Owen Killian adept at flying under the radar

Media shy Aryzta boss is in unfamiliar territory

 

Aryzta boss Owen Killian (62) is probably the most media shy of Ireland’s high-flying executives. Despite commanding a €3.4 billion turnover company, he flies under the radar.

An interview with The Irish Times last year – given in the wake of gold medal for industry award from the RDS – was his first in 11 years.

The 62-year-old jokingly confessed to having few interests outside of work, describing himself as a “card-carrying workaholic”.

The Roscommon native lives with his wife and two children in Zurich, where the company is headquartered.

In 2014, he was unveiled as the mystery buyer of 2 Shrewsbury Road in Dublin, one of the most expensive homes in the State.

Killian acquired the one-acre site, located on the corner with Merrion Road, for €6.5 million but is reportedly spending an additional €12 million on the refurb. This will see the original 604sq m (6,500 sq ft) property, which formerly house the Belgian embassy, almost triple in size to 1,670sq m (18,000 sq ft), making it one of the largest private residences in Dublin.

Killian’s attempt to cultivate a low profile hit something of a speed bump last year after his generous salary package from the company made him one of the highest paid chief executives in Ireland, prompting several media reports.

His earnings for the 2014 financial year topped 6.1 million Swiss francs (€5.5 million). However the company’s most recent annual report suggests his pay declined to €1.6 million for the 2015 financial year.

After completing an agriculture degree at University College Dublin in 1970s, Killian cut his business teeth with the Irish Agriculture Wholesale Society (IAWS) – a hotchpotch of flour, feed and fertiliser businesses – in the 1980s.

He is said to have been central to the company’s change of direction, signposted by the IR£50 million (€64 million) acquisition of Cuisine de France in 1997 after several potential buyers, including Greencore, balked at the asking price.

After playing second fiddle to long-time IAWS boss Philip Lynch, he was appointed chief executive in 2003, the same year the company bought a 23 per cent stake in Swiss food group Hiestand.

He eventually spearheaded a merger between the two companies from which Aryzta was born. The name is derived from Arista, the Latin word for the grain at the top of an ear of wheat.