60 Seconds With

“Success is inclusive” – 60 Seconds with Gerry Fagan, Irish Chairman of Portugal’s DDM and Reserva da Luz

By Business & Finance
24 April 2024

Gerry Fagan is the Irish Chairman of Portugal’s DDM and Reserva da Luz.

What was your first job? 

I started work as an assistant timber yard manager at Murdoch’s in Drogheda, County Louth. It was my first job out of school. I was keen to follow in my dad’s footsteps; he was a timber yard manager.

What pushed you to pursue a career in this field?

It wasn’t too long before I realised that my father was a better timber yard manager than I could ever be, so I changed direction and became an article clerk at McQuillan Kelly & Co in Drogheda. The role was much more aligned with my qualifications, which were more towards accounting and business.

I gained an outstanding knowledge of business at McQuillan Kelly & Co. There were lots of leisure and food and beverage (F&B) business in the local area, as well as development business, so I gained insights into multiple sectors, as well as general business knowledge.

After that, I spent 25 years at Campbell Bewley Group. It was the biggest F&B business in Ireland and during my time there expanded to the US, Indonesia, England and other places. It also moved into development, opening Bewley’s Hotels in various locations.

I then decided to retire to Portugal at a young age, moving to Almancil in the central Algarve, where some friends of mine had settled. It was there that I met Simon Burgess, an expat from Manchester. My retirement didn’t last long – Simon and I ended up founding the Oceânico Group, a development business that focused on property and golf course resorts here in Portugal.

What would you regard as your greatest achievement to date?

My greatest achievement has been contributing to the development of 2,500 properties in Portugal, along with developing and managing eight golf courses and numerous F&B outlets. What’s most important to me is that they’ve all sustained over the 23 years I’ve been in Portugal.

And I’m far from done. I’m currently launching new projects at Reserva da Luz and Nova Terraces that we be showcased at the Moving to Portugal Show in Dublin on 18th April 2024. The show was a great way to open up the Portuguese property market to buyers in Ireland.

Career-wise, would you do anything differently?

If I could do it all over again, I would be more conscious of the impact that macro-economics can have. When I studied economics at school, ‘micro’ meant Drogheda and ‘macro’ meant Ireland. But there’s the whole rest of the world out there and global political and economic shifts can have a major impact.

When I first arrived in Portugal, I became cocooned in how beautiful it was and had quite a local outlook at times. If I did anything differently, it would be to look at the bigger, global picture and its potential impact.

In one sentence, how would you define success?

For me, success is the achievement of business and personal goals in a holistic manner that encompasses family, friends and colleagues; success is inclusive.

I believe that genius comes from a team working together, not from isolated individuals. When you’re working as a team, that’s when you can achieve true success. I felt that at Campbell Bewley Group, which had over 30,000 employees when I was chief executive, and I feel it now at DDM and Reserva da Luz, my current businesses.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

A friend once shared with me the best piece of advice that his father gave him:

“If you’re thinking of buying a new suit, be sure to have the price of two suits in your pocket before you buy the first one.”

This resonated with me in several ways – not least because I had overborrowed at the time the advice was given! It made me think about the importance of making sure you can afford what you’re committing to – of not overborrowing and of making sure that you can pay your staff.

The advice also tied in with my own approach to investing in quality products and in the future. You have to think ahead and ask yourself whether you need the suit in the first place.

How do you motivate yourself and your staff?

My own motivation comes from getting things done, sometimes against all the odds. When it comes to motivating staff, respect is key. It’s easy to praise people, but praise should be matched with remuneration and recognition. That shows respect for everyone’s contribution to the business.

I believe in treating others as you would like to be treated yourself. That means looking out for people and recognising when they need assistance, whether in the business or in their personal lives. Being open and honest with staff helps build that communication, trust and respect.

How do you handle adversity? 

I work harder. Adversity sees me become more determined than ever. I can be relentless in the pursuit of my goals when it comes to getting past adversity.

My strong ethic of hard work means that I lead by example. I think that also ties back to motivating those I work with. And I can see it benefitting my children, too. They understand the value of perseverance in the face of adversity, as well as at other times.

How do you relax?

I play golf. Badly, usually. Golf became one of my passions when I moved to Portugal. There are some stunning courses in the Lagos and Luz area, where I live now. I have four or five amazing local courses. And the superb climate here in the Algarve means that I can play pretty much year-round. I love the social aspect of golf as well – the wine and dinner afterwards.

I also love rugby with a passion. Seeing Ireland win is a great feeling.

The outdoor lifestyle in the western Algarve is also something I love. It supports many special family moments and events – football, boarding, boating and many more.

What is your favourite (non-business) book?

I’m not a very big non-fiction reader – though I’ve probably read every single business book there is! That said, the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is one novel that I really connected with. I spent some time in North Carolina and felt that I really understood the essence of the book. It gave me an understanding of how simply people can live – and of how complex simplicity can be!

What are your aspirations for the future of the business?

My immediate aspiration for Reserva da Luz and Nova Terraces is to ensure they represent the best of holistic living in Portugal. These days, wealth doesn’t just mean margins and returns to me. I’ve experienced ill health and undergone a back operation that has made me ruminate on the importance of wellness.

Now, I aspire to provide that for more people through DDM and Reserva da Luz. I think about access to health services and how to build leisure and wellness into the property development offering. It means buyers can get lifelong value from their property, even if their circumstances change over the course of their ownership. It’s thinking about the longer-term implications and creating homes that support owners at all stages of life.


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