Superquinn chairman at the forefront of Ireland’s shopping centre revolution

Obituary: Vincent O’Doherty played a quiet, behind-the-scenes role in the retailer’s growth

Vincent O’Doherty:  ‘Never complained about anything except the weather’

Vincent O’Doherty: ‘Never complained about anything except the weather’

 

Vincent O’Doherty
Born:
September 5th, 1935
Died : June 18th, 2021

For over 30 years, Vincent O’Doherty, who has died aged 85, was chairman of Superquinn, the supermarket chain. He played a quiet, behind-the-scenes role but was nonetheless a driving force of the expansion of a company whose public face was the ebullient Feargal Quinn.

O’Doherty’s approach – “the engineer behind the entrepreneur,” as his son Niall put it at his funeral – was more low-key: acquiring the properties and patiently expanding the company that, with a healthy turnover, was sold to the Musgrave Group in 2011.

Vincent James O’Doherty was born in 1935, to Jack and Eileen O’Doherty of Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

His father was an engineer with the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) and played a significant role in the company’s rollout of electricity across the State in the 1940s and ’50s.

Eileen O’Doherty was a world-class bridge player who, with her playing partner Ann Quinn, reached the 1991 European Bridge Championships final, the first Irish couple to achieve such standing.

The young Vincent attended Blackrock College, from where he went to University College Dublin to study engineering. He was also active in the college’s Literary and Historical Society, the L&H, a debating forum and early stomping ground for would-be politicians and barristers (a profession for which O’Doherty had something of an unfulfilled hankering).

O’Doherty shone at the L&H and, as recorded in the society’s archives, “always commanded attention by his intelligence and sincerity”. He was rewarded by winning the society’s gold medal for oratory and representing it abroad, including at the Observer Mace debating competition, where he won the Individual Speaker award.

He graduated in 1956, with first-class honours in mechanical and electrical engineering, and left almost immediately for Canada. In Montreal, he worked for Westinghouse Electric and later for Brown Boveri.

Shoe manufacturer

He returned home in 1961 and took up a variety of marketing and management positions, including with a shoe manufacturer in Louth and a window manufacturing company in west Dublin. And he spent a number of years as a management consultant in Ireland and the UK with Inbucon Management Consultants.

In 1972, he became a non-executive director of Superquinn, the start of an almost 40-year association with the company, brought about by his friendship with Feargal Quinn. In 1981, he became executive chairman of the company with responsibility for strategic financial management and all property acquisition and development.

He had particular knowledge of shopping centres and, while Quinn was the public face of the business and was adept at reading consumer tastes and trends, it was O’Doherty who provided the outlets –literally – that saw the business, and their partnership, flourish.

From 1993 to 1994, O’Doherty was president of the British Council of Shopping Centres and, from 1987 to 1993, was a member, and later chairman, of the European Council of Shopping Centres Awards jury.

He had a number of other executive and non-executive positions. They included Moy Holdings, the Boyne Valley Group, the Heiton Group (of which he was also chairman) and Buy4Now, an online retail operation of which he was chairman.

From 1990 to 1991, he was president of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. And he was a member of the executive council of the business organisation Ibec, chairing its EU committee. In 1996 he was nominated by the French government an officer of the Ordre National du Mérite for services to the development of economic relations between France and Ireland.

We in the arts are much in need of philanthropic support and Vincent’s passion for theatre was a wonderful example of how businesspeople can make a real difference

Away from business, O’Doherty had a deep interest in civic affairs and in the arts.

In 1993, and for the following 12 years, he was a board member of the British-Irish Association and, for much of the same period, was a board member and vice-chairman of Co-Operation North.

“He was very civic-minded,” according to those that knew him, “and believed business could be a driver of better understanding.”

MacGill Summer School

He was an unfailing attender every year at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, and he also enjoyed the annual Parnell Summer School in Wicklow. A love of history saw him become a founding member of a history book club, whose Zoom meetings he continued to participate in up to his passing.

He loved the theatre. This was reflected in an annual visit to Shakespeare plays staged in Stratford-upon-Avon, as well as his patronage of the Dublin Theatre Festival (attending sometimes three performances a day), on whose council he served. He also served on the board of the Fishamble Theatre Company.

“We in the arts are much in need of philanthropic support and Vincent’s passion for theatre was a wonderful example of how businesspeople can make a real difference,” says Fishamble chair Doireann Ní Bhriain. “Fishamble is hugely grateful for his support over the years.”

O’Doherty, according to his family, “never complained about anything except the weather.” He had a particular fondness for the sun and enjoyed spending time during the winter in Florida.

He also stayed fit by jogging and he walked the Camino.

Vincent O’Doherty is survived by his wife, Fionnuala, and by their children Niall, Rosemary, Jane and John; their partners Rory, Julie and Signe; his grandchildren Robyn, Zach, Esme, Amelia, Vincent, Jessica, Daniel and Fionnuala. A brother, Ronan, predeceased him.