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It was the kind of gig, as they say, that you simply wouldn’t want to miss.
As a journalist and commentator on this business for over two decades I certainly considered it a privilege to have been there.
I’m talking about Dubai Duty Free’s 25th Anniversary Gala Dinner, held last Thursday night in Dubai.
What a dazzling, emotional, memorable night it was. Not a corner was cut – when Dubai Duty Free party, they party in style. The entertainment line-up was topped by none other than Simply Red, with the Mick Hucknall-led band giving a vibrant, committed performance – not always the case for such big names at corporate functions. Popular all-girl operatic trio Elysium (who starred at the Irish Village performance late last year during the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup) were also on top form.
Not surprisingly, the night was rich on nostalgia. Eight of the ten founding members of the Dubai Duty Free management team in 1983 (then all employed by Aer Rianta) were present and all in fine fettle. So were some of the 57 ‘pioneers’ – the remarkably high number of employees still working for Dubai Duty Free out of the 100 who began the operation in 1983.
That nostalgic mood dominated Managing Director Colm McLoughlin’s speech. I have heard the Galwayman speak on many, many occasions. I have seldom heard him be better and certainly never as personal.
When presenting, or being interviewed, Colm tends to repeat certain words for effect. This time he did it with the words “I remember” as he reeled off memories of the many moments, people and achievements that have been part of this extraordinary journey over a quarter of a century. As the speech went on the device grew more and more powerful with every repetition.
He paid warm and clearly heartfelt tributes to all those who had helped along the way, notably “the boss of all bosses – my wife Breeda” and Deputy Managing Director George Horan – “one of the most modest, loyal and hard-working people this industry could find anywhere.”
At the end he went ‘off script’ and touched on the issue of succession management. Even his closest lieutenants told me later they were not sure what he was about to say. Was a retirement announcement beckoning? Not a bit of it. Instead, he concluded playfully: “Succession planning from the point of view of duty free management is a serious discussion and you and I can discuss this together again when we’re all collected here again for our 50th anniversary.”
The crowd erupted and leapt to their feet in spontaneous and generous recognition of a man who has had a profound impact not only on the emirate and the airport of Dubai but on the travel retail industry worldwide.
Colm McLoughlin is presented with a Certificate of Appreciation by H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum