'He will be remembered as one of the great giants of retailing': Primark founder Arthur Ryan dies, aged 83

Arthur Ryan. Credit: PA

The founder of Primark, Arthur Ryan, has died at the age of 83 after a short illness, the company has confirmed.

Mr Ryan founded the first shop 50 years ago in Dublin, where it traded as Penneys, after being tasked with opening a discount clothes retailer.

Since then, Primark – which had to change its name for European markets outside Ireland because JC Penney owned the copyright to the name – has gone on to have 370 stores across 12 countries, employing 75,000 people.

George Weston, chief executive of Primark’s parent company, Associated British Foods, said: “Arthur Ryan will be remembered as one of the great giants of retailing.''

Mr Ryan's death comes just weeks after the world's biggest Primark store was opened in Birmingham, the UK's second largest city.

There are 370 Primark stores across the world. Credit: PA

The five-floor 160,000sq ft store is Primark’s 187th in the UK, occupies the entire site of the former Pavilions centre and employs more than 1,000 people.

Mr Ryan was chief executive until 2009, stepping into the chairman’s seat until his death.

As chief executive, Mr Ryan oversaw much of the chain's expansion, including opening the first British Primark store in 1973.

Mr Ryan's death comes after his son Barry Ryan, 51, his grandson Barry Davis Ryan, 20, and his grandson’s girlfriend Niamh O’Connor, 20 died together in a drowning accident in June 2015.

They had all been fishing at Baltimore rocks in West Cork when they were hit by a freak wave.

Continuing with his touching tribute to Mr Ryan, Mr Weston added: “When my grandfather, Garfield Weston, and uncle, Galen Weston, recruited Arthur to run Penneys in 1969 with only one store in Dublin, they knew they were hiring an exceptional trader.

“But what three generations of Westons learned over the following decades was that Arthur was also a great leader and business builder, driven every day by a relentless desire to delight his customers.

“Arthur Ryan made fashion accessible to all and his legacy looms large. He built a phenomenal world-class retailer, the foundations of which will always belong to Ireland.”

The world's biggest Primark is located in Birmingham and opened earlier this year. Credit: PA

Paul Marchant, chief executive of Primark, said: “He challenged us all to be the best we can be.

“His drive and passion was always shown alongside great humility, integrity and support for our people.

“All of these characteristics remain guiding principles at Primark today.”

He added: “Throughout his entire career, Arthur remained deeply connected to the business and the customer, regularly visiting stores and walking the shop floor.

“His legacy will continue in the business that he founded and built.

“Those of us who worked closely with him will cherish his friendship and wisdom and he will be hugely missed by all of his Primark family.”