Heinz Chief O'Reilly Is Always Full of Beans; Irishman Matched Legendary Success on the Rugby Field with Career in in Dustry Saturday Profile

The Birmingham Post (England), February 14, 1998 | Go to article overview

Heinz Chief O'Reilly Is Always Full of Beans; Irishman Matched Legendary Success on the Rugby Field with Career in in Dustry Saturday Profile


He is Ireland's only billionaire. His legendary success on the rugby field is matched only by his international success as an entrepreneur.

He is the HJ Heinz beans king and media magnate, Dr Anthony O'Reilly.

The man who drove turnover at Heinz from pounds 553million to pounds 6.7billion during his 18-year reign announced last month he would hand over to his personally-chosen successor, Mr William Johnson, in April.

But 61-year-old Dr O'Reilly said in a rare interview at one of the grandest of his seven homes that he had no intention of hanging up his spurs.

He said he planned to turn his attention to his other considerable interests throughout the world.

Dr O'Reilly, who qualified as a solicitor, said he soon realised that a profession allowed only limited scope to expand while business allowed infinite opportunities.

"If I was working on a brief it excluded me from working on other cases. But in business, if I created one widget there was nothing to stop me creating millions of widgets," he said.

The smooth-talking Irishman has the "gift of the gab".

He has charmed his way into the homes of statesmen, politicians and captains of industry on both sides of the Atlantic.

At the age of 37 he became president and chief operating officer of food giant HJ Heinz. By 1987 he had succeeded the son of Heinz's founder to become the first non-family member to serve as chairman.

Not content with handling a major international conglomerate, Dr O'Reilly simultaneously built up a personal empire in Ireland.

Sitting in front of a blazing fire in his meticulously-restored 28-room Georgian mansion, set on a 1,000-acre working farm in County Kildare, Dr O'Reilly spoke of his dual lifestyle while at the helm of Heinz.

"I would leave my desk in Pittsburgh, catch the six o'clock flight to New York and at eight I was on a flight to Dublin," he chuckled.

He said he held meetings all through the weekend in Ireland, sometimes without any sleep, and jumped on the last flight back to the United States to arrive at his desk in Pittsburgh by 7.30am - ready for work as usual.

The only sad note during a three-hour interview was when Dr O'Reilly spoke, briefly, of his biggest regret - the toll this gruelling regime took on his family.

His first marriage to Australian Ms Susan Cameron, who bore his three sons and three daughters, broke up in the 1980s after 26 years.

But it was while Dr O'Reilly was jetting back and forth across the Atlantic that his first Irish company, industrial holding group Fitzwilton, started to pay dividends.

By the time he had become president and chief operating officer of Heinz in July 1973, he also owned an ailing media group The Irish Independent.

Independent Newspapers, as it is now known, spans four continents including a large share of The Birmingham Post's sister papers, The Independent and Independent on Sunday. Turnover this year is expected to exceed pounds 847million, generating pre-tax pr ofits of pounds 84.7million.

Dr O'Reilly is also the largest shareholder in Ireland's first new mining venture in 21 years, Arcon International Resources, which is headed by his son Tony Junior. …

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