James Quinn:
The Soul of an Irishman

Jim Quinn speaking at the 2011 Irish America Business 100 awards luncheon. Photo by Sade Joseph.

February / March 2012

The 26th annual Business 100 luncheon, which took place on December 15th at the Metropolitan Club in New York City, drew many of America’s top corporate leaders. Highlights included the presentation to Jim Quinn, president of Tiffany & Co., of the Irish Spirit Award, the keynote address by William C. Ford, Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, and a parting song by Bob Savage, president of Nanette Lepore. In his speech,  Quinn paid insightful tribute to his Irish ancestors – to the challenges they faced and the risks they took, and to the inspiration that can be drawn from their journey. Enjoy his speech, edited lightly for length.

Most of us in this room enjoy the great benefits that have flowed from the Irish diaspora. And likely many of us are 1st or 2nd generation, in some people’s cases it maybe goes back a few more generations. But we’re here because our parents or grandparents or perhaps someone further back in our history left terribly dire circumstances to begin a new life with little more than the soul of an Irishman – or an Irish spirit, if you prefer.

In my view, Irish spirit has something to do, perhaps, with being a cocktail. One part mystic and one part humor, equal parts of optimism and compassion. That’s certainly a potent cocktail that has fueled the success and prosperity of this generation. And success and prosperity are clearly on display today. Here in this room with the Business 100 honorees and with all of our friends and supporters, it’s a tribute to talent and hard work and good fortune. And the good fortune that we enjoy flowed, in part from those who came before us, who trampled down the ground in front of us to clear a path for us to follow.

Those ancestors helped you and they helped me to bring to these shores the best that Ireland has to offer. They left behind desolate circumstances, bleak prospects and an impoverished future, and they built a life that ensured that their offspring would rise through education and through hard work, and perhaps some of them even dreamed of a day when their namesakes might be honored as we are here today. We remember them today, those who helped us gain a foothold so that we could grasp a full measure of opportunity. We’re also reminded today that, while we lack little, many, many more need a helping hand, words of encouragement, and a chance to travel an unobstructed path forward.

I was at a small gathering, as were a few people in the room, a small gathering for friends and supporters of the Donaldson Adoption Institute. And President Clinton addressed the group. As always, he made insightful comments. He remarked that in all his travels and all his experience, that he has observed that human talent and ability is evenly distributed across the spectrum of income and race and geography, but that good fortune is not so evenly distributed. Those of us who have been able to exercise our talents in a robust field of opportunity can do much to help others grasp the levers of success. We can, as individuals, help one by one, and we can  make a difference. And we can join with others in support of organizations that provide much-needed aid. There are of course many here in our town in New York, and there are of course other organizations, like the American Ireland Fund, which does so much for our beloved Ireland, and still others like Concern Worldwide, the Ireland-based relief organization that’s doing such great work in Haiti and in African nations torn by conflict and disease. So I just mentioned that thought, it’s perhaps a touch more uplifting than talking about the 1847 Famine, but we are in the Christmas season and we who have enjoyed the bounty of such good fortune also need to think about those who haven’t been so fortunate.

I’m also reminded of my mother’s advice on occasions like this: “Jimmy, be grateful and be brief.” This is truly a great honor, I am deeply grateful and honored to receive the Spirit of Ireland award and for being included among such an extraordinary group of honorees. I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas and peace in the new year. Thank you very much.


Watch his speech here:

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