McGuire, John Francis (1873–1953), department store owner, was born 1 August 1873 in Passage East, Co. Waterford, sixth of nine sons (a daughter died in infancy) of Edmund McGuire, policeman, and his wife Margaret Leahy. The family subsequently moved to Templemore, Co. Tipperary, where Edmund McGuire was clerk of the crown and peace. At 14 McGuire was apprenticed in the drapery trade to Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson & Co., in Waterford city. Five years later, in September 1892, he moved to Hearne & Co., which ran a general drapery, a furniture manufacturing business and the Granville Hotel. Initially a buyer, the assertive McGuire advanced quickly at Hearnes, was appointed general manager and given maximum freedom by James Hearne, the proprietor. His clarity of purpose and attention to detail made him a natural business leader. Unwilling to be involved in Waterford urban politics but strongly Redmondite, he joined the Irish Volunteers (and later the National Volunteers) and was adjutant of the Waterford battalion, thereby ensuring that Hearnes were the main suppliers of volunteer uniforms. On the outbreak of war he acquired, through the good offices of John Redmond (qv), a lucrative contract for the manufacture of ammunition boxes for the British army. But when Hearne & Co. was inherited by the Walsh family, McGuire found his decision-making authority limited by the new owners and he became frustrated by the loss of independence. He resigned from Hearnes and in 1920 decided to move, at least temporarily, to Dublin where he took personal charge of Shelbourne House, a medium-sized department store on Merrion Row, which he had bought in 1903 for his brothers and his maternal uncle. He now transformed its business, especially its mail order trade.
On the strength of his success in Shelbourne House, William Lombard Murphy (qv), chairman of Clerys department store on O'Connell Street, invited McGuire in 1923 to become managing director of Clerys, which had fallen into the red and showed little prospect of redeeming the losses sustained during the war of independence. Murphy and his board agreed when McGuire made his acceptance conditional on his having sole control of the company for fifteen years and half the annual profits over a fixed sum. Within a year of his taking over, the firm was in profit and over the following decade it doubled its sales. This outcome he achieved with his customary business flair and attention to detail. He introduced into Dublin retailing what were at the time modern American business methods: individual weekly audits for each of the fifty-five departments in the store allowed comparisons with performance in the previous week and in the corresponding week the previous year. He organised special trains and buses and introduced the novelty of sky advertising to trail Clerys name above Dublin. At the heart of his business strategy was his belief in ‘small profits and big turnover’ (Costello and Farmar, 62). But when McGuire achieved the best profits to date for the 1932 financial year, despite the Depression, the board became impatient and demanded that a dividend be declared. Insisting on his contract being honoured, which still had six years to run, he was dismissed in November 1933. He then sued Clerys, but lost the case when the court found that the board had acted ultra vires in agreeing to his terms in 1923.
Even while his case was pending McGuire sought a new business opportunity, and this came in December 1933 when he bought Brown Thomas & Co. on Grafton Street from Selfridges of London. With his son Edward (qv) he now had at Brown Thomas complete and unchallengeable authority. In spite of the economic difficulties of the 1930s, the store's business began to grow rapidly, though increasingly it was the younger McGuire who determined the style and commercial policy of the store. McGuire retired as managing director in 1950, while remaining nominal chairman of the company.
He married in March 1900 Mary Frances (May) Moloney (1875–1949), daughter of James Moloney of Tramore, Co. Waterford, a corn merchant. They had five sons (one of whom died in infancy) and two daughters. Their second son James Ivan (1903–89) was a barrister and Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael TD for Dublin south (1933–7); their daughter Marjorie was married to John O'Byrne (qv), attorney general and later a supreme court judge. From 1921 the McGuire family lived at Cambridge House, Rathmines, where McGuire died 14 July 1953. A portrait by the artist Leo Whelan (qv) is in private hands.