Dublin His MONEY; It's the Inspiring Story of the Journey from Poverty to Wealth, from a Market Stall to One of the Most Profitable Car Companies in Ireland, through Hard Work, Determination and with Plenty of Tears and Laughter along the Way. Joanne Atkinson Talks to Bill Cullen about Writing His Book, Not Sleeping, and the Importance of Telling People They Are Terrific
Byline: Joanne Atkinson
IT'S an antidote to Angela's Ashes, says Irish millionaire Bill Cullen of his autobiographical rags-to-riches book It's A Long Way From Penny Apples.
The title refers to Cullen's mother's words when he told her he had just arranged a business loan of pounds 18m to take over Renault Ireland - 40 years after he started selling apples on his family's market stall at the age of five.
'Frank McCourt's book is a very depressing book about childhood,' says Cullen, 62. 'He said, 'Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood.'
'I disagree. I had a wonderful childhood in miserable conditions. We had no water, no electricity, not much money. I was one of 14 children, but we were happy.
'My mother was determined we would be happy, it's all about being positive.'
It is this positivity, an almost tangible energy, that radiates from Cullen as he speaks. He is a dynamic man, physically large, with thick dark hair and piercing eyes, a surprisingly quiet voice, but an undoubted presence.
He doesn't have to speak loudly.
A self-made man, from his roots in the inner city Dublin slums, Cullen is now the owner of Renault Ireland, which he built up over the past 17 years from a struggling business pounds 18m in debt to a company with a turnover of more than pounds 350m.
He was a new entry on the Sunday Times Irish Rich List this year with an estimated fortune of pounds 40m.
When he speaks, people tend to listen.
He attributes much of his success to his upbringing, by his mother Mary Darcy, 'who taught me to do the right things', and his father Billy Cullen, 'who taught me to do things right'.
But another great influence was his grandmother Molly Darcy who he describes as a philosopher.
'She never went to school, she lived to 100, and every morning she would tell me I was a big strong lad, I needn't be afraid of anything, and I was terrific.
'She made me repeat 'I am terrific' in the mirror every day before I went to school.'
Cullen certainly knows the meaning (and the reward) of hard work.
Since his early mornings at the age of five with his mother on their fruit and veg stall, to selling Judy Garland dolls to schoolgirls at eight, to going to work two hours early in his first job and staying for an extra three hours at night 'being useful, making sure if there was a job that needed doing, I would be the one they asked', Cullen hasn't wasted a moment.
Still passionate about his work, he gets up at 4am, is in the office by six, but allows himself to leave by 4.30pm so he can fit in a round of golf before he gets home at night.
A canny man with an eye for an opportunity, he turned the fact he was expelled from school as a traitor at the age of 14 for playing soccer - 'which was banned because it was an English game' - into a chance to start working in the real world and earn some much-needed money for his beloved family.
Persistency is another trait Cullen possesses by the bucketload.
His first 736 job applications didn't even get a response, because his home address was a no-go area, but when a kind schoolmaster at the local boys' club allowed him to use his address for the applications, he got the first job he applied for, as a messenger boy at Walden's motor company.
'Within nine years I was running the place,' he says proudly.
A move to a new Ford franchise of his own fell through in 1973 when the Egyptian army invaded Israel, petrol supplies dried up, and the bank withdrew the loan.
So Cullen went back to what he knew best, setting up a pitch next to a petrol garage in Dublin and selling cars for three years before finally getting his franchise in 1977.
Four years later it was the biggest Ford dealership in Ireland, and just five years later the challenge of Renault beckoned. …