By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN –More than 350 workers at Dublin’s Tayto factory are to share a
million dollar "golden goodbye" from an American millionaire who recently sold the company.
Loida Lewis, widow of the founder of TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., who sold Tayto to Cantrell and Cochrane for £65 million, decided to give the workers the cash, which will work out to more than £2,000 each before tax, as a bonus.
Shop steward at the plant Dennis Maher said the unions had got together last year and sought a bonus when they learned she was planning to sell.
She had visited the Tayto factory a number of times and described it as the "jewel in the Beatrice crown", he said. The business never made a loss.
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"We were told by the local management there wasn’t a chance of a once off payment," Maher said. "There is no legislation that required her to give us a share of the profits — at the end of the day it was all down to Mrs. Lewis’s generosity and good will."
The Phillipines-born Loida and her late husband, Reginald, have both become legends in U.S. corporate history.
A football scholarship graduate, he was the first African American to break the Wall Street color bar and in 1987 he bought the French-based Beatrice Food business for almost a billion dollars.
When he died aged 50 from brain cancer in January 1993, he was included in Forbes list of America’s richest 400 with personal assets of more than $400 million.
During a summer minority program at Harvard Law School, he impressed professors there much he was granted admission without sitting the entrance exams. In 1992, he donated $3 million to the law school — the largest individual donation in its 175-year history.
When he died, the business — which had added the TLC for The Lewis Company to its name — was burdened with debt and losing money but it was not expected that his widow would get directly involved.
However, in December 1993, she took over the reins as chairman and chief executive and has since turned the business around singlehandedly. It is now one of the leading U.S. women-owned companies.