Jonathan Ryan – a champion of Irish companies at home and abroad
Jonathan Ryan: a dedicated public servant whose industrial development work was widely respected. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Jonathan Ryan, who died on June 23rd, 2019, was a dedicated public servant whose industrial development work was inspired by his commitment to improving Irish companies’ performance, especially in foreign fields. He retired after a long career in Enterprise Ireland, and before that in CTT, the Irish Export Board. He served on the investment committee of Enterprise Ireland, and it was a testimony to his standing that his funeral was attended by leaders in the public and private sector, including the former ambassador to Japan, Jim Sharkey, who gave a wonderful oration of his colleague and friend.
Jonathan was serving as honorary treasurer of the National Yacht Club in Dún Laoghaire and was providing active input to the club he loved up to the very end, having been a member for 50 years.
Jonathan was born in Dalkey on June 5th, 1952, to Benny and Joan Ryan. His father worked with the great American firm CPC, which manufactured and distributed consumer food brands such as Goodalls, Knorr and Kelloggs. He picked up a sound understanding of the process and requirements for marketing success around the dining room table he shared with his parents and sisters Janna and Rikki. He attended primary school in Scoil Lorcáin in Monkstown – a rare all-Irish school in south Dublin – and then he then progressed to Blackrock College, which led him to UCD, where he studied commerce. In 1973 he began studying accountancy while articled to Oliver Freeney & Co.
His first job in industry was in Bord na Móna in pure accounting, but in after-hours he exercised his interest in local Fianna Fáil political campaigns, where he could see that the chronic unemployment problems of the 1980s could be partially alleviated by a cadre of strong, scaled manufacturing firms that could sell on the world stage.
He was an expert election tallyman who computerised the tally in the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown electoral area and worked closely with David Andrews TD on many campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s, and loved to debate politics with his Labour Party friend, Greg Sparks.
He joined CTT in 1983, which had ambitious plans to get Irish firms to spread their wings and win profitable business further afield. In 1990 Jonathan and Margaret moved to Tokyo for CTT, where they teamed up with Ambassador Sharkey, who took up the story in his oration: “An initial problem was that Ireland was unknown to most Japanese – so Jonathan was heavily involved in the St Patrick’s Day parade. From a modest effort the first year, it has grown to where there are now 10 St Patrick Day parades in cities up and down Japan. A highlight of our time in Japan was the visit of President Mary Robinson and the trade and diplomatic mission we built around it.”
Margaret and Jonathan were a team in Japan and, though bringing up their beloved Breifne and Ross, still had time to make their apartment a home from home for the small Irish community and visiting exporters. They returned to Dublin in 1996.
Jonathan was appointed to open and head up a new Enterprise Ireland office in Istanbul in 2014, as a gateway to the Middle East, and his ability to adapt quickly to a changing situation came to the fore.
He had a deep commitment to helping ambitious and committed companies to develop the skills and expertise so they could look beyond the UK market. In recent years he managed the Enterprise Ireland Investment Committee which provided equity funding for high-potential, early stage firms.
His professionalism and enthusiasm for the firms and their promoters were as strong as ever, right to the end. Many of the firms went on to great things, employing thousands across Ireland.