July 21, 2024

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Anthony O’Reilly, Flashy Irish Tycoon Who Led Heinz, Is Dead at 88

2 min read

Anthony J.F. O’Reilly, a charming, high-flying, Irish-born former chairman of the H.J. Heinz Company, who also owned newspapers, luxury brands and trophy homes in France and the Bahamas, only to lose nearly everything in his eighth decade, died on May 18 in Dublin. He was 88.

The Irish Times and other Irish newspapers, citing a family spokesman, reported that he died in a hospital. No cause was given.

From his earliest days, Mr. O’Reilly, who was known as Tony, displayed an embarrassment of gifts. He was an elite-level rugby player while still in his teens — the “redheaded pinup boy of Irish rugby,” as The Guardian put it. His talent for business was equally precocious.

At 26, as the marketing head of the Irish Dairy Board, he created the brand Kerrygold to sell Irish butter to English grocery shoppers, and it is still one of the country’s best known global exports.

Mr. O’Reilly was recruited by Heinz to run its businesses in Britain in 1969, then moved to the company’s Pittsburgh headquarters, where he rose to chief executive and became the first chairman from outside the Heinz family. Under his leadership, Heinz’s value increased twelvefold. Business Week called him “one of the world’s most charismatic businessmen.”

“He has a million stories and tells all of them well,” a Heinz director, Richard M. Cyert, told Business Week in 1997. “When you sit down to lunch with him, it’s like going to a movie theater for entertainment.”

Mr. O’Reilly played tennis at the White House with President George H.W. Bush, who reportedly considered him for commerce secretary. He helped create the Ireland Funds, whose promotion of peace projects in Northern Ireland undermined fund-raising by the Irish Republican Army among Irish Americans. Queen Elizabeth II knighted Mr. O’Reilly for his service to Northern Ireland in 2001.

He had a highly unusual arrangement at Heinz that allowed him also to build his own business empire. He would fly to Dublin in the…

Trip Gabriel

2024-06-22 00:25:28

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