There’ll be a myriad of stories and anecdotes regaled this weekend regarding the life and times of the late Tony O’Reilly who passed on last week.

For Reilly the story that best encapsulates the magic of Tony O’Reilly occurred in an interview he gave to John Quinn in the programme ‘The Curious Mind.’ 

Quinn asked O’Reilly if he’d ever experienced failure in business or in life.

This was to a man who had been capped for Ireland at 18; the Lions at 19; would subsequently go on to be the greatest Lions try scorer of all time; was CEO of The Dairy Board at 25 where he pioneered the creation of Kerrygold ; and Chairman of Heinz in his mid-thirties. 

And yet he recalled a period in his life when he captained Old Belvedere in a Leinster Schools Senior Cup final against arch rivals Blackrock. 

Prior to the match his Father took him aside and imparted just three words – ‘grace under pressure.’

Belvo were leading by 3 points to nil when Blackrock scored a try to equalise (tries were three points in those days.) The Blackrock captain had an opportunity to win the match with the conversion to come. 

O’Reilly confessed to recalling the words of his Father and shook the hands of the Rock captain prior to the conversion which he duly scored to win the match.

O’Reilly conceded that at the time he experienced massive failure.

Roll on 20 years later when O’Reilly was Chairman of Heinz. The organisation faced a potentially show stopping crisis when a product of theirs had to be recalled. At an emergency Bord Meeting it was agreed that Heinz’s only course of action was for O’Reilly to request help from their arch rivals Del Monté.

He duly dispatched himself to a mid-Western town to meet the ‘Man from Del Monté’ and hopelessly pleaded his case for help.

Incredibly ‘The Man form Del Monté’ acceded. 

When the formalities had been signed O’Reilly confronted the elephant in the room.

‘Mr Del Monté. We are bitter rivals. Why have you so graciously agreed to bail us out?’

‘When I heard you were coming I decided to check out your character. I asked our local priest, an Irishman called Fr McCarthy, what he thought of you. 

‘He said he didn’t know you nor had he ever met you in person. He did say however, that he once saw you exude real grace under pressure at a schools rugby match that you once played in.’

Reilly once had the pleasure of facilitating a session for the Ireland Funds attended by the late Tony O’Reilly at the O’Reilly Hall in UCD.

At the conclusion of the session, Sir AJF O’Reilly, as he liked to be referred to, gave the concluding summary.

It was a performance in sublime oratory.

Reilly could have sworn that O’Reilly was looking directly at him when recalling an incident from his childhood when his Mother was summarily summoned to Old Belvedere by a stern and taciturn Jesuit Priest.  

‘Your son Tony is obsessed with sports at the expense of his studies. To put it bluntly Mrs O’Reilly, if he doesn’t attend more diligently to his studies he’ll end up selling newspapers.’

‘He was right,’ quipped O’Reilly self-deprecatingly, who at that time was Chairman of the Independent News and Media Group.

As the auditorium erupted in laughter, Sandy Dunlop, who was sitting beside Reilly in the front row of the auditorium nudged him and asked him to observe a Porter at the rear of the theatre. The Porter was transfixed as if Sir AJF was talking directly to him.’

‘That’s the thing about the Maestro’s Reilly. Like the picture of the Sacred Heart in your Mothers kitchen they seem to be looking directly at everyone in the room.’

It was a performance in sublime oratory.


  • How we respond under pressure defines us greatly. Resolve that one of your personal and corporate values is ‘grace under pressure.’
  • Being in business is tantamount to operating from a goldfish bowl. Everything you do is visible. The bad and the good. 
  • There’s no question about the fact that you have to have competence to be a leader, but you also have to have character. Good leaders are people of competence and character. Many times character is more important than the competence side of the house. 
  • Become a sublime orator. It requires focus, dedication and Smácht. At just 19, on his first Lions trip, O’Reilly read the complete works of Somerset Maugham. That’s the process and price great leaders and communicators are prepared to pay for excellence.
  • It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. The salesperson is still King.


‘If you don’t know how to lose, you don’t know how to live.’

—Sir Anthony O’Reilly.

‘You can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart,”

—Bruce Springstein. ‘Dancing In The Dark.’


1. What one skill can you master that will have the most impact on your performance?


Following the successful launch of Reillys new book SMACHT at the BiG Summit on May 14th in Galway Oaktree Press is having a further launch of the book in Chapters Bookstore in Dublin on Thursday next at 12-30 for our Dublin readers. 

The book is being launched by Conor Brady who is an Irish journalist, novelist and academic. He was the editor of The Irish Times between 1986 and 2002 and his subsequent weekly column in The Sunday Times was popularly regarded as the finest journalism of its time.

As a loyal reader of The Life O’Reilly you are cordially invited to the launch where Reilly would be delighted to meet with you. Please see invite below.





You May Also Like…