Pictured: Nicholas Leonard, Founding Editor of Business & Finance, and “arguably Ireland’s first dedicated business journalist”
Ian Hyland reflects on Nicholas Leonard’s contribution to Irish business
Nicholas Leonard, founding editor of Ireland’s first business magazine Business & Finance, and arguably Ireland’s first dedicated business journalist, passed away yesterday, September 23rd.
At an evolutionary time for Irish business, when professional classes dominated a mostly conservative environment, entrepreneurs were few and far between.
It was also a time when Ireland began to open its doors to host international investors to become what is today: an epicentre of global corporate brands through the success of Foreign Direct Investment. On the horizon there was the potential of Ireland becoming part of an emerging EEC, now the EU.
Business media coverage was very limited and infrequent. However, in 1963, Nicholas was recruited by the Irish Times, as the paper’s first Financial Editor at the age of 23, and was instrumental in changing the landscape for business journalism.
In May 1964, another young, entrepreneurial and ever-optimistic magazine publisher, Hugh McLoughlin, persuaded Nick to join him in launching Ireland’s first dedicated business magazine, Business & Finance. Nick’s first interview was with a young Galen Weston who was then running the family chain in Ireland, Power Supermarkets.
Nick was instrumental in changing the landscape for business journalism.
I spoke to Nick some time ago about his memories of launching Business & Finance in a very different time for Ireland and Irish business.
“When the first issue of Business & Finance appeared on September 18th 1964, most people doubted whether it would survive 50 days let alone 50 years. The sceptics were confounded but there were some difficult moments in the early history of the magazine when it looked alarmingly likely that they would be proved right.
“The Irish economy was far smaller then. Agriculture was still a major contributor and, while industry and commerce were growing, most people believed that the scope for a specialist weekly magazine was small to non-existent. The man who thought they were wrong was called Hugh McLaughlin, an entrepreneurial and ever-optimistic magazine publisher, whose titles included the fashion monthly, Creation.
“Its editor was his wife, Nuala, whom I met for the first time on a promotional trip for journalists to relaunch the Dromoland Castle Hotel in April 1964. I was financial editor of the Irish Times, and she urged me to interview her husband about the growth of his publishing company, the Creation group.
“I met Hugh for the first time over lunch in the Stephen’s Green Club. After chatting for about a half an hour, he said to me: ‘I have always wanted to start a business weekly magazine in Ireland and I would like you to be the editor of it.’
When the first issue of Business & Finance appeared on September 18th 1964, most people doubted whether it would survive 50 days let alone 50 years.
“Looking back, it seems extraordinary to me that Business & Finance ever got going as our total staff – editorial, secretarial and advertising – was only five people. We started work at the beginning of August, and in early September we printed a dummy edition with numerous blank pages optimistically headed ‘Property’ and ‘Stock Market Report,’ and a few articles to indicate the kind of coverage we intended to provide.
“This was distributed to several hundred senior company executives at a launch party in the Shelbourne Hotel early in September, and less than a fortnight later, the first real issue was being printed and had gone on sale.
“The first year was very difficult but two crucial developments came to our rescue in 1965. Firstly, in June, Hugh McLaughlin recruited an extremely effective advertising manager called George Harman, who had previously worked in London. Secondly, the three national newspapers (Irish Times, Independent and Press) were all closed that summer for about four months by an industrial dispute. This gave a considerable boost to our circulation and advertising revenue
“With the invaluable help of Jim Milton and Joe O’Malley as associate editors, Business & Finance had become a firmly established media presence by the time I left it at the end of 1969.”
Nicholas thereafter joined Tony O’Reilly and Vincent Ferguson in forming Fitzwilton listing on the Irish Stock Exchange. He also joined the boards of both Atlantic Resources and Independent Newspapers.
In later life, too restless to fully retire, Nick became somewhat of an accomplished editorial cartoonist, his illustrations regularly featuring in many publications including the Financial Times.
Irish business media has and continues to produce some of the finest business journalists and commentators spread across the world. It is worth remembering that Nick Leonard was the first. RIP.
Ian Hyland is President & Publisher of the Business & Finance Media Group, Ireland INC, and Board Member of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.