Arthur St. John Ryan (18 July 1935[1] – 8 July 2019) was an Irish businessman who was the founder, chairman, and chief executive of Primark. The company Primark trades under the name of Penneys in the Republic of Ireland.

Arthur Ryan
BornArthur St. John Ryan
July 1935
Dublin, Ireland
Died (aged 83)
Dublin, Ireland
  • Businessman
  • Founder of Primark, and the company's chairman until his death
Years active1962–2019

Early lifeEdit

Arthur Ryan was born the son of a Cork-born insurance clerk in 1935, and went to the Synge Street CBS in Dublin after moving to the city with his family. After emigrating to London, he entered the genteel world of gentlemen's tailoring as a tie buyer at Swan & Edgar. He also worked for London fashion wholesaler Carr & McDonald. From there, he returned to Dublin and a job at Dunnes Stores in Cornelscourt.[2]

Business careerEdit

Ryan opened the first Penneys shop on Mary Street in Dublin in 1969.[3] Subsequently, in 1974, he took the model to Britain – renaming the stores Primark to avoid legal problems with US chain JC Penney. The major turnaround came in 2005, when Primark acquired a huge portfolio of Littlewoods stores. Meanwhile, close attention to catwalk trends made it chic as well as cheap. It went from being the "shop that nobody admitted going to" to a Mecca for celebrity shoppers. It now accounts for over a third of ABF's operating profits. In 2009, Ryan gave up his day-to-day control of the firm as chief executive but became chairman instead.[4]

Personal lifeEdit

Ryan was married to the former entertainer Alma Carroll and they had a daughter, Jess Ryan;[5] Ryan additionally had four children from his first marriage; Colin, Arthur Jr, Barry and Alison Ryan.[5] He was an intensely private man, living in one of Dublin's best-protected houses, he never gave interviews and was rarely seen in public without bodyguards. His great fear was kidnap – a real enough threat for Irish retail magnates during the Troubles. In 1981, the IRA snatched department store boss Ben Dunne; two years later, they tried to kidnap Galen Weston, scion of the Canadian family behind Primark's owner, food and retail conglomerate Associated British Foods (ABF). Ryan took no chances. "His daily schedule is kept secret from all but his closest aides."[6]

Ryan's son, Barry, who was 51, died while attempting to save his son and his son's girlfriend from drowning during a freak accident on 30 June 2015. Barry's son and his girlfriend also died during the rescue bid.[7]


Ryan died of a short illness on 8 July 2019, 10 days before his 84th birthday.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14][14]


  1. ^ Cashin, Rory (8 July 2019). "Arthur Ryan, founder of Penneys, has died at the age of 83". Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  2. ^ "Old Domain for the Sunday Tribune Ireland". 15 August 2016.
  3. ^ Sunday Business Post Article, 2006 Archived 11 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Wood, Zoe (11 September 2009). "Primark's chief executive Arthur Ryan steps down after 40 years". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  5. ^ a b Smith, Andrea (5 December 2011). "In tune and pitch perfect". Irish Independent. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  6. ^ Edge, Simon (16 July 2009). "End of the line for Primark's reclusive genius?". Daily Express. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  7. ^ Riegel, Ralph (5 July 2015). "Penneys founder hails son Barry Ryan (51) as a 'true hero' for sacrificing his life in brave rescue bid". Irish Independent. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  8. ^ "Primark founder Arthur Ryan dies aged 83 following short illness". London Evening Standard. 8 July 2019.
  9. ^ Davidson, Tom (8 July 2019). "Primark founder Arthur Ryan dead at the aged of 83". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  10. ^ "Primark founder Arthur Ryan dies". BBC News. 8 July 2019. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  11. ^ "Primark founder Arthur Ryan dies following short illness". 8 July 2019. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  12. ^ Holloway, Henry (8 July 2019). "Primark founder Arthur Ryan dies aged 83". Daily Star. United Kingdom. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  13. ^ O'Halloran, Barry. "Penneys founder Arthur Ryan dies". The Irish Times. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  14. ^ a b Hodgkin, Emily (8 July 2019). "Arthur Ryan: Primark founder net worth revealed after death – businessman's huge wealth". Daily Express. Retrieved 13 December 2019.