Astute businessman and former director of retail giant Dunnes Stores, Ben Dunne, died yesterday during a family holiday in Dubai.
Born on 11 March, 1949, in Co Cork, Mr Dunne was a former director of Dunnes Stores, which was founded by his father, Ben Snr.
In 1983, following the death of his father, Mr Dunne took over the running of the family supermarket empire and a period of significant growth followed.
He played a leading role in the growth of the supermarket empire and became one of Ireland’s best-known business figures.
Family ownership made Dunnes Stores an agile business that was able to move quicker than many of its rivals.
When groceries were first introduced to Dunnes in 1960, the retailer positioned its (then costly to source) fruit and vegetables significantly cheaper than competitors.
Around the same time that Feargal Quinn was encouraging consumers to browse the aisles in Dundalk, Dunnes was doing likewise on Dublin’s South Great George’s Street.
As the Irish Press wrote in 1971, ‘Dunnes Stores – just mention the name anywhere throughout the length and breadth of Ireland, and it stands for something big, something great and unique, something that gets right down to the basic needs of the Irish people. You cannot think of Dunnes Stores without thinking of Better Value’.
If Ben Snr was rightly considered a pioneer, it was under the guidance of the next generation that the retailer would go on to become an industry powerhouse, boasting a quarter of the market, a position it has retained for the best part of three decades.
In 1993, Ben Dunne Jnr was ousted from the firm by his sister, Margaret Heffernan, the eldest of Ben Snr’s six children.
In 2006, he spoke at Checkout’s annual conference, where he gave his views on ‘What Lies Ahead: The Changing Face of Irish Grocery Retail.’
Ben Dunne Jnr was greeted warmly by delegates and, typically, he didn’t pull any punches in his address.
Ben Dunne Gyms
Among other things, he predicted that online shopping had a huge future in Ireland, as shoppers were becoming increasingly pressed for time.
In more recent years, Mr Dunne founded and ran a chain of fitness centres throughout the country called Ben Dunne Gyms.
It was reported earlier this year that his gym group swung back into the black in 2022, recording an operating profit of €3 million, following a difficult period for the industry during Covid-19.
The business returned to profit following Mr Dunne shutting down six of his 12 gyms after exiting rent deals for the various premises.
Mr Dunne is survived by his wife, Mary, and their four children.
“I’m going to miss him in a way I can’t even describe in words,” said his son Robert in a tribute quoted on the Extra.ie website. “My dad is dead. He had a massive heart attack and just didn’t make it. Simple as that. Overall, in the final analysis, he was a good and decent man.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar paid tribute to the late businessman, saying: “I was deeply saddened to hear that Ben Dunne has died. A constituent of mine in Castleknock and a local employer, I met Ben many times.
“He really was larger than life. Among other things, he pioneered the fitness industry in Ireland, first with Westpoint and then Ben Dunne Gyms.
“He led a life less ordinary and, in turn, he made some mistakes in life. The best people do.
“He never allowed that to defeat him or hold him back. He touched the lives of tens of thousands who will mourn his loss.”
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.