Irish Times view on the life of Fergal Quinn: the customers’ king
Hugely successful businessman with a deep commitment to public service
Feargal Quinn, who has died aged 82, pictured in the Sutton outlet of Superquinn in 1997. He opened his first shop in Dundalk in 1960. Photograph: David Sleator / The Irish Times
Fergal Quinn was a rare individual who combined a hugely successful business career with a deep commitment to public service. That one of the State’s most dynamic business people was prepared to give so much time to advance the public good was a measure of the man.
He brought a different perspective to key political debates over three decades and stood out in a system in which so many elected representatives came from the teaching profession, the farming community and the ranks of the self-employed. This gave his contributions a valuable context in a rapidly changing Ireland.
Quinn came to prominence in the 1960s as a pioneering retailer who changed the face of Irish shopping. His business acumen and early grasp of the power of marketing, media and personality, underpinned his success as he established the Superquinn chain of supermarkets, trading on a customer-service ethic unmatched by others at the time. One of the trademarks of his approach to retailing was his presence on the shop floor, talking to shoppers and helping out as an ordinary staff member when things got busy. This won him the loyalty and affection of staff and customers alike.
Quinn brought the same approach to his role as chairman of An Bord Poist in the 1980s. During his first week in the position, he adopted a typically hands-on role by donning a postman’s uniform and worked a full shift delivering letters to homes in Ringsend and Sandymount. He was elected to the Seanad in 1993 on the National University of Ireland (NUI) panel and remained a member of the Upper House until 2016, exhibiting the same commitment as he did to his business affairs.
NUI chancellor Maurice Manning noted that as an independent senator he made an exceptional contribution piloting through many pieces of valuable legislation. He also took a leading role in the referendum campaign to prevent the abolition of the Seanad in 2013 and his voice – and public popularity and credibility – was influential in persuading the electorate to reject the government’s proposal. It was one of many milestones for which he will be remembered.