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Primark founder Arthur Ryan dies

Founder, chairman and former chief executive of Primark, Arthur Ryan, has died after a short illness.

Ryan, who founded the value retailer in Dublin in 1969, was 83 years old.

Primark CEO Paul Marchant said: “We are greatly saddened by the passing of our founder and chairman Arthur Ryan. On behalf of everyone at Primark, we want to extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Alma and his family at this difficult time. Arthur was a truly gifted retailer and a visionary leader. I was fortunate to work closely with him and experience first-hand his sharp mind and innovative thinking. Over the years we developed a very strong friendship, which I will always value and cherish. The company’s directors and employees, as well as those that worked with him over the years are deeply saddened by his loss.

“Arthur Ryan was a retail pioneer and a man of remarkable business acumen. At Primark, we feel very fortunate to have experienced up close his drive and passion for the business as well as his integrity, warmth and wonderful sense of humour. He was very generous in so many ways. He devoted a lot of his time to advise and connect people and he quietly supported people in the background in times of need.

“Despite his many talents and successes in life, Arthur always modelled great humility. He said that we should ’remember who we are, challenge ourselves to be the best we can be, push the boundaries all the time and never be complacent or satisfied.’

“His words remain guiding principles at Primark today. Throughout his entire career he remained strongly connected to the customer and regularly visited the stores and walked the shop floors. Equally, he placed great importance on talent development and influenced so many careers, which remains instilled in Primark’s culture today. Arthur Ryan’s legacy will continue to live on in the business that he founded and built. He will be hugely missed by his Primark family.” 

George Weston, CEO of Primark owner Associated British Foods (ABF), added: “From the board of ABF and on behalf of the Weston family, our deepest sympathies go out to Arthur’s wife, Alma, and all his family and friends at this very sad time. We will all greatly miss his larger than life presence, his sharp wit and his friendship.

“Arthur Ryan will be remembered as one of the great giants of retailing. When my Grandfather, Garfield Weston and Uncle, Galen Weston recruited Arthur to run Penneys in 1969 with only one store in Dublin, they knew they were hiring an exceptional trader. But what three generations of Westons learnt over the following decades was that Arthur was also a great leader and business builder, driven every day by a relentless desire to delight his customers.

“Ryan made fashion accessible to all and his legacy looms large. He built a phenomenal world-class retailer, the foundations of which will always belong to Ireland.”

Retail veteran Andrew Jennings said: “He was a man in the shadows, but a retail magician and a cornerstone of the highly successful Primark organisation. He had innovation, foresight, drive and vision to build an international business from small beginnings.”

Alistair McGeorge, executive chairman at New Look said: “[Ryan had] a profound impact on the retail landscape. He has been responsible for building an amazing business in Primark.”

Since opening its first store under the Penneys name on Mary Street, Dublin, in 1969, the retailer has grown to an international powerhouse with 372 stores in 12 countries, more than 75,000 employees and over 15 million sq ft of retail space. 

It expanded into the UK in 1973, and adopted the name Primark to avoid legal action by US retailer JC Penney. The chain is still known as Penneys in Ireland.

Primark launched in mainland Europe in 2006, opening its first store in Spain. This was followed by the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Austria, France, the US and Italy.

Last month, it opened a store in Slovenia, marking its entry into central eastern Europe, and it has plans to open more new stores in Poland and the Czech Republic in the future.

A dedicated family man, a retail visionary and an exceptional leader- Ryan will be sadly missed by all who had the pleasure of meeting him.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Eric Musgrave

    RIP Arthur Ryan, one of the great talents of the retail trade. He steadfastly refused to be interviewed by Drapers (or anyone else) for many years. Only when he passed the reins on to Paul Marchant did he feel able to talk to the media. When I finally chatted to him, I found him open, articulate and modest, with a lovely dry turn of phrase. Whether you like Primark or not, there's no denying that Arthur Ryan changed the way Britain and Ireland and beyond shops. My condolences to his family, the Primark team and his friends.

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