Bill Cullen (businessman)

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Bill Cullen
Born (1942-02-17) 17 February 1942 (age 82)
OccupationChairman of Bill Cullen Motor Group
PartnerJackie Lavin
WebsiteOfficial website

William Cullen (born 17 February 1942) is an Irish businessman and media personality. He is regularly seen on RTÉ programmes such as The Late Late Show and The Frontline. Cullen was the owner of the Renault Ireland franchise[1] until it was taken under more direct control by Renault in 2007. His 2001 autobiography, It's a Long Way from Penny Apples, covered his life growing up as a poor child in inner-city Dublin.[2] Between 2008 and 2012, he hosted the Irish reality television series The Apprentice. His motor-trade business was put into receivership in October 2012.

Early life[edit]

Born into poverty in the Summerhill area of Dublin in the 1940s, Bill Cullen was the fifth of fourteen children, seven boys and seven girls. Cullen was born in a caul (the membrane surrounding the amniotic fluid) which is considered a good luck omen within Irish folklore. His mother, Mary Darcy Cullen was a fruit seller and Cullen started trading at market stalls from a very young age.[1][2] His father Billy was in the Irish Army Reserve and was for the most part unemployed, or working on the dock and getting labour that was not much for the Cullen family.[3]


He finished his education with the Christian Brothers at the age of thirteen to work on the markets full-time, selling fruit, vegetables and other items. In 1956 he worked as a messenger boy at Walden's Ford Dealership and was appointed director general of the company in 1965. He went on to set up the Fairlane Motor Company in Tallaght in 1977 which he developed into the biggest Ford dealership in Ireland by 1981. In 1986, he took over the franchise for Renault car distribution from Waterford Crystal. The initial purchase price of the operation was £1, however the deal entailed taking on a debt burden of £18 million.[4][5] This company became known as the Glencullen Group and the Renault distribution arm became known as Glencullen Distributors. Turnover of the business grew to €350 Million at its peak,[6] but fell to €4 million loss in 2006,[7] an €18.6 million loss in 2007, and a further loss of €8.2 million in 2008.[8] In April 2006 he was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur by decree of the President of the French Republic for both his work with Renault Ireland and for his humanitarian efforts.

The Renault Ireland operation was taken into direct control by Renault S.A.S in 2006. It now operates as a subsidiary of the parent company.[9] He continued to own Ireland's largest Renault retailer, CityGate Motor Group. It had six dealerships around the country – three of which were in Dublin.[4] He also established and owned the Europa Academy, a training facility in Swords, north County Dublin.[10]

In October 2012, Cullen's motor-trade business was put into receivership by Ulster Bank. Cullen was said to be "very sad" at the appointment of receivers to his businesses Glencullen Holdings, which operates dealerships in Swords and Liffey Valley.[11]

He took over the Muckross Park Hotel in Killarney in 1990 with his partner, Jackie Lavin, who is also his business partner. The hotel achieved five-star status in 2007, and – in the same year – ran at losses of €9.4 million.[12][13] The Muckross hotel went into receivership in April 2013.

With the assistance of Robert "Hino" Harris, Bill Cullen in 2014 became the Dublin area dealer for SsangYong Motor Company.[14]

Other business interests[edit]

As well as his interests in the motor and hotel industries, Cullen also holds executive positions in other areas:

In March 2009, Cullen became an Executive Editor of RSVP business magazine.[15] He also offers his services as a paid motivational speaker to schools, colleges, and the business community.[16]

Exploits in outer space[edit]

Cullen was booked to be one of the first passengers to take a flight into space on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic service at a cost of $200,000.[17]

Media involvement[edit]

Cullen regularly appears in the Irish media and is considered a minor celebrity, appearing on television shows, such as The Late Late Show, Tubridy Tonight and The Restaurant on RTÉ[18][19] He is often parodied by Tom Dunne on the Today FM Gift Grub comedy segment. This has led to him being referred to as 'Dr. Bill' because of his honorary doctorate.[20] More recently in 2008, he has taken on the role as the businessman in the Irish version of TV show The Apprentice.[2]


Cullen released his autobiography entitled It's a Long Way from Penny Apples[21] in 2002 detailing his life growing up in inner city Dublin and rising to become one of Ireland's most successful business people. Deidre Leahy of RTÉ called it a "entertaining and inspirational" book,[22] while Pauline Ferrie of The Irish Emigrant praised Cullen's decision that all royalties from the book would be donated to the Irish Youth Foundation.[23]

In 2005, Cullen released his second book Golden Apples: Six Simple Steps to Success[24] in which he details principles to achieving business success. Bill Cullen took the Guinness World Record on 16 April 2005 for the largest ever book signing by signing 1849 copies in 10.5 hours in Easons, O'Connell Street. This was 32 copies more than the previous record.[25][26]


In June 2008, TV3 began inviting applications for an Irish version of popular television franchise The Apprentice. In the programme, Cullen takes on the role filled in the US version by Donald Trump, and in the UK version by Alan Sugar.[27] His partner Jackie Lavin also acts as a mentor to the apprentices. The show started its fourth season in October 2011; however, in May 2012, the show was cancelled for cost reasons.[28]


Cullen has donated to Fianna Fáil, an Irish political party, on a number of occasions. Glencullen Holdings made political donations during 2002 of €13,459.[29] In 2005, he donated €9,330 to the party, which they controversially did not declare to the Standards in Public Office Commission.[30] In 2006, his company donated €14,873 to the party. His company made further donations of €2,500 to Fianna Fáil minister Mary Hanafin in 2007.[31]

Cullen was critical of the Green Party in government, particularly the effect the change in vehicle registration tax and motor taxation policy in July 2008 had on the Irish motor industry. He blamed the party for the collapse in new vehicle sales in 2009, saying that these changes were unnecessary.[32] In response, the party's finance spokesperson, Dan Boyle, called the claims "hysterical and widely inaccurate".[33]

He was also one of a number of high-profile members along with Packie Bonner and Mick Galwey of the group 'We Belong' who campaigned for a yes vote in the second Irish constitutional referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.[34]


Cullen is involved in a voluntary capacity with the charity "The Irish Youth Foundation" a number of years after it had been established, and is now president of the foundation.[35] The Irish Youth Foundation helps raise €1.5 million a year for youth projects in Ireland. All royalties from Cullen's 2002 autobiography, It's a Long Way from Penny Apples, were donated to this charity.[36]

Cullen set up the Bill Cullen Sunshine Scholarships Fund in 2001 to assist young athletes make the transition to senior athletics while continuing their third level education in Ireland.[37]

Awards and honours[edit]

In 1998, he was a recipient of the Lord Mayor's Award for his work with the disadvantaged young people of Dublin.

In September 2004, he was awarded the inaugural Princess Grace Humanitarian Award.

He was named Maxol Irish Motor Industry Person of the Year 2000.[38]

He was conferred with an honorary Doctorate of Law of Maynooth University in May 2005.[39]


  1. ^ a b "Desert Island Discs". BBC. 19 October 2003.
  2. ^ a b c "The Apprentice". TV3. Archived from the original on 7 November 2008.
  3. ^ "Bill Cullen". Irish Connections. Archived from the original on 4 July 2008. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  4. ^ a b Joe Brennan (3 July 2007). "Penny Apple tycoon will get millions". Irish Independent. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  5. ^ "Speaker Profiles...Bill Cullen". ESOC, University College Cork Entrepreneurship Society. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  6. ^ Cullen, Bill (2002). It's a Long Way from Penny Apples. Forge Books. ISBN 978-0-7653-0710-1.
  7. ^ Barry O'Halloran (19 April 2008). "'Renault agent's €3m profit fell to €4m loss'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  8. ^ "Glencullen records €8.2m loss". The Irish Times. 1 January 2010.
  9. ^ Michael Moroney (11 October 2007). "Renault acquires Irish importer". 'Cork Independent'. Archived from the original on 12 October 2008. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  10. ^ "BILL CULLEN Takes on Academic Establishment". Europa Academy. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  11. ^ "Bank takes control of Bill Cullen's last two car dealerships". Irish Independent. 10 October 2012. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  12. ^ "Apprentice Cullen loses €9m at Muckross Hotel". 9 February 2009. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  13. ^ "'Speech by John O'Donoghue, Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism at Muckross Park Hotel 5 Star Award'". 'Dept. Arts, Sport and Tourism'. 14 May 2007. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  14. ^ Newenham, Pamela. "Bill Cullen back on the road with new car dealership in Dublin". The Irish Times. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  15. ^ "BILL CULLEN JOINS RSVP BUSINESS AS EXECUTIVE EDITOR". 'Fuzion Communications'. 27 March 2009. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  16. ^ "Bill Cullen". 'Speaker Solutions'. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  17. ^ Yavanna Evans (19 December 2004). "Bill Cullen: Renault dynamo gets lost in space". The Sunday Times. London. Retrieved 7 October 2009.
  18. ^ "The Restaurant". RTÉ.ie. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  19. ^ "Tubridy Tonight". 'RTÉ.ie'. 4 March 2006. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  20. ^ "'Profile: Bill Cullen & Jackie Lavin – Who's the real boss?'". Sunday Tribune. 21 September 2008. Archived from the original on 23 October 2009. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  21. ^ ISBN 9780765310439
  22. ^ Leahy, Deidre (5 March 2002). "It's A Long Way From Penny Apples by Bill Cullen". RTÉ. Retrieved 7 October 2009.
  23. ^ Ferrie, Pauline (22 January 2002). "It's A Long Way From Penny Apples by Bill Cullen". The Irish Emigrant. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2009.
  24. ^ ISBN 0340838981,
  25. ^ "A GOLDEN MOMENT FOR BILL CULLEN". ' Archived from the original on 18 February 2010. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  26. ^ "Bill Cullen". 'National College of Ireland'. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  27. ^ 'Nick Webb' (9 June 2008). "Cullen to be the Irish Sir Alan". Irish Independent. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  28. ^ "Bill Cullen told 'You're Fired' by TV3 as station pulls the plug on Irish 'The Apprentice' – TV & Radio, Entertainment –". Irish Independent. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  29. ^ 'BRIAN CAREY' (27 July 2003). "'Car magnate Cullen's .1.5m dividend a long way from penny apples'". Sunday Tribune. Retrieved 27 September 2009.[permanent dead link]
  30. ^ "FF did not declare Glencullen donation". The Irish Times. 7 May 2007. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  31. ^ 'Emmet Oliver and Neil Callanan' (25 January 2009). "Government, Anglo and the developers..." Sunday Tribune. Archived from the original on 22 August 2009. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  32. ^ Dermot Keyes (5 June 2009). "Bill Cullen:Green Party is killing the motor trade". Munster Express. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  33. ^ 'Dan Boyle' (11 May 2009). "'Bill Cullen's unfair attack cannot go unchallenged'". Green Party. Archived from the original on 14 May 2009. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  34. ^ "IBEC: Lisbon rejection was damaging". RTÉ.ie. 27 July 2008. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  35. ^ "Bill Cullen: Bill Cullen Motor Group – Business & Finance". Archived from the original on 3 March 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  36. ^ The Sunday Business Post – Review of "It's A Long Way From Penny Apples" – Sunday, January 20, 2002 Archived 11 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  37. ^ "€200,000 Corporate investment into Irish athletics announced". 'Dublin City University'. Archived from the original on 14 May 2012. Retrieved 27 September 2009.
  38. ^ "Bill Cullen is Maxol Irish Motor Industry Person". Archived from the original on 20 May 2001. Retrieved 27 September 2009.

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