15 May Founder of Duty Free and Free Trade Zones celebrated on 100th anniversary of his birthday
Monday, May 15th 2017: The 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the great innovators in the world of aviation and business was celebrated today as the founder of Duty Free and industrial Free Zones had a bust in his memory unveiled today.
Dr. Brendan O’Regan, the man essentially credited with spearheading a new era of economic development in the Mid-West of Ireland but also giving duty free and free zones to the world , was referred to as a visionary and innovator who never saw boundaries, just horizons.
The legendary businessman led the transformation of the Mid-West from a region caught in the grip of a desolate, post-war depression in the 1940s/’50s into a thriving hub of economic activity. He was head-hunted in the early 1940’s to take over as Catering Comptroller at Foynes flying boat base, the premier transatlantic aviation gateway into Europe at that time.
In 1945 he transferred to the new Rineanna Airport (later renamed Shannon Airport) in the same role, where he set about single-handedly influencing, more than any other person, the future course of economic development on the western half of Ireland.
Among the initiatives spearheaded by one of Ireland’s most visionary public servants are:
- Developing the world’s first duty free shop at Shannon Airport, a concept way ahead of its time in the aviation world, and quickly replicated in airports across the globe
- Developing the Shannon Free Zone, the world’s first Free Trade Zone, which today is Ireland’s biggest multi-sectoral business park , employing over 7,000 people in over 130 companies and housing the country’s largest cluster of FDI investment outside of Dublin. Shannon Free Zone was used as the model for the world’s first Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in China and the world over.Today there are approximately 2,600 Free Zones globally employing upwards of 60 million people
- Developing the now world renowned Shannon College of Hotel Management – graduates of the internationally acclaimed college include some of the world’s top hoteliers
- Transforming Bunratty Castle into one of Ireland’s leading tourist attractions. This was followed by similar initiatives at other medieval properties in the West of Ireland, giving rise to Shannon Heritage – Ireland’s largest operator of tourist attractions with sites in Clare, Galway, Limerick and Dublin
- Creating regional development agency Shannon Free Airport Development Company (SFADCO – later Shannon Development) to advance the economic development of the Mid-West
- Being one of the driving forces in the early 1960’s behind the development of Ireland’s newest town and only town created in the 20th century, Shannon
Addressing the large attendance, Ms. Hynes said: “Dr. Brendan O’Regan was one of the most fascinating and influential people of our time. He was a renaissance man, a pioneer of regional development, charismatic and charming; a man who brought a passion and determination to every task he undertook.
“He rarely took ‘no’ for an answer and he was very driven in pursuit of his projects. He wasn’t afraid to think big. His initials ‘BOR’ in Shannon came to mean ‘Bash on Regardless’. He saw opportunities not limitations and his ability to reach for the skies had a transformative effect on this region and beyond. He firmly believed in following your dreams and never giving up on an idea.”
Said Shannon Group CEO Matthew Thomas: “So much of what is vibrant and good in economic and social terms in the Shannon region and beyond today- is a lasting tribute to Dr. Brendan O’Regan, an innovator, entrepreneur and, ultimately, a great man.
“I’ve worked in the aviation industry globally over twenty years now and Dr. O’Regan’s legacy is remarkable in an international context. He was a true altruistic visionary. This, together with the incredible world impacting initiatives he developed, set him apart. We all carry a huge responsibility to his legacy. We owe it to him to continue to reach higher than we think possible and to constantly try to be the best at what we do.”
Perhaps one of Dr. O’Regan’s great leadership qualities was his belief that everyone had the capacity to be creative and the inclusive environment he created for his staff was key in the rapid progress made and the range of innovations achieved. He firmly believed in following your dreams and never giving up on an idea. He once said: “If you’re involved in developing an important idea, you have to let it possess you. If you keep knocking on the door, the door will open. You’ll get there, not particularly with your own abilities, but with others that you gather around you.”