Story is one of growth for many Irish firms

In the early 1960s none of our largest companies were ISE listed


Much like the wider economy, Ireland’s top companies have experienced exponential growth over the past 50 years.

Take a look at the table – back in 1963 none of Ireland’s largest companies today were listed on the Irish Stock Exchange (ISE). In fact the only associated companies were Cement Ltd and Roadstone Ltd, which merged in 1970 to become Cement Roadstone, and later, CRH. Since then Ireland’s largest company has had a meteoric rise – albeit one which was thrown off-course as a result of the financial crisis and global economic downturn.

Back in 1970 the cement producer had sales of just €27 million – 95 per cent of which were in Ireland. Fast forward some 43 years and the construction group’s sales have rocketed past the €18 billion mark, most of which were generated outside of Ireland.

Packaging group Smurfit Kappa was still a private company in 1963 having been acquired by Jefferson Smurfit in 1938. The following year it listed on the ISE and subsequently went through various ownership structures, including going private in 2002 through a management buy-out, before later merging with Kappa and returning to the stock market in 1998. In 1984 the group had reported record profits of €63.5 million but by 2012 it was earning €331 million in profits.

And it’s not just public companies that have experienced exponential growth.

Back in the 1960s Dunnes Stores was still largely a drapery, with the sale of boxes of apples and oranges marking its first foray into grocery. Since then the chain has grown to 155 stores across Ireland, the UK and Spain, with annual sales of several billion.

Or how about Larry Goodman’s Goodman International, now known as ABP Food Group and formerly as Irish Food Processors. Started by Goodman in the 1960s through the Anglo-Irish Meat Company, in the 1970s Goodman was described as the “man who has the largest private stake in the Irish economy”.

Today ABP has a turnover of about €2.2 billion, with its founder having faced – and come out the other side – challenges such as examinership, the beef tribunal, and more recently, the horse meat crisis.

Some of the fastest growing indigenous companies during this period were absorbed into larger multinationals.

Irish Distillers for example, was formed in 1966 when John Jameson & Son, John Power & Son and The Cork Distilleries Company came together, joining brands such as Powers Gold Label and Jameson whiskey. In 1988 it was sold to the French drinks group Pernod Ricard.

Back in 1969 a pint of draught Guinness – which had only been introduced 10 years previously – was sold for €0.20. But the price of a pint, much like the company itself, was primed for growth. In 1997 it merged with Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo, a company headquartered in the UK.

While the story might be one of growth for many companies, there are also those that failed to survive. Back in the 1980s Guinness Peat Aviation (GPA), launched by Tony Ryan, had become one of Ireland’s major success stories. As one of the world’s largest commercial aircraft lessors, the company was turning over $2 billion a year by 1991 – more than CRH or Smurfit at the time.

However a poorly timed IPO in the 1990s led to its premature downfall, although Ryan subsequently had even greater success with his airline business Ryanair.

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