Arthur Ryan

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For the American executive with Prudential Insurance, see Arthur F. Ryan. For the Australian rules footballer, see Arthur Ryan (footballer).
Arthur St. John Ryan
Born July 1935
Occupation Businessman Current Chairman of Primark/Penneys
Nationality Irish

Arthur Ryan is the founder, chairman, and former chief executive of Primark. The company Primark trades under the name of Penneys in the Republic of Ireland.

Early life[edit]

Arthur Ryan was born the son of a Cork-born insurance clerk [1] in 1930 and went to the Christian Brothers School on Synge Street. After emigrating to London, he entered the genteel world of gentlemen's tailoring as a tie buyer at Swan & Edgar. He also worked for London fashion wholesaler Carr & McDonald. From there he returned to Dublin and a job at Dunnes Stores in Cornelscourt.[2]

Ryan is married to the former entertainer Alma Carroll and also has a daughter. He is an intensely private man, living in one of Dublin's best-protected houses, he never gives interviews and is rarely seen in public without bodyguards. His great fear is kidnap – a real enough threat for Irish retail magnates during the Troubles. In 1981, the IRA snatched department store boss Ben Dunne; two years later, they tried to kidnap Galen Weston, scion of the Canadian family behind Primark's owner, food and retail conglomerate Associated British Foods (ABF). Ryan still takes no chances. "His daily schedule is kept secret from all but his closest aides." [3]


He opened the first Penneys shop on Mary Street in Dublin in 1969.[4] Subsequently, in 1974, he took the model to Britain – renaming the stores Primark to avoid legal problems with US chain JC Penney. The major turnaround came in 2005, when Primark acquired a huge portfolio of Littlewoods stores. Meanwhile, close attention to catwalk trends made it chic as well as cheap. It went from being the "shop that nobody admitted going to" to a Mecca for celebrity shoppers. It was "Primani", darling – or "Pradamark". It now accounts for over a third of ABF's operating profits.[5] In 2009, Ryan gave up his day-to-day control of the firm as chief executive, but became Chairman instead.