Judge hopes mediation can solve bitter succession dispute at Kilkenny group

Judge hopes mediation can solve bitter succession dispute at Kilkenny group
Michelle, Greg, Marion, Michael and Melissa O'Gorman celebrating the opening of a new Kilkenny shop in 2010. Pic: Dan Linehan

By Ann O'Loughlin

A judge has expressed hope for a successful mediation of a bitter dispute between a son and his mother concerning ownership of the well-known Kilkenny group of luxury design retail stores, employing 300 people.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern, having been told at the Commercial Court yesterday (mon) the sides had agreed to explore mediation, said that was "very wise", he was glad to hear it and hoped there would be a successful outcome.

Rossa Fanning SC, for Greg O'Gorman, on consent of Bill Shipsey SC, for Marion O'Gorman, secured an adjournment of the proceedings for three weeks to facilitate the mediation.

Greg O'Gorman's case is against his mother Marian, of Fernhurst, Tower, Blarney, Co Cork, who is CEO of the company running the Kilkenny stores. She denies his claims.

Mr O'Gorman's father Michael and siblings Christopher, Castle Close Road, Blarney; Melissa, Mount Street Crescent, Dublin 2 and Michelle, Fernhurst, Tower, Blarney, were all joined as notice parties to the case because its outcome will affect them.

Greg O'Gorman claims his mother "summarily terminated" his employment as group marketing director in July 2016 in a "humiliating" manner after 13 years service and "no suggestion of misconduct or non-performance" on his part.

This left him, his wife and three children, "financially destitute" and he has been unable to get alternative employment, he said.

He claimed, despite promises over years of a share transfer for his hard work, his mother in June 2016 publicly repudiated a signed "Family Constitution" document under which she held legal ownership of shares in the company in trust for the O'Gorman Family Business Partnership comprising himself and his siblings. All four siblings hold a 25% share, with the estimated value of his shareholding at €12.5m, it is alleged.

The "enormous personal toll" of these events has been compounded by marital disharmony between his parents who recently separated after 41 years married, he added.

When admitting the case to the Commercial Court last February, Mr Justice McGovern said it was "peculiarly suited" for mediation and urged the parties to consider that. Mr Fanning, for Mr O'Gorman, said he would convey what the judge had said but, unfortunately, there was a "history of acrimonious disputes" which Mrs O'Gorman had found herself at the centre of over years.

Mr O'Gorman, Castle Close Avenue, Blarney, said Clydaville Investments Ltd, which carries on the luxury design retail Kilkenny business brand, operates 15 stores with its flagship store at Dublin's Nassau Street. He had secured a preliminary desktop valuation of some €50m for the business.

File photo of Greg O'Gorman. Pic: Denis Minihane
File photo of Greg O'Gorman. Pic: Denis Minihane

He was employed full-time by Clydaville between 2003 and 2016 and was ultimately promoted by his mother to group marketing director. The business flourished particularly during and since the economic recession, due "in no small part" to his management contribution, and he worked exceptionally long hours for a salary that did not reflect that, he said.

His mother represented he was effectively working for himself because of "repeated" promises to transfer a shareholding to him, he claimed.

A "Family Constitution" executed in September 2010 created a family partership involving the four children as general partners and their mother as managing partner with Mrs O'Gorman continuing as named shareholder of Clydaville but holding the shares in trust for the O'Gorman Family Partnership, he claimed.

All parties complied with those documents until a company meeting of June 22, 2016, when his mother read a prepared statement the company was no longer to be considered as a "family company" and his employment was summarily terminated without reasons shortly afterwards, he said.

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