Tom O’Connor and Kieran Cusack | Conack Construction

A collaborative approach, diversified project portfolio and continuous investment in cutting-edge technologies are all key contributors to the growth of Conack Construction.

Having started out in 2008 with two jeeps and two trailers in Limerick, Tom O’Connor and Kieran Cusack have developed and grown Conack Construction to a position where around 70% of its business is negotiated with repeat business coming from clients in a diverse range of sectors around the country.

“Our strong track record is all about good client relationships. As Managing Directors, one of the more unusual and soul-searching things we did recently was to come up with a new tagline that defines and identifies our company. This is ‘Building Better Together’, which signifies our attitude to our projects, our clients and our design teams,” says O’Connor.

“We genuinely believe it is our collaborative approach, personal service and attention to detail that allows us to win 70% of our work through negotiation with our clients. We embrace innovation in materials, methods and design and are at the forefront in incorporating these advances into our projects. It is through building better together with our clients and design teams that Conack has proven its ability to compete at all levels with both Tier 1 and Tier 2 contractors.”

Currently employing around 165 people directly, Conack’s turnover reached €76m in 2020 and O’Connor and Cusack are budgeting for it to be €100m this year and to grow to €110m in 2022. The building and civil engineering contractor has offices in Limerick, Cork and Dublin and is soon to open an office in Galway.

“Kieran and I are very proactive to ensure the highest standards of workmanship are maintained on all projects. One of us will be on site every week dealing directly with clients and we know all of our staff individually. Everyone knows that if a problem arises with a client, the design team or a contractor they can ring us and the onus is on all of us to resolve it together,” O’Connor explains. “If you go in with this ethos at the start and you plan to deal fairly, correctly, honestly and openly with all parties, clients will want to do their next job with you.”

Conack’s design teams’ ability to value-engineer a job has also contributed to repeat business and brought the firm into the design-build space, specifically where a client wants a fixed price on a job. “In these cases, our own architects, civil and structural engineers and mechanical and electrical consultants design the job – 85% of the time when we invest time in this way, we continue with the project,” notes Cusack.

Having built up a reputation for delivering high-quality, sustainable construction projects throughout Ireland, Conack’s strategy of maintaining a diversified portfolio has been important to its own sustainability.

“Our experienced team has extensive knowledge in the commercial, leisure, healthcare, residential, industrial, education and civil engineering sectors. We have kept a finger in all of these pies over the past ten years. This means if there is a blip in any one area, we can easily move the company in a different direction,” says Cusack.

“We constantly stay open to opportunities. For example, hospitals used to be a difficult nut to crack, but we have two hospital projects on our books this year, so that box is now ticked.” These are a €20m extension to St Camillus Hospital in Limerick and a €15m project at Nenagh General Hospital in County Tipperary.

Project performance

During the pandemic, Conack had a number of sites which were deemed essential and continued to operate. These included the completion of Phase 1 of a project for large genetics company MeiraGTx in Shannon, which has resulted in a further two years’ work for Conack on Phase 2. Phase 1 building was shortlisted for the 2021 Building of the Year Award.

Other stand-out projects include two residential developments in Cherrywood in Dublin, TC4 and TC1. Including community and employment facilities, retail units and 530 residential units. TC4 will form part of the first WELL Community Scheme in Europe, promoting and incorporating sustainability and a greener environment. Conack is targeting BREEAM ‘Excellent’ certification for this €46m project. With the €90m TC1 development, it is building all 317 residential units to an LEED standard.

“Sustainable construction is at the core of Conack’s work. We support and promote the highest environmental standard on our projects through the implementation of standards such as the GRESB Benchmark, the WELL Community Standard and BREEAM. We have achieved the LEED Gold standard on two completed projects and a further four are near completion,” says Cusack.

Conack recently received an award from PM Group and Alexion Pharmaceuticals in recognition of the firm’s constant commitment to safety excellence on the Alexion BDS project in Dublin and its contribution to the project achieving 1m man-hours worked without a Lost Time Incident (LTI). In March 2020, Conack achieved 4 million man-hours without an LTI on an MSD project in Dublin.

“As a company of our size, we identified a bad accident as the biggest risk to our growth plan. In order to ensure this doesn’t happen we have nine full-time safety officers and are running two accredited safety systems,” says O’Connor. On top of this, Conack’s COVID-19 response has included the installation of intelligent pods with facial recognition and temperature tests, antigen testing and a weekly mobile COVID-19 declaration completed by everyone working on Conack projects.

In touch with technology

Innovative technologies are at the heart of Conack’s way of working. “We have created a digital department and are continually investing in it. While building information modelling [BIM] is obviously part of the new era, there are a lot of background systems that we also rely on to maximise efficiency and the client offering,” Cusack explains.

An example of this is the use of the Hilti ON!Track app and Conack’s own designed plant management system to make its plant department more efficient. “Hilti ON!Track alerts us when items need maintenance or calibration, Bluetooth-enabled smart tags offer a fast inventory check and tell us which equipment is nearby. From a personnel point of view, it alerts us to the expiration of training or certification. With this critical information at our fingertips, it’s simple to keep work on track, profitable and fully compliant,” says Cusack.

Conack has become a member of Lean Construction Ireland and is currently pursuing BIM Level 2 ISO accreditation. It has introduced a cloud-based site management platform from Procore, which connects every project contributor, application and device in a central data hub and a tendering package from Causeway, which has helped the firm to successfully manage projects and growth.

“We spent six months reviewing different platforms before choosing Procore. It means the days of someone walking around a site with a bundle of drawings are gone; instead we can log on and look at any single job in real time and all the drawings, reports and requests for information that go with it,” says O’Connor.

“When it comes to technology, we are constantly looking at what is coming down the line next for the industry. Microsoft Teams will be the biggest change going forward – after seeing the advantages of running sites in this way, people will no longer feel obliged to get into their car and waste half a day for a two-hour meeting.”

While O’Connor and Cusack acknowledge that the upward pressure on materials prices is a challenge – and hope the supply chain will correct itself in six months – they are confident about the future.

“There is a huge requirement for building contractors at the moment – our order book is 90% full for this year and already 70% full for next year. In all my 22 years in the industry, I’ve never seen anything like this kind of demand before,” says O’Connor.

“Our people are our most important competitive resource. Our approach has always been to get the staff first and the job second. This means we can commit 100% to any job we go for, knowing that we will be able to resource it properly.”