Obituary: Paddy Galvin, business tycoon who ran Guinness and tried to save Waterford Crystal

Paddy Galvin was an influential figure in Irish business, particularly when he took charge of what was then Ireland’s largest employer, Waterford Glass, and set about enforcing the policies he believed would save them from collapse.

He was appointed Chief Executive in 1989 when the company employed around 2,300 people in Waterford and Dungarvan. But it was a lumbering conglomerate that had expanded in all sorts of directions during the tenure of the McGrath family, owners of the Irish Sweepstakes and Irish Glass Bottle Company.

Despite being one of the world’s leading luxury brands, where demand outstripped supply, it lost £137m between 1987 and 1990. While a number of American presidents, including Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, toured the factory on the outskirts of Waterford, Galvin fought to save the business. He was faced with high costs incurred over the past few decades, powerful unions and labor practices that were unsustainable given the economic climate.

Matters came to a head in January 1990 when he gave the unions an ultimatum that he would end “bonuses” for highly skilled crystal workers in 10 weeks. He was accused by the unions of “organizing” a series of strikes that shut down factories and crippled the local economy.

He spoke about “the unbearable consequences of the collapse and the loss of our jobs” as he tried to find new investors to keep the company afloat.

The son of a tailor, Edward Patrick Galvin, known as Paddy, was born in Cork on 25 February 1933. He was educated at the lesser known Christian Brothers School in town at Sullivan’s Quay and Crawford Technical College before taking an apprenticeship at Metal Products.

He worked at the Dunlop tire factory while studying mechanical engineering at night. In 1956 he then moved to the Guinness brewery in Dublin. Ascending, he became chief engineer and, after studying at Harvard Business School, was appointed in 1975 as the first Catholic managing director of the company, which until then had had an exclusively Protestant leadership class.

Waterford Glass presented Galvin with a greater challenge. Group companies were sold, often at a loss, employees reduced to around 800, work processes streamlined and raw glass products sourced from Eastern Europe. It was painful for both the workers and Galvin as he was portrayed as the play’s villain.

“For three and a half to four years it was rough; It was difficult for everyone in a trial and testing phase,” he later said. But for a man who didn’t preach much in public, he had a steely resolve, and between downsizing and streamlining, he stabilized the business.

dr Tony O’Reilly, then chairman of HJ Heinz in Pittsburgh and owner of Independent Newspapers, and his brother-in-law Peter Goulandris then invested $100 million through O’Reilly’s Dublin holding company, Fitzwilton, and took a 29 percent controlling interest in the business.

When Paddy Galvin retired in 1996, O’Reilly praised him as the man who transformed Waterford Glass “from a production-oriented entity into a profitable, market-oriented, consumer-centric company.”

Unfortunately, in the years that followed, a dramatic drop in demand for crystal, cheaper products and a decline in the American market sent Waterford Glass into a loss-making downward spiral. It went bankrupt in 2009 after the massive Kilbarry plant closed for good. Its brands – Waterford Crystal, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton – are now owned by a Finnish company and survive as a greatly reduced entity.

Galvin pursued a second career in the boardrooms of a number of major Irish companies, becoming Chairman of the Doyle Hotel Group, Director of the Bank of Ireland’s ‘Court of Justice’, Director of Greencore and President of the Federation of Irish Employers and the Institute of Directors.

He died on August 30 at the age of 89. His funeral was held in Dundrum, Co. Dublin last Friday. Predeceased by his wife Mary, he is survived by his children Imelda, Regina, Orla and Grant.

https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/obituary-paddy-galvin-business-magnate-who-led-guinness-and-tried-to-rescue-waterford-crystal-41959496.html Obituary: Paddy Galvin, business tycoon who ran Guinness and tried to save Waterford Crystal

Fry Electronics Team

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