Sunday 25 February 2018

Daggers out as the Kilkenny family feud threatens to tear the retailer asunder

Melissa, Greg and Marian O’Gorman at the Nassau Street store in 2014. The Kilkenny Group made a €1m profit in its 2016 financial year Picture: Kieran Hartnett
Melissa, Greg and Marian O’Gorman at the Nassau Street store in 2014. The Kilkenny Group made a €1m profit in its 2016 financial year Picture: Kieran Hartnett
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Whenever family business feuds end up in court, the rifts are already so deep as to almost certainly be irreparable.

And for the relationship between the O'Gorman family behind the Kilkenny Group, a very public dispute has shaken its foundations. Life will never be the same again.

Greg O'Gorman has sued his mother Marian in the High Court, alleging she has reneged on a 2010 deal which, he claims, means the Kilkenny Group is held in trust for him and his siblings.

In legal documents filed in court, Mr O'Gorman has described his mother as "by nature a domineering, aggressive and belligerent person" with a "well-documented propensity for acrimonious dispute with close family members".

It is another case of family fireworks that have gone from the kitchen table to the steps of the courthouse.

The schism between the pair has been laid bare in exactly the manner a family constitution drafted in 2010 sought to prevent.

A code of conduct included in the constitution mandated that disagreements were to be discussed privately, and that in the event of a major bust-up, a mediator or arbitrator would be engaged to resolve issues and keep them from prying eyes.

The opposite has happened.

Mr O'Gorman has told the High Court that he and his wife, and three children - all aged under eight - have been left "financially destitute" after he was "summarily" dismissed from his job as marketing director.

He has asked the court to appoint, if necessary, a receiver over the successful retail business in order to sell its assets and distribute the proceeds. His siblings are Christopher, Melissa and Michelle.

Kilkenny's flagship store on Dublin's Nassau Street Picture: Arthur Carron
Kilkenny's flagship store on Dublin's Nassau Street Picture: Arthur Carron

There is no suggestion of misconduct or non-performance on the part of Greg O'Gorman, whose employment was terminated last July.

He has told the High Court that there are "critically important decisions" to be taken concerning the future strategic direction of the company of "a commercially sensitive nature".

The Kilkenny Group has 15 outlets and a successful online business.

The company behind the business, Clydaville Investments, made a €1m pre-tax profit in the 12 months to the end of 2016 as turnover rose to €30m. The wealth has afforded the O'Gorman family a life of luxury. Among the assets of the company is an expensive villa in Malaga.

The dispute between mother and son comes nearly a quarter of a century after another family flare-up.

Greg O'Gorman has claimed that his mother "irreparably fell out" with his sister, Freda Hayes, who left Blarney Woollen Mills in 1991, and established the Meadows & Byrne retail business in 1993.

Blarney Woollen Mills was established by Marian O'Gorman's father, Christy Kelleher. He died in 1991, precipitating the feud between the sisters. At the time, Blarney Woollen Mills incorporated the Kilkenny Group, which had been acquired by the firm from the government.

In 1999, Marian, her husband Michael, and her sister Bernadette went to the High Court in an effort to prevent their brothers - Pat, Frank and Kevin - from removing Michael from the Blarney Woollen Mills board.

Part of the settlement saw the Kilkenny Group hived off into a separate business, with the three brothers retaining the Blarney Woollen Mills shop on Dublin's Nassau Street, as well as a share in the Blarney Park Hotel.

Read More: Unhappy families can be torn apart in the cut-throat world of business

Greg O'Gorman has claimed that at a meeting in June last year, that his mother said the Kilkenny Group would no longer operate as a family business and would no longer be referred to as a family business.

Marian O'Gorman allegedly told her family she would have full control of the business in the future, that there would be no overlap between business and family and that those present at the meeting had "responsibilities but no rights".

The latest dispute involving Marian O'Gorman threatens to be one of the most damaging for both the family and the retail business, and will undoubtedly leave wounds that will never be healed.

It was revealed by the Irish Independent this week that Marian O'Gorman's husband - whom the High Court heard she recently separated from - is also facing dismissal from the Kilkenny Group.

Michael O'Gorman was informed by letter on February 10 that the Kilkenny Group intended to let him go for alleged "gross misconduct".

Greg O'Gorman has urged the Commercial Court to hear his case against his mother quickly, citing in court documents what he said are impending "critically important" decisions to be made by the company.

Whatever the outcome of the legal action, the family business feud will go down as one of the potentially most destructive and high-profile the country has ever seen.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News