Colm McLoughlin
Colm McLoughlin, CEO of the Dubai Duty Free, during an interview with Gulf News at his office in Dubai Duty Free Head office, Dubai. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Those who know Colm McLoughlin adore him, while those that haven’t had the privilege of meeting the great man are well aware of how prestigious the McLoughlin name is.

While he may have announced his retirement after 41 hugely successful years at the helm of Dubai Duty Free (DDF) yesterday, McLoughlin won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

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He’s well known for growing DDF into a billion-dollar company under his stewardship, but to those close to him he is so much more than just a successful businessman.

“Quick witted”, “hugely supportive”, “believes in us” and “remarkably generous” are all phrases that regularly crop up when reminiscing with those that wanted to pay tribute to McLoughlin after yesterday’s announcement that he would step down from DDF on May 31.

Below, in their own words, hear from UAE residents who know McLoughlin best and those that have been inspired by his magical journey from Shannon Duty Free General Manager to King of the Duty Free world.


Sinéad El Sibai, Senior Vice President - Marketing, Dubai Duty Free

Ramesh Cidambi, DDF COO and Sinéad El Sibai pictured with Colm McLoughlin at the Millennium Millionaire draw Image Credit: Supplied

I joined Dubai Duty Free in October 2000 and since then have worked closely with Colm on all things Marketing related. Colm is a natural born marketeer and between that and his natural charm and openness, he has always been very popular with the media.

I have learnt so much from Colm, both in work and in personal terms. He genuinely cares for people and in particular our employees, who love and respect him. This is very evident when we do our DDF anniversary walkabouts on the shopfloor when it is like being with the fifth Beatle! The staff are caught up in the anniversary celebrations and want to take selfies with Colm, it is very special.

I have had so many extraordinary experiences as a result of working for Dubai Duty Free and Colm is very generous in giving us opportunities that have broadened our horizons, whether that is attending international events or meeting the world’s top tennis players, it has been great.

I am pleased that there is continuity with Ramesh, who will take on the role of Managing Director and Salah, who will be Deputy Managing Director, both of whom have held senior positions within Dubai Duty Free for many years.

Colm and his wife Breeda, who is always by his side, means so much to me and my family and I wish them a very happy retirement.

Eugene Barry - Chief Commercial Officer, Dubai Airports & Chairman, Irish Business Network Dubai

I first met Colm in 1997, and when I joined Dubai Duty Free in 2000, I saw at first hand the retail machine that was Dubai Duty Free under Colm’s personal leadership style. What first struck me, and anyone for that matter, was Colm’s passion for all things Dubai Duty Free, and this outlook was the driving force during a period of unprecedented growth.

Since then, having moved across to Dubai Airports, I have worked alongside Colm and the Dubai Duty Free team during periods of continued expansion at the airport, and challenges such as the recent pandemic which further strengthened partnership bonds.

I had the pleasure very recently of having Colm’s unique input into an idea to establish ‘O’Regan’s Irish Bar and Restaurant’ at DXB’s Terminal 3, which is dedicated to the legacy of Dr. Brendan O’Regan, founder of the worldwide airport duty free industry in 1947. Colm’s own personal story and link from the industry’s origins in Ireland to the present day was a memorable feature captured at the official inauguration in February of this year.

In addition to Colm’s love for Dubai, his unwavering support for Irish-related activities and events have been an enduring characteristic of his Dubai Duty Free tenure. This includes his support of the Irish Business Network in Dubai, which fosters business links and understanding between Ireland and the UAE, in which Colm has played a significant part in enabling.

Nick Tarratt – Former Director, European Tour, Dubai Office

Nick Tarratt & Colm McLoughlin
Nick Tarratt and Colm McLoughlin pictured during a Dubai Duty Free Irish Open press conference Image Credit: Supplied

I first came across Colm as a member of Emirates Golf Club and I remember when the Dubai Duty Free Snooker Championship was held, he hosted a golf day for all the players there. He’s been a loyal supporter of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, the DP World Tour Championship, the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup, the Dubai Duty Free Mark Fahy Memorial Golf Tournament and of course the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open - I’m sure I’ve missed quite a bit there. Colm was also one of the few golfers in the region to have been a captain at both Emirates Golf Club and Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club as well as using both properties regularly for Dubai Duty Free functions.

Not only was Colm a brilliant supporter in a commercial way of sponsorship to these golf tournaments, and other sports events I have attended in Dubai and across the world, but he was also a great host that always had a smile on his face and created a huge buzz in the hospitality facilities at events. He leaves a huge legacy for Dubai Duty Free, sport and my passion of golf. We will mis Colm and I thank him for all his service over the years.

Paul Hamilton – Managing Director, Ibtikar

I didn’t know Colm well but through the Irish Business Network. He's always been a massive supporter of young Irish people coming to Dubai, offering advice and support very generously. He's a very smart, witty guy and also incredibly humble and down to earth. One anecdote you might like - the shop fronts on The Irish Village in Garhoud are a replica of shops in the main street of his home village Ballinasloe in Ireland.

Anil Menon, Former Sales Manager, Trendz Travel Retail FZE

I have been involved in doing business with Dubai Duty Free since 2004 and I used to visit the shop floor in Terminal 2 and 3 up to three times a week. I would often see Colm McLoughlin visiting all the shops at the airport and he ensured that he met all the Dubai Duty Free staff and greeted them on his way to through. He is true leader and a wonderful human being.

I also had the opportunity to meet Colm in his office a few times with my ex-boss Mr. Charles Nahhas. He would listen very patiently and always advise us on how to improve the business. I am fortunate to have met Colm and I wish him a very happy retired life with all the good health. I am sure Dubai Duty Free staff and suppliers will surely miss Colm.

Graham Clews, Main Anchor, Dubai Media Incorporated

Colm did far more for the UAE and the region than can be estimated. His unwavering support for sports events, notably the Dubai Tennis Championship, came many years before anyone else recognised and valued the potential of partnering with sport in the country. He never really wanted the credit for it, he just got his satisfaction watching everyone enjoy it. But all the big sport that is connected to the UAE now, started with Colm.

Colm McLoughlin
Colm McLoughlin will step down from his role on May 31 Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Alex Gallemore – Editor, Worldwide Golf Magazine

We wish Colm all the best in the next chapter of his life. He will be remembered as the driving force behind Dubai Duty Free, but my lasting memory of Colm was as a young journalist in in the late nineties nervously pitching him the idea of a monthly golf magazine in the Middle East. Many thought I was mad, and still do, but his kind words, support and handshake he gave me went a long way. Thanks for all you’ve done to help develop the professional and amateur golf game in the region. Imagine where we’d be if you thought golf was a waste of a long walk!

Terry Kane, Managing Director, The Trade Desk & Former Chairman, Irish Business Network Dubai

An unbelievable career. A remarkable person.

I consider myself very privileged to know Colm in my role of Chairperson for the Irish Business Network. Over the years, I have actively sought his counsel on numerous occasions, which he has never failed to provide and with the energy of a 20-year-old! His passion for the Irish community and building bonds between the two worlds is like no one I have met before.

No matter the stage where Colm and I have previously connected, he has always been the sharpest of leaders. He has an ability to total recall all numbers in all parts of his business, from any year and he has the admirable ability to connect business with the humanity and passion for his team, his community and his people. He is a great leader.

The industry and region lose a legend, but they absolutely thrive on the legacy that he has built.

In truth, I never fully believed that this day would come and we would see Colm fully retire. Part of me thinks he is simply going to start something again, he has that much drive and energy!

I wish Colm, Breeda and the family many long years of health, happiness and enjoyment in retirement.

Dave Cattanach, General Manager, Irish Village Complex

The Irish Village was the brainchild of Colm McLoughlin, who brought it to life with the support of H.H. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum Image Credit: Supplied

I’ve known Colm for over 36 years in business and in private life and he has always been the same - a true gentleman who looked after everybody while growing the biggest Duty Free in the world. We played squash from Le Mirage at Dubai International Hotel right up to games at The Aviation Club. Colm still says I never beat him, but I remember doing so once! He will always be remembered as a legend.

Paul Evans, CEO and Co-Founder of Solutions Group, and Author of When I Woke Up

After penning my life story, When I Woke Up, and self-publishing, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to retail the book at Dubai International Airport. Following this going live, I had the chance to sit down with Colm over a coffee.

What struck me most about Colm was his desire to say yes, regardless of the challenges at hand, figuring out a way to get it done without hesitation. When he landed in Dubai all those years ago, I don't believe he had the slightest idea of the impact he was about to have on the region, or that he was about to develop the world's largest Duty Free. But what he did have was an inherent desire to say yes.

That is something we have driven through our own organisation from day one, and I found that commonality extremely inspirational - that his attitude and approach was able to take Colm from a small Duty Free to the global phenomenon he has pioneered today.

His work ethic, persona and approach to life is unparalleled. And I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to have crossed paths.

Colm McLoughlin was a huge supporter of tennis in the region, sponsoring the DDF Tennis Championships Image Credit: Gulf News

Jill Nealon, Former Senior Vice President HRD and Service Development, Dubai Airports Company

I had the pleasure of knowing Colm whilst working at Dubai Airport 2008-2013 as SVP Human Resources. During that time the airport experienced phenomenal growth with the opening of Terminal 3 plus the second airport.

Dubai Duty Free had a significant impact on the airport and the UAE and we worked very closely with Colm and his team.

The commercial success that he achieved is clear to see but I wanted to comment on his leadership and personality.

Colm developed an extended team where his paternal approach to employees resulted in true loyalty and dedication. The pride and enthusiasm in the staff is very evident and directly contributes to the business success.

This is very much a mirror of Colm, his ability to run a challenging commercial operation whilst taking time to smile and chat to each person he meets has been his leadership style and over the years will be his legacy.

Wishing him a very long and happy retirement.