50 Year Career Milestone For Colm Mcloughlin In The Duty Free Industry
Dubai Duty Free’s EVC & CEO Celebrates Industry Milestone
On 1st June 2019, Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO of Dubai Duty Free, celebrates 50 years in the duty free industry. Widely recognized as an industry legend and known as the driving force behind Dubai Duty Free's successful US$2 billion business, McLoughlin was on holiday in his native Ireland in the spring of 1969 when he first read about a job at Shannon Duty Free, the birthplace of the duty free industry.
“I had been working for Woolworths in London so I had a number of years of retail management experience. When I saw the job advertised in Shannon Duty Free I thought “I wonder what that is about”, so I applied for the position mainly to see what the job entailed,” said McLoughlin.
As fate would have it, McLoughlin was offered the job on the spot and so began his five-decade long career in an industry that was started by Dr. Brendan O’Regan in Shannon in 1947 and is now a global business worth an estimated US$76 billon.
“Dr. Brendan O’Regan was a great man and was the founding father of the duty free industry that we know today. He was not in Shannon in my time, but he was talked about with great respect at all times. When I started in Shannon, I reported to Bill Maloney in the early days. Bill was a great manager and I learnt a lot from him,” added McLoughlin.
The 1970’s witnessed a great deal of expansion and growth at Shannon Airport, which was the major gateway and refueling stop between Europe and the US. In tandem with the growth of the airport, the newly named airport authority, Aer Rianta, had developed a reputation for successfully running the duty free side of the business. In 1983 Shannon was the first port of call for Dubai International Airport’s then Director General, Mr. Mohi-din Binhendi, who was tasked with the job of setting up a duty free operation in Dubai. Mr. Binhendi met with the Aer Rianta senior management, including then General Manager of Shannon Duty Free, Colm McLoughlin.
“I remember when Mr. Binhendi visited Shannon and we were excited to hear about the plans he had for setting up a duty free operation in Dubai,” said McLoughlin. “I have to admit though that not many of us knew where Dubai was at that time and we had to look it up. But we were left in no doubt that Dubai meant business and they wanted to open a world class duty free operation very quickly.”
Within weeks of the visit, Colm McLoughlin moved to Dubai in July 1983 as part of the 10-man team from Aer Rianta at the request of the Dubai Government to set up the duty-free operation as part of a six-month consultancy agreement.
“We had only six months to turn the project round,” remembers McLoughlin. “During that time we had to recruit and train 100 staff, we had to purchase products, we had to establish systems and so on, so we had no time off and worked around the clock. It was worth it though when we opened for business on December 20th and took US$44,000 in that first day and went on to have sales of US$20 million in the first full year.
“Fast forward to 2008, when Dubai Duty Free celebrated its 25th anniversary and in one single day, our sales reached US$20 million, which is incredible. Fast forward further to 2019 and it is also incredible that 25 of the original 100 staff are still with the organization”, he added.
Within months of the opening of Dubai Duty Free, Mr. McLoughlin was asked to remain on as General Manager of the new operation. Two other members of the original Aer Rianta team also remained in Dubai including John Sutcliffe, who went on to head up Aer Rianta International based in Bahrain, and George Horan, who became President of Dubai Duty Free in 2011 and retired in 2016.