Gordon O’Regan, CEO, L&M Keating

L&M Keating

Leadership Is Leadership Regardless of Environment

Gordon O’Regan, Chief Executive Officer, L&M Keating, talks leadership and change with Barry McCall.

Founded in 1987 by Louis Keating, L&M Keating was owner-managed until its acquisition by CBD Capital last year. The company, which specialises in civil and marine engineering, conservation and restoration of heritage properties, and dredging works, has a turnover of €67m with more than 100 employees.

“CBD Capital has an impressive track record of successful investment and extensive business experience,” says Chief Executive, Gordon O’Regan.

“CBD saw real potential for us to channel our core competence capabilities into the delivery of large infrastructure projects at home and abroad. We were very keen to capitalise on the opportunity that they offered, and Louis wanted to remain part of the business – to continue doing what he loves. It’s a perfect fit.”

Gordon believes the change in ownership will offer new opportunities for existing and new employees.

“We are targeting new markets, and alongside that, the backing from CBD will allow us to invest in new resources, people and technologies,” he explains.

Challenges

When Gordon O’Regan looks at the challenges facing the firm he puts skills shortages at the top and Brexit at the bottom of that list.

“This reflects the continued growth of the Irish economy,” he explains. “We are back to shortages of both blue and white-collar workers. We want to build capability and capacity to meet future demand, and we are working with the CIF to achieve this. We need more apprentices. It is key for us to engage new people at the same time as upskilling existing employees. We want to be a responsible organisation that provides skills and other legacy benefits to the communities where we work.”

Public procurement policy is another issue that concerns Gordon O’Regan.

“The lowest price wins, unfortunately. We need to look at the UK where economic and social value and other factors come into play as well.”

Brexit

On Brexit, Gordon believes the exchange rate with sterling could impact on demand and that the Industry is responding well to these challenges. “We are working smarter, employing Lean methodologies, BREEAM, BIM and so on. We are delivering more for less,” he explains.

Cultural Transition

The biggest challenge for Gordon O’Regan is leading the cultural transition from an owner managed operation to one of a CEO reporting to a board.

“Changing ownership, taking people with us – employees and suppliers – and making sure the business is fit for purpose,” he notes. “We are investing in people, resources and technology. The change-management piece is massive. We need to get the foundations right as that will dictate our ability to compete in new and current markets, and generate employment and training opportunities.

“The supply chain is also a challenge; subcontractors and suppliers are very busy as well. We want to be the partner of choice.”

Opportunities

Gordon O’Regan sees investment in Ireland’s infrastructure as one of the main areas for opportunity for L&M Keating.

“This is likely to be hindered by a lack of resources and the planning process as well as Government procurement policies. We are developing models of excellence across all our specialist areas for new markets as an exportable service.”

Gordon O’Regan believes further opportunities for the wider industry will stem from economic growth and continued FDI.

“There is an opportunity to become a sustainable industry and break out of the boom and bust cycle” he explains. “We lost a lot of resources in the downturn. I was made redundant myself and had to go to the UK for 10 years. We are trying to attract people back to the Industry, and this is proving challenging.”

Success in the future will come through a clear strategic vision.

“Leadership is leadership regardless of the operating environment,” Gordon O’Regan says. “You have to be able to inspire trust in your team and give them the confidence that you can succeed. You need to provide them with the clarity of your strategic view. It comes back to having a sustainable industry where growth is managed, planned and controllable.

“You also need a combination of a strong forward order book and a diversity of orders,” Gordon O’Regan adds. “You can’t allow yourself to become dependent on any single client or small group of clients or any small number of suppliers.”

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