Sir Anthony O'Reilly is to retire as the chief executive officer of Independent News & Media, having transformed a small local Irish newspaper business into a €1.5bn (£1.4bn) global communications company, it was announced yesterday.
For the past 36 years, Sir Anthony has been the strategic driving force behind INM, which publishes The Independent and The Independent on Sunday and has major media interests in Australia, Ireland, India, New Zealand and South Africa. He will step down from his position, and as a director of the INM board, on 7 May, his 73rd birthday.
Sir Anthony will be succeeded as chief executive by his son, Gavin O'Reilly, 42, who has been INM's chief operating officer for the past eight years. Gavin O'Reilly joined the group in 1993, has worked in various management roles and is president of the World Association of Newspapers, the industry representative body for the $200bn (£143bn) global newspaper industry.
Commenting on Sir Anthony's decision, the INM chairman, Brian Hillery, said: "Tony's retirement marks one of the most remarkable executive careers in Irish history. Tony has been a significant business leader for more than 45 years and has been a key figure in the making of modern Ireland."
When Sir Anthony made his first investment in local newspapers in 1973, the company had a turnover of €12m. INM's current operations span four continents and 22 countries, serving a combined audience of 100 million consumers every week.
The group, which employs about 9,600 people worldwide, publishes more than 200 newspaper and magazine titles, delivering a combined weekly circulation of 33 million copies, and includes the world's largest read newspaper, Dainik Jagran, in India.
Sir Anthony, who has been named president emeritus at INM, will continue to be the group's largest shareholder, with a 28.5 per cent stake. He said: "It has been more than three decades since I first became involved with Independent, and in that time it has been my pleasure to have worked with a range of highly talented and hugely committed directors and colleagues.
"My appreciation of them is undiminished by time. Together, we have expanded this Irish newspaper group and enshrined a fiercely independent editorial policy that is widely respected across the world. As the largest shareholder, I will continue to support their legacy and this wonderful group in the furtherance of its strategy."
The company also announced yesterday that the board of INM is being reduced from 17 to 10 directors, and the appointment of three new board members: Leslie Buckley, Paul Connolly and Lucy Gaffney. Denis O'Brien, the Irish telecoms billionaire, and second largest shareholder in INM with a 26 per cent stake, welcomed the news, which led to a sharp increase in the company's share price.
Sir Anthony was educated at University College Dublin and the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland. As the chief executive and then chairman of the HJ Heinz Company, he grew its market capitalisation from $900m to more than $15bn and became the first Irishman to lead a Fortune 500 company.
He has also served on the board of The Washington Post, General Electric, Mobil Corporation (now ExxonMobil), Bankers Trust, Eircom, Waterford Wedgwood and the New York Stock Exchange.
Sir Anthony's business career followed a successful period as a rugby player. He represented Ireland, the Barbarians and the British and Irish Lions. He still holds the record as the highest try scorer in the history of the Lions.