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An Appreciation of the life of Council Board Member
Joseph C. O'Sullivan
Joseph O'Sullivan

It is with deep sadness and great regret that we mourn the recent passing of Ireland-U.S. Council Board Member and long-time supporter Joseph C. O’Sullivan.

Joe O’Sullivan’s story is a remarkable one characterized by great business success, an extraordinary business brain that had a distinctly contrarian hue, keen intellectual insight and an admirable commitment to good works and philanthropy.

Born in 1929 in Galway he graduated from University College Galway. In his early career he was a senior manager for Bord Iascaigh Mhara, a State agency tasked with the development of Ireland’s fishing industry. He was one of the first executives recruited to the Industrial Development Agency to put shape and substance on Ireland’s ambitions to promote broad-based industrial expansion of its economy.

In his work at the IDA, his focus was the development of indigenous, domestic Irish industry. Armed as he was with the State’s financial power and wide-enough discretionary authority, he offered crucial early strategic assistance to many native enterprises. He also backed many winning development strategies for fast-growing Irish companies. A good example is his support of Denis Brosnan to set up what was then North Kerry Co-Op in 1969 which went on to become Kerry Group plc – a stunning private-sector enterprise success story that is now a world-class business with extensive international operations.

In the early 1970’s, he partnered with an IDA colleague, Ray McLoughlin (who was also at that time a star player on Ireland’s national rugby team) in founding a venture capital acquisition vehicle Shelbourne Securities. This company purchased the Irish Stock Exchange-listed James Crean Ltd., a soap manufacturer based in Ennis, County Clare. Some of Joe’s close friends joked that he had become “The Merchant of Ennis”.

James Crean was an active acquirer of diverse enterprises around the world which were then managed to higher profits by growing sales and trimming costs. At one time, its diversified businesses spanned frozen foods, canned poultry products, packaging, microchips, distribution of electrical products, and aircraft leasing operations. It owned and operated companies such as Freezer Queen in New York, which was then the largest supplier of prepared foods to the U.S. Army; Wade’s Electrical (the largest electrical goods distributor in the U.K.) and Valley Fresh, a New Jersey-based canned poultry business.

During the acquisition stage when he was buying many companies in the United States, Joe resided in Rye, New York. He later returned to Ireland and lived in Dunsany, County Meath, always signing his correspondence with the description – “simple farmer in County Meath”.

To all who knew him, worked with him or transacted deals with him, he was viewed as an inspiring leader, wise mentor, trusted confidante and an honorable businessman.

He was a Director of the Beaumont Hospital Foundation and the Galway University Foundation. He also served as a board member of Horse Racing Ireland and Navan Racecourse. He is survived by his wife Berna and four sons, Ruairí, Ros, Niall and Dara.

Fé bhraith Dé go raibh a anam. Nár laga Dia é.

An Appreciation - The Irish Times December 31 2012