Primark founder Arthur Ryan dies

Arthur Ryan Image copyright Associated British Foods

Primark founder and chairman Arthur Ryan has died after a short illness, the budget fashion chain has announced.

Mr Ryan established the High Street retailer as Penneys in 1969 in his hometown of Dublin in Ireland.

Fifty years on, the chain has expanded to over 350 stores in 11 countries across Europe and the US.

Primark chief executive Paul Marchant said 83-year-old Mr Ryan had been “a true real retail pioneer” and a “gifted retailer and a visionary leader”.

“He innovated and was never complacent, despite many successes. He challenged us all to be the best we can be,” he said.

Mr Ryan ran the company for four decades as chief executive and 10 years ago, he gave up his day-to-day control of the firm to become chairman instead.

But Mr Marchant said Mr Ryan had remained “deeply connected” to the business and had continued to regularly visit stores and walk the shop floor.

The chain is still known as Penneys in Ireland, but was renamed when it expanded to the UK to avoid legal issues with US department store chain JC Penney, which had trademarked the name.

Mr Ryan started the chain after being tasked by the wealthy Weston family to open a discount clothes retailer.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Crowds were handed balloons as they ran into a new Primark store in Birmingham earlier this year

Primark has expanded rapidly in recent years, continuing to thrive in what has been a tough environment for many of its rivals.

Its success comes despite criticism over staff pay, and the environmental and social impact of so-called “fast fashion”.

Earlier this year, Primark’s parent company Associated British Foods said it expected sales and profit to continue to increase in the first half of the year.

In April, the chain opened its largest ever store in Birmingham, with the 161,000 sq ft five-floor space covering the entire site of a former shopping centre.

George Weston, chief executive of Associated British Foods, said Mr Ryan would 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 learned 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.

“Arthur Ryan made fashion accessible to all and his legacy looms large.”


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