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TakeFive - An interview with Joe McCaffrey

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27 July 2021

5 min read

We asked Joe McCaffrey, co-founder and Managing Director of Duke McCaffrey, what it’s like to run a business during one of the most disruptive times we’ve had since the global financial crash and Irish recession, and what’s next for Duke McCaffrey?

Will we bounce back or see further economic challenges? What has changed in you and your business that has resulted in doing things differently from now on?

Joe, over the past 18 months, what have been your main challenges at Duke McCaffrey?

Managing a business throughout a pandemic is not for the faint-hearted. Businesses across the globe have experienced disruption beyond what we could have ever imagined but our resilience and human resolve continues to win the day. Like every other organisation that has battled through this time, we have worked hard and continued to put our people and our clients first.

The hardest challenge has been managing supply chains who had to stop work when construction sites closed, and consequently had very little income to keep their business going. The challenge wasn’t just from a business perspective, but we have seen friends and family lose their own livelihoods, having to live with great uncertainty and anxiety .

It was probably one of the few situations where we were lucky to be in construction, but the physical and mental toll of one lockdown after another was really difficult for everyone in our business, our clients and the contractors we deal with. While we were probably busier than we ever were, we were also under a lot of strain figuring out how to get everyone set up at home. Like many businesses, our IT system needed a full overhaul to suit working at home and there were those never-ending conference calls as alternative to meetings. But we have a great team that adapts to every situation, and we are so blessed with people who love what they are doing and want to work around any situation to keep going on our team.

On the positive side we seen a great improvement in quality of work and time management of our output, with working at home – including better concentration and less distraction!

What was the one thing that you learnt or stood out for you?

To keep going! I have always said ‘that with every challenge comes an opportunity’ – you just need to keep looking out for it. We took the time to consider developing beyond our core services.

Another is being patient and calm, even in times where you cannot sleep at night! Life experiences have a way of teaching you to take a step back and think ‘this is just a phase’ and it will be over. We focussed on planning for the ‘out of Covid’ situation, where our pipeline of larger scale projects needs forward thinking and planning. We have that sussed now.

From a commercial perspective, we invested in IT during the pandemic in anticipation of it paying dividends when it passes. The disruption yet feels somewhat accounted for, but no doubt it will create some other financial challenges to navigate. With all of this said, Duke McCaffrey being a strong and resilient company, we are confident for our future.

Finding new business lines beyond pure Project Management, Quantity Surveying has been important, like extending our expertise into development management and early-stage fund advisory. Our growth will come from finding opportunities beyond core services for sure.

What part did you play to help your clients and the business?

In the early stages, our clients were uncertain as to their contractual obligations for developments when construction sites closed. We spent many hours with our clients helping them to understand strategies in uncertain times.

During the first lockdown, the Irish government had not released much information on contractual obligations, so it was a case of creating strategies on the hoof. Fortunately, we made it work and our clients have come through unscathed and continuing with exciting new developments.

For our people, there is no denying it has been challenging. We have grown throughout the pandemic in number of team members and in projects. This is testament to the fantastic work our team has done in coming together to support each other when times were challenging.

What have been Duke McCaffrey’s achievements over the years?

Our greatest achievement is always measured through our success in retaining good clients and repeat business. Since we set up our business in 2015, we still have a significant number of clients that started with us and it’s a great feeling to know we have the same clients today.

What have been your own achievements?

One of my career achievements was as Associate Director of Turner & Townsend - in my view a world class construction consultants and very well managed business. T&T was a great training ground for my career. During this time, I was also a Senior Lecturer at The College of Estate Management in Reading UK, which helped me understand more about myself as much as educating the students.

What would others say about you?

“I would not like to guess!  But throughout all of this – it is about relationships. In construction, it is vital to have loyal and trustworthy relationships – they are the only thing that keeps us going in good times and in bad. Everything that comes from a good place, invariably performs well and in turn, over time brings loyalty based on positive performance.

I know that my strategies are always set out with good intentions and I try to give opportunities to good people, like others have trusted in me.

I think that if we surround ourselves and our businesses with really positive, proactive and good quality people who have great values, entrepreneurship and a hard work ethic, then this is key to a successful business journey. These principles are the ones I hold dear and one day I know it will be testament to how our future story will pan out. Who knows what that the future is … but I’m positive right now about it!”

What do you do in your spare time?

I love spending time with my family in county Wexford beside Curracloe beach. In fact throughout the lockdown, we spent a considerable amount of time there. As someone that works 50 ++ hours a week, it is important to prioritise this time – as one day this will be a distant memory.