In my email last week, I promised to return to Gerry Houlihan, who, along with his family, had just sold DID Electrical to Select Technology Group.

Because Houlihan, who is approaching his 80th birthday, has had a fascinating and highly successful career in business from hotels to supermarkets, and from pubs to restaurants. 

You might not have realised it, but the chances are you have stayed in a hotel that Houlihan part-owned or dined in a restaurant that he has backed.

In many cases, he has been a silent partner, operating in the background and working in tandem with partners. Houlihan is no recluse – I have interviewed him on a number of occasions. But he is not in the business of flaunting his achievements or his wealth either. 

Yet his career is worth celebrating. The one constant in that career up until two weeks ago was DID Electrical, a chain of 23 electrical goods stores across the country. 

Houlihan left school at the age of 14 and travelled the country selling washing machines and freezers from the back of a van. When he got married in his early twenties, he decided he would try and get people to come to him rather than the other way around. 

DID Electrical was born. The name stood for ‘Deliver, Install and Demonstrate’, as many people were unsure how to get their new electrical appliances up and running.

His first store was on Mountjoy Square. Within 20 months, it was performing so well that the was offered £60,000 for the business. He sold it but stayed on as finance director.

A year later, he bought it back, and the business had remained in the control of Houlihan and his family ever since. 

In 2021, the last year for which accounts have been submitted, the group company, Home Appliances Unlimited, made a pre-tax profit of €5.23 million.

However, the initial sale of the business in the late 1960s was also the start of another path in Houlihan’s multi-faceted career. 

Armed with the proceeds of the deal, he and his wife Carmel bought Clontarf Castle, a landmark hotel in the north Dublin village, for £150,000. To help fund the Clontarf Castle acquisition, he refinanced his car, sold his home in Glasnevin in Dublin and moved to a rented house in Howth (he still lives in Howth, although he now owns the house).

The hotel built up a significant business and ran regular cabarets. Couples got free use of a white Rolls-Royce that he bought with the hotel.

Like many people in business, Houlihan dabbled in property investment over the years, and he became friendly with his bank manager, Aiden Crowe. 

“He was the one bank manager who used to call out here,” Houlihan told me when I interviewed him in Clontarf Castle in 2007. “Usually it is the other way around. That impressed me.”

Houlihan mentioned to Crowe that if he ever felt like leaving banking, he would work with him. In the late 1980s, Crowe took up the offer. Together, with Houlihan acting as a silent partner and Crowe managing operations, they purchased a string of shopping centres around Leinster and built up a chain of eight supermarkets. 

They later sold the shops but retained ownership of the property assets. In the late 1990s, they started expanding into hotels. Houlihan retained ownership of the castle, but along with Crowe and Enda O’Meara, they built Tifco into one of the biggest hotel operators in the country with a number of Crowne Plaza Hotels and a string of Holiday Inn properties.

It also had a large number of management contracts. O’Meara managed the day-to-day running of the group.

Tifco’s debts were sold to Goldman Sachs by the liquidators of IBRC in 2014. As part of a subsequent restructuring, Houlihan, Crowe and O’Meara became minority shareholders in the company, alongside the US bank. The business was subsequently sold to Apollo Global Management, and, in recent weeks, it has emerged that the private equity giant is lining up a sale of the business.  

Not content with helping build a nationwide retail chain and a major hotel operator, Houlihan has also invested in pubs and restaurants, including the Long Hall in Dublin. With Crowe, he owns the Beef and Lobster restaurant chain, as well as Cleaver East, a fashionable city-centre restaurant.

In an era where everything seems to move so fast, Houlihan’s longevity in business stands testament to his ethos and ethic. He consistently reinvested money in his businesses, most notably Clontarf Castle, and never sought to drain funds from them through hefty dividends. 

“The key thing is to look after your customers and take care of your staff,” he told me in 2007. “They are the most important assets you have and that is why we have reaped the rewards.”

Ireland is quick to celebrate tech entrepreneurs and innovators. But it is important to celebrate and champion businesspeople like Gerry Houlihan also. 


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