Driving force behind Independent's growth

 

John Meagher, who died on January 31st aged 62, was one of the founders of market research in Ireland and one of the driving forces behind the rapid expansion by Independent News and Media plcover the past 20 years.

He was born on July 1st, 1938, the son of a commercial traveller Joe Meagher and his wife Mairead (nee Sinnott), a teacher, and was educated at Blackrock College. He was the third of six children and was the only boy. When he completed his secondary education in Blackrock he went to Canada.

After a short period at Montreal Trust Co, he got his first experience of market research when he was hired by Paul Haynes, a former ice hockey professional who had set up International Surveys. Haynes, who had no son of his own, became 19-year-old John Meagher's mentor.

As well as getting his first exposure to the world of market research and marketing, John Meagher's period in Canada instilled in him a growing interest in the media - fuelled by night-time lectures from pundit Marshall McLuhan and the compilation of readership surveys for the Toronto Star.

But like many expatriates who left Ireland in the depressed 1950s, John Meagher always wanted to return home. When he did in 1963, rather than work for established market research companies such as MRBI or Nielsen, he decided to set up on his own. With backing from four British investors, he established Irish Marketing Surveys later that year

The early years were difficult and on a number of occasions, he considered returning to Canada. But he persevered and in 1965, IMS reached a turning point when John Meagher persuaded Guinness and P.J. Carroll to come on board as shareholders, replacing the original four British backers.

Guinness and Carroll's provided more than capital, they also brought a modest but constant level of business to the fledgling IMS.

The company grew rapidly and is now one of the biggest market research organisations in Ireland, taking in Lansdowne Market Research and Ulster Marketing Surveys. Until his death, John Meagher remained chairman and the largest shareholder in the company.

During the late 1970s and 1980s, John Meagher came to the attention of Dr Tony O'Reilly and in 1982 he was brought onto the Independent Newspapers board as a non-executive director. A year later, he became deputy chairman of the newspaper group and in 1985 he became executive deputy chairman - in effect number two in group to chairman Tony O'Reilly. John Meagher's position in the Independent hierarchy was copper-fastened that same year when he was appointed chief executive.

Unlike his predecessor, Bartle Pitcher, John Meagher made a conscious decision to base himself, not in the Independent newspaper office in Middle Abbey Street, but in an office block in Hatch Street. The decision to base himself in Hatch Street was symbolic, reflecting the fact that Ireland was only one of Independent's areas of operation as the group looked to Australia for expansion.

In 1990, John Meagher stepped down as chief executive, but retained his position of deputy chairman, a post he held until last year when he was succeeded by Liam Healy. He remained a non-executive director of the group.

As well as his positions in Independent Newspapers (now Independent News and Media plc) and IMS, John Meagher spent a term as a non-executive director of CIE ("a reluctant recruit", as he told The Irish Times in a 1985 interview). He was also chairman of the financial services group Friends First and honorary treasurer of the National Maternity Hospital.

A noted raconteur and afterdinner speaker (some say the equal of his friend Tony O'Reilly), John Meagher is described by friends as a "bon viveur". Among his passions were France, fine red wines and good cigars, while he also had a love of soft-top cars - he owned a Mercedes and a RollsRoyce. His dislikes included "empty red wine glasses".

In his younger days, he was an active sportsman, and although a knee injury in the early 1980s curbed his activities, he remained an active skier (a legacy of his days in Canada) and sailor. He was a member of the Kildare Street Club, Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club and the Royal St George Yacht Club.

John Meagher is survived by his partner Marianne Guimonde, wife Judith, whom he married in 1967, three children by that marriage, Rachel, Elizabeth, and David, and sisters Patricia, Joan, Geraldine, Deirdre and Anne.

John Meagher: born 1938; died, January 2001