Tributes paid to ‘fantastic entrepreneur’ Galen Weston

Brown Thomas Arnotts owner Weston died on Tuesday

Tributes have been paid to Canadian entrepreneur Galen Weston, who died at home this week after a long illness at the age of 80.

His extensive business interests included ownership of Irish department store groups Brown Thomas and Arnotts, and a shareholding in fast fashion retailer Penneys/Primark.

Donald McDonald, managing director of Brown Thomas Arnotts, said Mr Weston had an "extraordinary impact in Ireland, not just in shaping the retail landscape, but in the energy, vision and the clear love he had for this country".

DAA chief executive Dalton Philips spent five and a half years working for Mr Weston, first as head of Brown Thomas (when Mr Weston was its chairman), and then as chief operating officer of Loblaws, a Canadian grocery business.


He described Mr Weston as “charismatic and personable” and someone who inspired his employees. “You just never wanted to let him down,” Mr Philips told The Irish Times. “Whether it was a senior executive, or a part-timer, he treated them equally, looking deep look into their eyes as if they were the most important person in the world.

“People say he was brilliant at picking people ... but more than that, he was brilliant at getting the best out of people. You never ever wanted to let him down. Not because of the fear of failure but because of the fear of letting him down personally. You knew he backed you, and you returned that in spades to him.

“I remember him calling me on the birth of my son when his first grandchild had just been born (at the same time) and was really struggling medically in hospital. He just found the time for this sort of stuff, as it was important to him.”

‘Fertile mind’

Breege O’Donoghue, a former senior executive at Penneys/Primark, first met Mr Weston in 1979 and remembers him as someone with a “fertile mind”, with “intense energy”, and a “tremendous eye for detail”.

“He was a fantastic entrepreneur. Commercially astute. Innovation was a big thing for him and value for money. In a nice way, he was always paranoid about the competition. He had a relentless focus on the customer journey, and consumer preferences and lifestyles. He loved Ireland and all things Irish.”

Jeanne Beker, a fashion journalist in Canada, who met and interviewed Mr Weston a number of times, said he had a "common touch" with people. "He was friends with Prince Charles but always had a great curiosity about people and was always approachable," she said, adding that he was a "brilliant marketeer".

Nigel Blow, a former Brown Thomas managing director, described him as an "inspirational leader and certainly one of the most important figures in global luxury department store history".

In a statement issued by Brown Thomas and Arnotts, Alannah Weston, chairman of the Selfridges Group (of which the Irish department stores are a part) and Mr Weston's daughter, added: "The luxury retail industry has lost a great visionary. His energy electrified those of us who were lucky enough to work alongside him to reimagine what customer experience could be."


In a tweet, the Retail Council of Canada described Mr Weston as an "icon" of the industry, while the Salvation Army in Canada also paid tribute to Mr Weston. "We join in honouring a life well lived in support of others and celebrate his rich legacy of community leadership and philanthropic support," it said.

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock is Business Editor of The Irish Times