Saturday 17 March 2018

Revamped club not just about A-listers, says glamorous boss


Ireland is too small to have a club built around stars and celebrities according to businesswoman Olivia Gaynor Long, who is aiming to shift the focus of exclusive members' club Residence away from the A-list socialites.

The white-knight investor rode into town to rescue the Dublin private members' club five months ago -- despite her husband's protestations. He labelled it as "mad" for his wife to bail out the troubled club as it went against their "low-key" image.

Olivia has three sons with her husband, the high-tech entrepreneur Brian Long, who made his €38m fortune from the sale of Ceva, a microchip business he co-founded.

"This is definitely not a venture which my husband would like to be involved in at all. He thought I was mad to come back to Ireland for this. He would be very much of the idea to remain low key; it's very much what we are, a very low-key couple. You never see me at parties being photographed, it's not who I am and it's not who he is either," said the 39-year-old Killiney-based entrepreneur who has not lived in Ireland permanently since 2001. During that time, she has mostly resided in Monaco and California.

Ms Gaynor Long is determined to steer the club away from its previous image as exclusively for the young and the wealthy, and wants to set a different tone for the ivy-clad Georgian building which overlooks the glories of St Stephen's Green.

"I believe I am a discreet person and I want this to set the tone of where this [business] is going. I want to take away the public focus and let the business speak for itself as a low-key but very high-quality service," she said.

Ms Gaynor Long took control of the members' club in July, taking the company out of receivership.

"I love a challenge, and there is something special about this building and the surrounding area, it's magical. There was always room for something like this in Dublin, but it had a long way to go. I want to be in an environment that is very relaxed and not elitist. I hate elitism in any form. A venue like this should not be intimidating," she said.

In the last five months there has been a huge amount of investment put into upgrading facilities, but Olivia has plenty of expertise to draw on. She jointly owns a restaurant and private members' club in a Thirties' art deco building in the trendy village of Soho in New York. She has drawn from this to put her own stamp on the D2 haunt, with its French grey paintwork and furniture.

"Before I took over this year, 90 per cent of the business was done at the weekends between midnight and 2am. I wanted to completely change that. Now people are coming in for business breakfasts," said Olivia.

"This is not about stars and celebrity. It is a cosy home on the green, very easy for people to access, and they will be looked after.

"It should be about the multiplicity of services; it's not just about the evening, it's about the whole day."

Ms Gaynor Long was a member of the private St Stephen's Green club prior to purchasing it.

The wealthy businesswoman knew that the previous owners, the Stokes brothers, were in trouble as they were "approaching a lot of people at the time". She bought the cash-strapped venue from the club's court-appointed receiver, Jim Stafford, but underestimated the huge clean-up operation which would follow.

"The place was a mess. A business like this needs to be invested in continuously to keep the level of service and standard up. If you don't have someone who is willing to put that personal investment into it, you are in trouble and all standards fall," she said.

But how do you go about taking a business like this out of crisis mode?

"You spend very little in the beginning, you come in and observe, start making mental notes, and then you make your plans. The membership database was all over the place. The place needed to be painted and cleaned up," she said.

Ms Gaynor Long is "bursting" with other plans for the 18th-Century building in the next six months, many geared towards entrepreneurs. To that end she is setting up business forums, and golf and tennis societies within the club.

The annual subscription fee has halved to €850, with 50 people joining on a weekly basis and some opting to pay in instalments. Membership is capped at 1,500, and Olivia believes they are 300 people away from that figure.

"In six months I feel I will be able to sit back and it will be exactly where I want it to be," she said.

Sunday Independent

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