The late Ben Dunne was a “ruthless businessman” in his prime – but also “down to earth” and well-liked, according to Sunday Times Business Editor Brian Carey.
Mr Dunne passed away yesterday at the age of 74 while on a trip to Dubai.
He was a former director of his family’s business, Dunnes Stores, one of Ireland’s largest retail groups.
Mr Carey told The Anton Savage Show the Dubliner lived “an extraordinary life”.
“He left school at the age of 14 to join the family business... he ran it for 20 years, really driving the growth of Dunnes Stores and turning it into the biggest retailer in the country,” he said.
In 1981, the businessman was kidnapped by the IRA and held for seven days – he was released a week later after Irish businessman and friend Patrick Gallagher paid a £1 million ransom.
His father died two years later, Mr Carey said, “plunging” Mr Dunne into “the responsibility of taking over the firm”.
“His reputation at Dunnes Stores would have been that of a ruthless businessman – hard on suppliers, hard on staff, uncompromising in how he dealt with competitors in particularly.” he said.
Mr Dunne's role in Dunnes Stores ended in 1992 after he was arrested in Florida for cocaine possession.
“It was the triggering of an enormous serious of events that led to massive upheaval within business and politics in Ireland,” Mr Carey said.
“There was an investigation by PWC into how the business was run [by Mr Dunne], which unearthed payments made to politicians, specifically up to £1 million to Charles Haughey and payments made to Michael Lowry.
“This led to the McCracken and Moriarty Tribunals, in which various findings were made in relations to Ben Dunne, in particular one action that was described as being ‘profoundly corrupt’.”
Mr Dunne 'down to earth'
Mr Carey said, however, Mr Dunne “was very open about his own failings, and people respected that”.
“He was down to earth, people related to him very easily,” he said.
Tributes have been paid to Mr Dunne, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar calling him “larger than life”.
“He led a life less ordinary and in turn he made some mistakes in life,” he said. “The best people do. He never allowed that to defeat him or hold him back.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald also said Mr Dunne “was a good man who cared about people” and “we will never see his likes again”.