Tony O’Reilly, Irish business tycoon and rugby record breaker, dies at 88

Time Of Info By TOI Desk Report   May 19, 2024   Update on : May 19, 2024

Tony O'Reilly, Irish business tycoon, rugby record breaker
Photo: Screengrab

Tony O’Reilly, the Irish media tycoon and former H.J. Heinz Co boss who first rose to fame as a record-breaking British and Irish Lions rugby player, died at the age of 88 on Saturday.

One of Ireland’s most celebrated entrepreneurs for decades, O’Reilly built a media group spanning from the Pacific through India and South Africa to Ireland which eventually went bankrupt after during the global financial meltdown of 2008, reports Reuters.

Following a short illness, Tony O’Reilly died in a Dublin hospital, national broadcaster RTE reported citing a spokesperson.

Lauding him as a trailblazer, Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris, in a statement, said Mr. O’Reilly was a goliath in sports, business, and media sectors and left permanent legacies in all three.

Harris said O’Reilly’s philanthropy had a transformative impact on the island of Ireland through his establishment of The Ireland Funds at the height of Northern Ireland’s communal violence in the 1970s that has raised hundreds of millions of euros from US donors for reconciliation projects.

Born in 1936 in Dublin, O’Reilly won his first of 29 rugby caps at the age of 18 on the wing for Ireland.

His six test tries on two British and Irish Lions tours in the 1950s till now remains an all-time record, as does his 37 tries in all games for the Lions.

At 26, while still playing rugby for Ireland, he took on a dying state entity, the Irish Dairy board, and established Kerrygold butter, which remains one of Ireland’s most successful international brands.

A decade later, O’Reilly became president and chief operating officer of food conglomerate H.J. Heinz. By 1987, he had succeeded the son of Heinz’s founder and was the first non-family to become a chairman.

The silver tongued O’Reilly drove revenue at H.J. Heinz, now Kraft Heinz, from $908 million to $11 billion during his reign of 18 years. When he retired in 1994, he was the first billionaire of Ireland.

As a media mogul he owned the Independent News & Media, including the UK Independent and other newspaper titles and radio stations across the globe.

O’Reilly also served as directors of General Electric, The Washington Post, Mobil Corporation – now ExxonMobil and the New York Stock Exchange.


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