Who are the Musgraves?
The media-shy family behind SuperValu, Centra and (for a few more months) Superquinn have no senior executive role in the business, but they collectively earn millions in dividends every year
Clockwise from top left: Musgrave co-founder Thomas Musgrave; Centra; the Metropole Hotel and sweet factory, Cork; current CEO Chris Martin; SuperValu; co-founder Stuart Musgrave; chairman Seamus Scally; family member and former chairman Hugh MacKeown. Illustration: Irish Times Premedia
The Musgrave Group’s decision last week to ditch the Superquinn brand that it acquired in 2011 put the spotlight on the Cork-based wholesaler. From February 2014 Superquinn’s 24 stores will be rebranded as SuperValu, a move that will give that brand a significant foothold in Dublin for the first time. It will also allow SuperValu to overtake Dunnes Stores as the country’s second-biggest retailer, behind Tesco, with a 25 per cent market share.
But who are the Musgraves, and what’s the secret to their long-running success?
This wealthy merchant family is intensely private and media-shy. None of them was prepared to be interviewed for this article.
The Musgrave company is essentially a wholesaler that supplies groceries to a network of franchisees who run its retail brands. These brands range from SuperValu and Centra in Ireland to Budgens and Londis in the UK and Dialprix in Spain. It dates back to 1876, when Thomas and Stuart Musgrave, brothers from Leitrim, set up a trading company in Cork. Over the years it has been involved in many sectors, including tea, sweets and hotels, before settling on running cash-and-carrys and supplying the grocery trade.
Although it bears the family name, the company has no Musgraves working in senior roles. The Trinity-educated “Dublin cousin” Hugh MacKeown was the last family member to run the business, but he stepped down as chairman in January 2011. He was managing director, chief executive and chairman during a 40-year stint dating from 1971. MacKeown is credited with modernising the business by building a chain of top-notch cash-and-carry outlets, establishing the SuperValu and Centra retail brands in the Republic, and expanding the business into Britain and Northern Ireland.
Musgrave is now run by Chris Martin, its English chief executive, and Seamus Scally, its chairman. Neither is related to the family. The group has annual sales of €4.9 billion, and more than 60,000 staff are employed by the company or its independent retailers.
“Although the family is not directly involved in the day-to-day running of the business, their influence plays a big part in defining who we are and how we do business,” said a statement from the company.
The family influence is exercised at board level. It underpins the company’s values as a community-based, ethically run business. One of the core values drummed into staff is that “we are not greedy”. This is credited to the family’s Methodist religion.
One experienced executive at a leading Irish-owned supplier says Musgrave is one of the best companies to deal with. “They’re tough negotiators, but when they strike a deal they stick to it. They don’t try to change terms midcontract, unlike some other retailers here,” he says.