Eugene O’Shea | Walls Construction

Walls Construction has continued to grow in the six years since an investor-backed management buyout, driven by a culture focused on the wellness and development of its people.

In an unprecedented 15 months for the economy and the construction industry, Walls Construction has hired 120 new employees to bring its total direct workforce up to 380 people. Among the 75 staff recruited in 2021, 30 were college placement students and 15 new graduates will be starting with Walls in the coming months. Recruitment is set to continue in all disciplines.

Walls’ 2020 turnover was €273m and projected turnover this year, adjusted for the impact of COVID-19, will be in the order of €280m, which annualised would be around €330m.

“We are delighted that without exception our clients remained committed to projects either underway or planned, with no cancellation of projects or programme deferment,” says Managing Director, Eugene O’Shea. “This performance would not have been achieved without the tremendous contribution made by our staff and support teams in keeping our construction sites and offices COVID-19 free.”

In the past year, Walls handed over the final phase of the Dublin Landings mixed-use development for Ballymore to complete the full city block on North Wall Quay, also home to the Central Bank of Ireland HQ building. On the opposite side of the Liffey, the Sorting Office commercial development and the Ropemaker Place residential building for the Marlet Property Group were completed, as was the 20,000 sq.m. Termini office building in Sandyford, Dublin 18 for Aldgate Developments and the Lidl North Quarter development in Ballymun.

Key projects up and running include the Two Oaks residential development for Ardstone in Dublin 16, the Hamilton Gardens development for Royalton in Cabra, Dublin 7, the Woodward Square and Clay Farm projects for Park Developments in Dublin 18, the Grand Canal Harbour mixed-use development for the Marlet Property Group and Glencar House, a 7,200 sq.m. six-storey, over-basement office building underway in Ballsbridge for Killeen Properties.

Cognisant of the importance of having a diversified portfolio, Walls operates across several industry sectors. “PRS has been our dominant sector for the past couple of years and given our expertise in this area we see this continuing for the next few years. Despite some of the uncertainty resulting from COVID-19, we have three new-build commercial office projects recently underway in Dublin. We have re-energised our focus on the life sciences and data centre sectors and we look forward to this activity contributing to our turnover next year and in 2023,” says O’Shea.

Over the past decade Walls has established itself as a leading player in the fit-out sector, having delivered major contracts for clients such as AIB, Ervia, LinkedIn, Zendesk and Google, he adds. “We are currently managing the fit-out of the new ESB HQ building on Fitzwilliam Street and another building for the Central Bank of Ireland at its headquarters on North Wall Quay – projects with a combined value of €90m+.”

Sustainability journey

Walls has been at the forefront of sustainable construction for the past 15 years, having delivered the first BREEAM ‘Excellent’ and ‘Outstanding’ office buildings in Ireland.  It also delivered the country’s first LEED Platinum project, while its Cadenza project for Irish Life currently under construction is targeting a LEED Platinum and WELL rating.

“We continue to build upon these achievements with our Environmental Management System where we continuously look at ways to reduce the carbon footprint of our operations,” says O’Shea. “Our carbon management policy focuses on reducing our emissions not only from site operations but also in our compound areas, vehicle fleet, carbon offsetting and through our waste management objective of zero waste to landfill.”

Given the supply demands being placed on the construction industry, the adoption of new technologies is vital for productivity improvements. At the same time, the industry needs to grow in a sustainable manner and the aims of constructability, programme, quality and cost have to be met, according to O’Shea.

“To this end, the adoption of modern methods of construction is vital in terms of efficiency and productivity, environmental sustainability, health and safety and quality. Greater use of digital technologies will enable the industry to adopt leaner, more efficient manufacturing processes to help meet the challenge of environmental sustainability, carbon management and climate change.”

For example, developments in digital technology have allowed Walls to capture data on its projects to an extent not previously feasible. It can use this data to provide real-time performance reporting, such as on its key metrics of safety, quality, commercial and on-time delivery.

“The software also gives us access to data visualisations, which allow us to fully interrogate this information and provide the type of business intelligence we need to assess both our project teams’ performance as well as that of our supply chain and – if necessary – make interventions to arrest any undesired trends before they escalate,” O’Shea explains.

Emphasis on collaboration

Walls prides itself on adopting a collaborative approach with all parties on the successful delivery of its projects, including clients, design teams, supply chain, subcontractors and local authorities and other stakeholders. This has resulted in ongoing relationships with clients such as Ballymore Properties, Park Developments and the Marlet Property Group, and more recently new client relationships, including with Ardstone, Royalton, Aldgate Developments, the O’Flynn Group and Killeen Properties.

“Our Pre-construction Department is at the forefront of the collaborative process, developing relationships during the post-tender period through design workshops, programme reviews and value management meetings – thus ensuring a seamless transition to the construction team,” says O’Shea.

“Collaboration also brings mutual benefit to our relationships with key subcontractors, such as Ballygorman Contracts, Trim Formwork and Kilsaran, which has been especially important during the past 15 months.”

All of the values of Walls’ company culture are encapsulated in the ‘Walls Way’. These values span across health and safety to employee wellbeing and work-life balance. “Our Wellness strategy is an integral part of our organisation, led by the Wellness Committee and with full support from the senior leadership team,” says O’Shea. Some of the wellness initiatives run during COVID-19 included a Step-a-Thon challenge, a staff photography competition, a virtual talk on men’s health and a webinar with MensAid to raise mental health awareness. Employees and their families can also access Walls’ employee assistance programme.

Career development

In early 2020, Walls launched a ‘First Time Manager’ development programme called Aspire, which provides participants with the toolset and self-awareness to enable them to build competencies for career progression. Devised by the leadership team in collaboration with an external specialist consultancy, Aspire is designed to develop interpersonal skills and the behaviours required to operate effectively in given roles.

“As the foundation programme on the ‘Walls Leadership Pathway’, we are confident Aspire will play an important role in helping us to develop the next leaders in the organisation. It is aligned with our commitment to and track record of providing employees with long-term career development opportunities,” says O’Shea.

Each year, Walls takes in up to 50 college students whose internship is spent gaining practical site-based experience. This is a valuable source of graduate recruitment, as many students re-join the firm on graduation the following year.

“There is a strong tradition in Walls of graduates progressing through the ranks to senior roles. I joined directly from University College Dublin back in the day and our Construction Director Frank Kelly, President of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), completed his industrial placement with us before joining on graduation the following year.”

Walls is actively involved in highlighting construction as a rewarding career choice at various levels outside the organisation itself. For example, it participated in the ‘A Home for Everyone’ competition organised by the CIF and aimed at fourth-, fifth- and sixth-year secondary school students around the country. The company was also involved as a sponsor and sat on the judging panel of the Solas Generation Apprenticeship competition. This aims to raise awareness and help second-level students to visualise how they can combine future careers through construction apprenticeships with a commitment to green values and sustainable futures.