrepreneur who founded Budget Travel.

Ms Bowler passed away on Wednesday night following a long illness. She had turned 64 last month.

She is survived by her husband, Harry Sydner, and her step-daughter, Rachel.

With her trademark sunglasses perched on her head, London-born Ms Bowler became a well-known personality on the Irish business and social scene in the years after she founded her travel agency in 1975.

She would also later hold top positions with large Irish businesses.

She was chairperson of Irish Life & Permanent from 2004 to 2010, and also served as a non-executive director of Grafton Group for a number of years. That company owns the Woodies DIY and Heiton chains.

She also served on the boards of the VHI and Tourism Ireland.

Ms Bowler's husband joined her as a business partner in 1982, helping to grow the Budget Travel chain to more than 30 outlets.

They sold most of the business in 1987 to UK group Granada and the remainder in 1996.

"She was one part of an amazing couple, herself and Harry," recalled Paul Hackett, the chief executive of holiday website Ms Bowler and her husband launched Clickandgo in 2010.

"It was great fun working with them being so united and living and working together," said Mr Hackett.

"It's just so sad for him - and so sad that a person so young who worked so hard is not around to enjoy it."

Clem Walshe, the former managing director of LowCostTravel, said Ms Bowler "will be missed" and that he hoped her passing was peaceful.

He remembered a "fun, supportive and understanding" woman who was "ahead of her time in terms of creativity and innovation".

"I joined Budget in 1995 and I got to know Gill really well," he said. "Within three years, she had grown the retail division from four shops to 30 shops. When you think of the logistics involved in that, it's incredible.

"Gill helped us with all the challenges that we had to face. We had so much fun. She loved making sure that the products were different."

Mr Walshe said it was Ms Bowler's way of treating everyone - from counter shop staff to senior members of the team - that gave her "the wonderful insight when it came to planning any aspect of the campaign".

Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn also expressed his condolences on the loss of the founding chairperson of its Authority from 2003-2008.

"Gillian was a very dynamic, effective and truly inspirational chair who successfully guided our organisation during its early formative years with her unique blend of insight and enthusiasm," he said.

A celebration of Gillian's life will take place on tomorrow at 10am in the Victorian Chapel, Mount Jerome Crematorium, Harold's Cross, Dublin.

Irish Independent

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