TJ Walsh | Bright future for Townlink Construction

TJ Walsh, Director at Townlink Construction talks to Irish building about the growth of the company, their milestone projects and the challenges the industry faces.

TJ Walsh has been instrumental in the growth and development of Townlink Construction from humble beginnings to one of the leading construction companies in Ireland. TJ is a Chartered Builder and Chartered Surveyor and has held top positions in professional organisations.

Growth of Townlink

Established in 1991, Townlink is recognised as one of Ireland’s leading construction companies, delivering high-quality projects across many sectors: Education, Residential, Community Enterprise, Medical, Pharma, Private and Corporate. TJ says Townlink work across all sectors and this is one of the strengths of the company. “We work on everything from pre-cast structures to very sensitive fit-out projects,” he informs us.

Townlink’s turnover in 2017 was €24m. They anticipate a turnover in the region of €30m for 2018. Townlink focus on projects in the region of €3m to €15m.

“Townlink foster long-term relationships based on commitment, trust and loyalty, in a friendly and cooperative environment,” TJ tells us. “We take pride in our strong working partnerships with clients, design teams and subcontractors. We deliver public and private projects.”

Speaking about the company’s capacity and performance, he says: “We have strengthened our capacity in project management and delivery due to our growing pipeline of projects – taking on additional staff in key areas: Estimating, Contracts Management, Site Management, Quantity Surveying and Business Development. We have also taken great care in retaining and developing current staff.”

Townlink have grown sustainably over the last number of years through risk management and mitigation, strong reputation and investment in their people and systems.
“Our model is one of Director-led projects with professional project and commercial management teams, supported by experienced personnel, operatives and quality approved subcontractors,” he tells us. “We are dedicated to quality through our ISO standards, Company Safety Officer and BC(A)R Manager.”

Key Milestone Projects

For over 10 years TJ served on the Council of the Master Builders and Contractors Association of the CIF, and was President of the Association in 2006. He speaks proudly of the quality of Townlink Construction’s projects.
TJ tells us about their milestone projects, firstly, Rosemount Court which Townlink are presently working on. It is a €11.5m project, a 44 unit residential development within an existing estate in Dundrum for Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

“A few months ago we completed the third and final phase of Altadore Nursing Home in Glenageary, Dublin,” he tells us. “The nursing home remained live and operational throughout the construction process which involved demolition of one building, a new build extension of 26 rooms and refurbishment of the existing home.”

Townlink recently completed a €7m fit-out of ESB International’s new Headquarters at One Dublin Airport Central. “The budget was fixed, as was the timeframe – due to the full decant of staff from the previous Headquarters in St. Stephens Green,” TJ informs us.

Proudly speaking of key projects of late, TJ states: “We were delighted to be shortlisted as Finalists in two categories for this year’s Irish Construction Excellence Awards: Guinness Storehouse Brewing Floor (Leisure/Tourism) and the INMO/Old Richmond Hospital (Conservation/Heritage).” Other recent projects of note include The Weir Residential Development at Orwell Road of apartments and townhouses, and Beacon Hospital where Townlink completed the refurbishment and fit-out of the Radiology Department.

Challenges: Procurement and Skills

TJ outlines the challenges faced in the industry at present, primarily: procurement and contracts, the skills shortage, and education and support for all employees.

TJ tells us how contractors have come through hard times, and should be looking to deliver greater value, but they are too constrained to do this. “Many contractors like ourselves weathered the storm of the recession by making difficult capacity decisions and managing the risks over the years. We now have the opportunity to develop the high service and innovation standards which the industry should be advancing towards. Instead, the industry is far too distracted by a race to the bottom on tenders, and very onerous contracts which transfer all risk to contractors.”

“The GCCC form of contract is too onerous,” he tells us, “it pushes an excessive amount of risk on the construction company. The backbone of the Irish construction sector is small to medium size businesses, many of them family businesses who are unable to sustain these risks. If the Department of Finance want these companies to stay in business, grow and expand in the long term, these contracts need to be set aside, and new, fairer conditions put in place.” TJ believes the current GCCC contracts have introduced a culture of hostility in the industry that was not there before. He says we need to have contracts that encourage the parties to work together in a collaborative way.

He describes how we must see the bigger, long-term picture and build our systems to support it, saying: “Contractors need reasonable margins to build excellent projects to standard, to protect and ensure the longevity of the sector, and to engage, retain, and of course in many cases attract home, a highly skilled workforce for a long-term future in the industry.”

Telling us his views on the current labour shortage and what can be done to address the shortage in the Irish Construction Industry, he says we need to encourage our emigrants home. “To do this we need to reduce taxes on employment, and create a climate where housing is affordable and close to people’s places of work,” he tells us.
Expanding on this, we ask him if we can do more to encourage women to enter construction and in general to support people in the industry. “I think for all staff there needs to be strong work-life balance and flexible approach taken when needed,” he says. “We do everything we can as a business to enable our people to come to work and deliver as best they can while maintaining that balance. We also think that it’s important that our team can see progress in their careers while at Townlink. We have worked hard to build a culture where our people can thrive, be challenged and bring all their skills to the table. We support training and personal development of all team members.”

Speaking about his takeaways from 2017, TJ says: “Job pricing is still very competitive and depressed, while input costs of staff and subcontractors are growing at double-digit levels. This is not sustainable, nor is it good for an industry that needs to develop and innovate.”

Commenting on the 2040 planning framework, he says “in itself it is a good plan, and we are very hopeful that the proposals put forward will come to fruition.”

Culture, Safety, Work Practices

Safety is the primary priority on Townlink’s projects. TJ states: “As a main contractor, employing up to 200 people on any one job, safety is, and must be, our highest priority. We have created a culture that views safety as the responsibility of all employees, from top management, to the site management team and each individual worker. Everyone is responsible for achieving zero accidents resulting in a SAFE day, a SAFE tomorrow, a SAFE year, and a SAFE career.”

Townlink is committed to being the safest, most stable, and most rewarding place to work for the benefit of all of their employees, customers, and the communities in which they live and work. Townlink’s success has been in the widespread adaption of the methodologies and principles of their Health and Safety programme, and in the rapid and significant reduction in incidents across the company.

“Together we will THINK, COMMUNICATE, and WORK SAFELY, every minute, every hour, and every day,” is the motto of the company he tells us. Regular safety audits are conducted with the Townlink Directorship and Site Management Team. The company focus their audits on the behaviour of people as well as the conditions of the operating area.

Townlink’s Bright Future

Concluding, TJ says the future is bright for Townlink due to their people, associated companies and healthy finances: “We are financially strong. We have a good reputation with the supply chain and clients. We have a highly experienced team who have served the company for many years.”

The content of this site is subject to copyright laws and may not be reproduced in any form without the prior consent of the publishers. The views expressed in articles do not necessarily represent those of the publishers. This article first appeared in the ‘Leaders in Construction’ issue of Irish building magazine June 2018.