Colm McLoughlin (Ballinasloe to Dubai, UAE)
Born in Ballinasloe in 1943, Colm McLoughlin is one of Galway’s most high profile emigrants, having moved from Shannon Duty Free to set up Dubai Duty Free at the request of their government in 1983.
Name: Colm McLoughlin
Now living in: Dubai, UAE
Born in Ballinasloe in 1943, Colm McLoughlin is one of Galway’s most high profile emigrants. Having moved from Shannon Duty Free to set up Dubai Duty Free at the request of their government in 1983, Colm is now Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of the organisation which had a turnover of almost US$ 1.85 billion in 2016. Despite his work-load, he remains an accessible media figure who is much in demand for interviews. Both personally and professionally, Colm is involved in numerous charities, whilst also retaining a strong affection for his native Ballinasloe.
I was born in Ballinasloe in 1943 as one of five children, with two older brothers and two younger sisters. Both parents were proud to be Irish and were very traditional. My father Tadgh, was a local historian and taught Irish dancing right up to his 90s. I attended the village Boy’s National School and Garbally College, where I enjoyed sport including hurling and went on to play rugby for County Galway. My two older brothers, Ray and Feidlim, both played rugby for Ireland, so sport was very much in our blood. The plan was for me to be a dentist and after leaving school in the early 1960s, I headed off to London for the summer to earn a few bob. I ended up taking on a series of jobs, including painting and decorating, and even selling encyclopaedias door to door, and never did get back to dentistry!
My retail career began working for the popular high-street chain of Woolworths, before moving back to Ireland in 1969 to work for Shannon Duty Free. Shannon, of course, is the birthplace for airport duty free, which was set up by Dr. Brendan O’Regan in 1947, and when the Dubai government was looking to set up Dubai Duty Free, it was to Shannon that they turned their attention. A team from Aer Rianta was chosen to move to Dubai at the request of the Dubai Government to set up the operation and I was one of that team. We had six months to get everything done, and after the opening in December 1983, I was asked to remain as General Manager of the start-up operation which had a turnover of US$20 million. I later became Managing Director of Dubai Duty Free and later still Executive Vice Chairman and CEO. We employ over 5,900 staff made up of 46 different nationalities and our retail operation covers almost 37,500 square metres across Dubai International and Al Maktoum International airports. Dubai Duty Free is owned by the Government of Dubai and my own boss is H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Chairman of Dubai Duty Free. Sheikh Ahmed is fantastic in providing both his support and encouragement of our operations and I admire him greatly. As the overall head of the Airport, he is incredibly busy as he also heads up Emirates Airline & Group, as its Chairman and Chief Executive, and he heads up numerous other institutions.
Dubai was a very different place back in 1983 than it is now, and both my wife Breeda, who is from Co. Clare, and myself marvel at the changes in just three decades. From a business point of view, we expected Dubai Duty Free to do well, in fact we were tasked by the ruling family and in particular H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to make it the best in the world. Even back then Dubai was ambitious and eager to grow, and I count myself very lucky to have been part of that growth.
The Ballinasloe Post Office
Part of my remit is to look after our Leisure division which includes our hotel, the Jumeirah Creekside, and The Irish Village Bar and restaurant, which is a hugely popular venue and the scene of many Irish concerts by the likes of Mary Black, Bob Geldof, Finbar Fury and Sharon Shannon. We sourced all of the interior décor and fixtures from Ireland and even the paving stones outside the bar are from Liscannor quarry. As a nod to my home town, the outdoor façade includes ‘The Ballinasloe Post Office’!
In January 2014, we were delighted to have An Taoiseach Enda Kenny inaugurate an extension there. Former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, also visited The Irish Village in January 2007, when he inaugurated a bronze sculpture of Irish musicians, An Seisiun, which Irish artist Austin McQuinn produced for us.
In September 2016, The Irish Village was named ‘Irish Pub of the Year’ by the Irish Pubs Global Award, a fitting tribute to commemorate its two decades of award winning hospitality since opening in October 1996. The Irish Village celebrated its 20th anniversary with a free concert featuring Sir Bob Geldof while in December, a second Irish Village opened at Riverland in Dubai Parks and Resorts. We now employ 34 Irish staff.
Áras an Uachtaráin
As a part of my job, I get to meet a lot of interesting people. I was privileged to be a guest of HM The Queen of England at Windsor Castle in 2011, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Ascot Racecourse, while the following year, I had the opportunity to present her with a bronze model of the Darley Arabian on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee. Perhaps, my most fulfilling moment though, was in 2014, when I was honoured to be named as a recipient of the prestigious Irish Presidential Distinguished Services Awards in the Business and Education category. It was an honour to be the first Irish person living in the UAE to be recognised by the Irish Government for my contribution to Irish business and communities abroad. It was certainly a proud day on October 30th of that year, when, accompanied by Breeda and family, I accepted the Irish Presidential Distinguished Services Award from An tUachtaráin na hÉireann, Michael D. Higgins, at an Áras an Uachtaráin. During the course of that evening, President Higgins confided that we had something in common in that we had both officially opened the Ballinasloe Horse Fair, an honour which President Higgins had undertaken some years previously, while I had officially opened the fair just a few weeks earlier.
Of the various personal and business accolades I have been honoured to receive, however, I still hold dear my Garbally College Alumni Award, which I was delighted to accept in 2012. I am also very proud to be only the second person after Dr. Brendan O’Regan to receive the Frontier Lifetime achievement award, which was presented by Frontier, a leading travel retail publication, in 2004.
Philanthropy is a big part of my life, and in 2004, the Dubai Duty Free Foundation was set up, which has since supported 38 local and 52 overseas charities including Irish Autism Action, which was the chosen charity for many years at the DDF Irish Derby Ball at the K Club, and the Jack and Jill Foundation, which was the chosen charity in 2014-2016. Among other worthy causes, the Foundation also funded the Sightsavers’ three-year project in Odisha, North India, that has provided various eye care and services to 46,536 people of which 7,901 are cataracts surgeries while a total of 6,238 eyeglasses were distributed. We have also built houses for those affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and funded one village to build 32 houses in Binotong Alangalang, Leyte, following the devastating typhoon ‘Haiyan’, that struck the province of Leyte in the Philippines in November 2013. In June 2016, Dubai Duty Free donated Dhs 3 million towards the Ramadan ‘Reading Nation’ Campaign to provide five million books for children in refugee camps and students in under-privileged schools across the world.
Family plays a major role in my life too with my three adult children and two grandchildren. My son Niall lives in Dubai with his wife Sherly, while my two daughters, Tyna and Mandy, live in the UK, Mandy with husband Mike and our two grandchildren Erin and Ethan. Life for myself and Breeda is good here in Dubai and I hopefully strike the right balance between work and leisure time. The Irish community in Dubai is vibrant and I am happy to support the Dubai Irish Society, of which I was Chairman 1988/89, as well as the Irish Business Network (IBN), the Dubai Irish Golf Society, for which I was the first Captain, and the Dubai Celts GAA, which made me honorary President for some years.
In my down-time I continue to work on my golf handicap, which I have managed to get down to a single figure. I am a past Captain of Emirates Golf Club – home to the PGA Dubai Desert Classic – and former Captain of the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club. I enjoy getting back to Ireland on a regular basis and can usually be found at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Golf Tournament in May and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh in June, both of which are sponsored by ourselves. My role has meant that I am often asked to speak to journalists and feature writers and so I try to make myself accessible for interviews as much as possible both here in Dubai and when I am back in Ireland. You never know exactly how the article will be presented in print, so it was with a smile I opened up the Irish Daily Mail in 2012 to read an interview I had given under the heading ‘The Duty Free Sheikh from Ballinasloe’!