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TakeFive - An interview with Ronan McGee, Director, Duke McCaffrey

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20 September 2021

4 min read

Ronan, what have been the main challenges for you as a director of one of the fastest growing cost and project management consultancy’s in Ireland?

It is going to be no surprise to anyone reading this blog that one of the main challenges was simply adapting to a completely new way of working and collaborating. Back in March 2020, who would have thought that the pandemic would take the best part of 18 months to get back to what we are now calling the new normal.

Until the pandemic hit, our staff had spent their careers working between the office and construction site but, for what was an unknown period of time, we would be doing everything from home!

Pre-covid, mentoring and briefing teams could be difficult due to workload and project meetings but at least we were able to discuss sensitive issues face to face. For us, our number one priority was to find a way of mentoring and supporting our people via virtual means. We invested significantly in upgrading our IT and software to allow us to adapt quickly to the remote setup, while also future-proofing the business.

Weekly meetings were an absolute must for the team. Like many businesses, every Monday we would plan out the weekly tasks over Teams but within a couple of weeks we found the meetings became more and more invaluable in just catching up and chewing the cud. This was great for the graduates and young professionals, as not only were they contending with a new career and working on their own at home, but they also needed to have a platform where they could listen to challenges and how they were being resolved – teamwork makes the dream work as the say!

The firm was expanding quickly, how did these new challenges affect your ability to recruit?

This was a challenge. The business was growing fast, and we needed experienced and talented professionals. Looking for senior people during a pandemic was not easy. We went through recruitment consultants and our own networks. We found two fantastic team members through our own contacts.  But even then, the challenge was in trying to understand each other’s commitment through a virtual environment!

I know many a business leader will tell you, recruiting people through Teams/Zoom is terribly difficult. The non-verbal clues are just not there. Your potential new recruit also has to trust what you were saying to take that leap of faith. For example, ‘why would they leave their existing global practice to join a smaller firm?’. I really think our reputation and our commitment to our brand culture played a significant role in helping them make a decision.

During the pandemic lockdown, how did your team cope with the increased strain to mental health and wellbeing?

We were very conscious that this was a particularly hard time, especially for graduates who rely on senior staff to guide them. One of the main things we did was to ensure every member of staff had a part to play on our Teams calls and that they had a director they could call on any time of day. We also held some online social events for staff to communicate in a non-working environment as well as recently completing a Giggle Fund event for Children’s Health Foundation Crumlin where we all took on completing 100km walk, run or cycle.

Helping our professionals feel part of the family and part of the team – made a big difference.

Throughout this challenging period, was there anything you learnt that you will take forward?

Back in March 2020, there were a lot of nervous conversations around the board table – after all there was so much uncertainty. Will we make it? Will what we have built as a business, fail?

What we actually found is that humans have great resolve and when tested can make things happen. Duke McCaffrey experienced significant growth and the wonderful thing was that this was mainly based on our past relationships – our hands-on hard work over the years really did prove its worth. During Covid, we have won a lot of repeat business as our clients really appreciated the time and effort we put into their projects and the service we gave them when times were uncertain and tough.

For example, working through the pandemic in the early days where nobody knew what was going on, we were regularly responding to calls where clients were asking ‘What does site closure mean for me?’, ‘What happens to my contract and my obligations?’, ‘How much are the site delays going to cost us?’. Frightening times for many developers, contractors and suppliers. I think by working through a pandemic in a collaborative way, it has resulted in stronger relationships with our clients and now we are all coming out the other side (hopefully!)

How would your team describe your style of leadership?

I’d really like to think that my team and my clients say that I’m always available and accessible. From a personal perspective, I believe I am fairly easy to get on with, not confrontational and try to see the positive in things! I don’t like the aggressive approach to business – there’s always a way to solve a problem by being constructive rather th