It is with deep sadness and great regret that we mourn the passing of Ireland-US Council board member and long-time supporter Joseph C O’Sullivan.
Joe O’Sullivan’s story is a remarkable one characterised 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 Galway in 1929, 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 on the development of indigenous, domestic Irish industry. 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 1970s, he partnered with an IDA colleague, Ray McLoughlin (who was also at that time an Irish rugby international) in founding venture capital acquisition vehicle Shelbourne Securities. This company purchased James Crean Ltd, a soap manufacturer based in Ennis, Co Clare. Some of Joe’s 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. Its companies included Freezer Queen in New York, which was then the largest supplier of prepared foods to the US army.
During the acquisition stage when he was buying many companies in the United States, Joe lived in Rye, New York. He later returned to Ireland and lived in Dunsany, Co 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 honourable businessman.
He was a director of the Beaumont Hospital Foundation and the Galway University Foundation. He also served as a board member of Senator Windows, Horse Racing Ireland and Navan Racecourse. He is survived by his wife Berna and four sons, Ruairí, Ros, Niall and Dara . – DAVID O’SULLIVAN