Born in Ireland in 1860, Thomas Charles Beirne realised before the age of 13 that his country offered no possibility of him progressing in the world, so he began searching for opportunities.
His drapery apprenticeship then laid the basis for future success while restlessness and heeding good advice led him to emigrate to Australia at the age of 23.
After a short time working successfully in Melbourne where he confidently negotiated significant wage increases to match his ability, T. C. accepted an opportunity to become a joint partner in Piggott and Beirne in South Brisbane in 1886. The partnership prospered and when dissolved a few years later, T. C. departed with £1,200 capital which he immediately employed in establishing what was to become his iconic Fortitude Valley business. Other stores later followed.
For the next 70 years T. C. Beirne’s department store business flourished, generating a profit every year even through two depressions and two world wars. During four years of World War II the business handled over 30 million government issued coupons. At its height, the business served nearly 3.5 million customers in one year alone.
T. C. Beirne had established itself as a retailer of choice throughout Queensland, aided by its widely supported catalogue business, competitive pricing and advanced product range. Ever the entrepreneur and retail visionary, T. C. Beirne’s extensive overseas travel enabled him to incorporate the latest thinking into his product range and store layouts.
As an employer, his thinking was well ahead of his time and his fairness generated fierce loyalty. He offered a generously supported superannuation scheme, however his efforts at establishing profit sharing and employee share ownership plans designed to better reward employees were, for mainly historical reasons, largely unsuccessful.
The “grand old man of the Valley”, as he became known, built Queensland’s leading department store business and a fortune for those times. As one of Australia’s first millionaires, T. C. Beirne’s generous philanthropy created lasting community legacies.
His early awareness that special opportunities were awaiting him in the world, together with his deep Roman Catholic faith, imbued in him a guiding confidence and integrity which underpinned much of his success. He worked in the business until his late 80s with the same indefatigable energy and optimism that he enjoyed as a young man. After 70 years in private ownership, the business was finally acquired by David Jones in 1961.