Executive vice chairman of Dubai Duty Free
Colm McLoughlin was one of 10 from Aer Rianta, the Irish Airport Authority, who were contracted by the Dubai Government in 1983 to set up and run a duty-free operation at Dubai airport.
‘At that time, there were around 200,000 people living in Dubai and the airport had around three million passengers,’ he says.
‘Our job was to set up the operation in around six months and leave, but I was asked to stay on by then director-general of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Mohi-Din Bin Hendi,’ Colm tells me. The challenges were enormous – from sourcing products to setting up a supplier chain of local traders (the brief was to buy from local distributors wherever possible) to training staff, many of whom had never worked in retail.
‘But everyone pulled together and Dubai Duty Free was ready for the big day on December 20,’ he says. ‘Today, it is one of the largest airport retailers in the world with a turnover of $1.85 billion last year.’
Although his mother’s wish was to see him be a dentist, Colm, after a few jobs, entered the retail sector with Woolworths in London. ‘I started at the bottom, moving boxes and cleaning floors and worked my way up to become manager,’ he says.
Colm, who was first featured in Friday in 1998 and then in 2005, believes that the reason he was able to move up the ladder ‘was because I was willing to work my way up and learn at each step of the way. I appreciate such qualities in our employees.
‘We have an internal recruitment policy – career progression is encouraged at Dubai Duty Free and all of our supervisors and many managers started on the shop floor.’
Dubai Duty Free is a recipient of more than 550 awards. ‘I was also very honoured in 2004 when I became only the second person after Dr Brendan O’Regan, founder of airport duty-free shopping, to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. That was very special to me.’
Keen golfer Colm (handicap: 13.4), travels extensively and although in his 70s is brimming with energy.
‘I and my wife Breeda enjoy meeting new people and hearing about their work and lives, I enjoy attending events and being active and cycling around Garhoud, where I live. Similarly I enjoy time with my friends and family in Dubai – my son Niall lives here with his wife Sherly.’ How does he balance work and life? ‘The secret is learning to enjoy your job. My job entails a lot of socialising and travelling, but that’s part of the enjoyment of what I do and I don’t see that as a chore.’
Learning every step of the way and starting from the bottom were crucial to Colm’s success