Collaboration Is Key to Any Project’s Success

The M&E sector has changed hugely over the past decade. Anne Dooley, Managing Director, Winthrop, tells Carol Tallon about how some of these changes have influenced her leadership approach.

Anne Dooley joined Winthrop in 1997 and progressed through the organisation to be appointed Managing Director in 2015. Winthrop started working as M&E subcontractors on their first data centre in 1999. “After a number of these projects,” Anne explains, “we delivered our first turnkey data centre in Park West, Dublin, in 2001.

“Coordinating the whole package, we had the data hub up and running in a short time frame of four months. On completion, we determined that as our technical expertise in electrical and mechanical works were the main drivers of the project, we had a clear understanding of the core work that went into data centre delivery. As a result, we moved to focus our attention on the Data Centre Sector, a market where we have since carved out a substantial niche.”

Importance of Timelines

Timelines are critical in any building project, says Anne Dooley. “But timelines are particularly important for data centres because the client generally has committed to be ready for a tenant/business unit to commence install or operations,” she adds. “This means getting all services live in addition to coordinating all the other elements of construction that go around that piece of work. Our track record of on-time delivery and working with strategic international partners is what has positioned us to deliver turnkey data centres.”

Winthrop has, in recent years, worked simultaneously on projects in Amsterdam and here in Ireland. “This is made possible by a hands-on management team,” explains Anne Dooley. “In the past two-and-a-half years, I have spent a couple of days of every week in Amsterdam, which was our first Hyperscale Data Centre where we delivered a project of over €250m in 18 months. When you are positioning yourself to deliver something new, you need to be able to show clients that you are out in front of it.

“There are always challenges on a project that can have the potential to cause a delay. For example, late equipment delivery,” she continues. “Our clients have the confidence in us to deal with issues and to meet that end-date. When it comes to problem-solving on-site, you need to be proactive in addressing issues that arise. Early identification of the problem is crucial. The goal is always to figure out what needs to be done and to figure out the most cost-effective and least impactful solution.

“Our experience is that data centre developers and operators understand value. Trust is a huge part of this, that is why collaboration is essential to the success of any project. This is the engineering and construction culture we have fostered within the company. We do not have a blame culture. If an issue arises, we work together to figure out how best to solve the problem and avoid repeating it.”

“We Weren’t Afraid to Price the Projects, Knowing We Could Deliver.”

M&E Sector

Although Winthrop is a contracting firm, it tends to take an engineering approach to projects.

“When we go into a project,” Anne Dooley explains, “we can give input into the design and use our knowledge and experience to benefit the design. Over time, as trust builds, clients and design teams appreciate that input. This also allows us to resolve any potential problems at an early stage before it becomes an expensive fix. It’s about using all the technical tools that are at your disposal to deliver the best project.”

Winthrop was not badly hit during the downturn. Anne Dooley attributes this to “a mixture of sound judgment and maybe a little luck”. Anne believes that “many within the industry tried to retain market share with what seemed like below-cost pricing, but that’s not who we were as a company.

“We managed to keep our core people and our core clients. We carried out a lot of commercial work during that period. We kept ourselves going and delivered on projects like Blackrock Clinic and the Montevetro building (Google’s Flag Ship Building on Barrow Street, Dublin). These were substantial jobs that had to be fast-tracked, and we managed them very well. We delivered projects for clients on time, on budget and without fuss, and we got a lot of repeat business because we gave them no reason to look elsewhere. This gave us an edge when tendering on similar projects. Of course, we had to win them commercially, but our reputation was a major factor. We weren’t afraid to price the projects, knowing we could deliver.”

Addressing Skills Shortages

Anne Dooley is quick to highlight ongoing training as being key to Winthrop’s continuing success.

“Our teams are experienced in working in critical, live environments. This requires a certain mentality and level of planning that our engineering skills afford. The most significant challenge we see at this stage is finding talent; finding skilled, qualified engineers, and maintaining our throughput of training.

“We need a mix of young engineers and experienced people on each team. There’s a huge shortage of skilled engineers in the country. When it comes to attracting and retaining people in the industry, we need to communicate the technological requirements of the industry as this opens it up to a range of different graduates. Indeed, retaining the staff that we have is a priority. We invest in their ongoing training.

“I believe the industry needs to make itself more attractive to staff. For instance, a collegiate atmosphere within popular companies with job seekers has become very important nowadays. The older, authoritarian structure is well and truly gone. We are all part of the team, and it’s all-hands-on-deck together.”

Leadership Style

Finally, when summing up her leadership style, Anne Dooley is definitive: “If you want to bring your team with you, you must be a part of that team. I believe in leading from the front and participating. This is especially true when thrashing out ideas. This is one of the most exciting parts of the job for me, a part that I really enjoy.”