Breedon Ireland’s smart approach delivering value for money to customers
Breedon Ireland managing director Pat Gilroy speaks with BARRY MCCALL about opportunities presented by his new role of managing the country’s largest independent materials supplier in the current market and discusses how Breedon Ireland is reducing its carbon footprint and embedding sustainability as a core value throughout its operations.
Legend is not a word that is often applied to construction industry professionals. Indeed, it is more commonly found on the sports and entertainment pages of the newspapers than it is in the business section. But Breedon Ireland managing director Pat Gilroy has straddled the sporting and business worlds seemingly effortlessly and certainly justifies the epithet.
“It helps when you get up at 5:30 in the mornings,” says the man who is one of that exclusive band of individuals who have won All- Ireland Senior Football Championship medals as both a player and a manager.
In Gilroy’s case, he was a member of the Dublin team that won the All-Ireland for the first time in 12 years in 1995 and, as manager, led the county victory in 2011 – their first since that September afternoon in 1995. He stepped down from the manager’s role at the end of the 2012 inter-county season, but he later took up the position of Dublin senior hurling team manager for a year in 2017.
He has also managed to fit in a highly successful career in the construction and property sectors.
“I have been working in various parts of the construction industry for the past 20 years, mainly in energy, waste and water projects,” he comments. “Later on, I worked in the M&E design sector. I spent some time in the UK and came back to Ireland in 2016. I have been in property development for the past four years.”
The move to Breedon wasn’t actually part of a plan. “I wasn’t out looking for a job, but opportunities like this don’t come up too often in Ireland,” he explains.
A number of factors attracted him to the role when it was offered to him.
“Entrepreneurship is in the DNA of the Breedon Group, and a lot of decisions are made locally here in Ireland,” Gilroy explains. “It’s a relatively new brand, but it has acquired companies with great track records and histories over the years. It really appealed to me from both a cultural and sustainability point of view. Sustainability is very close to my heart.”
Breedon is a leading construction materials group with extensive operations in Great Britain and Ireland, but, as Gilroy mentions, the brand is relatively new to this country. Up until May of this year, the company traded in the Republic of Ireland as Lagan and as Whitemountain in Northern Ireland.
Headquartered in Dublin, Breedon Ireland’s Republic of Ireland business is a fully-integrated aggregates and downstream products business. The company comprises all of Breedon’s construction materials and contracting services businesses, including aggregates, asphalt, ready–mixed concrete, bitumen, contract surfacing highway maintenance, civil engineering and airfield construction. The company offers the same range of services to customers in Northern Ireland.
“That’s what we do as a business,” says Gilroy. “It’s very integrated, and we are organised both north and south.”
Some of the high-profile projects that the company has been involved in recently include work for Sisk on the Dunkettle Roundabout upgrade in Cork, a contract for surfacing on the M1, the set down area in Dublin Airport, and a significant street lighting project in the Down-Armagh area in Northern Ireland.
The materials side of the business, which Gilroy runs, employs 300 people. “It’s a big business; turnover last year was €255m. Our main customers are the local authorities, which account for about 80% of our business. The balance is with contractors and developers.”
Interestingly, Breedon will often supply other companies that are competitors in the market.
“We supply people in the same industry,” he explains. “If we have a local advantage in terms of producing materials close to where they have a job on, we will supply to our competitors. The same happens in reverse. There is no point in hauling materials from quarries in one place to a job at the other end of the country if you can source them nearby. It is also a much more sustainable way of operating. That’s the nature of the industry; competitors often buy from each other and sell to each other.”
Sustainability is a recurring theme with Pat Gilroy.
“Planet, People and Places are the pillars of our sustainability strategy. We are working hard on developing our people both from a health and safety point of view and personally and professionally. We are nothing without our people. In terms of the planet, we are looking at delivering projects more sustainably and other initiatives, such as using EVs in the business. We place a very strong emphasis on sustainability. And we want to make a positive contribution to the communities where we work and to be a good neighbour.”
Sustainability is core to the company’s forward-looking strategy.
“Our aim is to have more sustainable products,” says Gilroy. “It’s the right thing to do. The energy crisis has served to focus people’s minds on it, but it was already a core value at Breedon. We are looking at water and waste as well, and we have set a number of key objectives in those areas for next year.”
He continues, “The market is demanding it, and we are demanding it of ourselves. There will always be a need for construction materials, and our role is to produce them and use them as sustainably as possible. Sustainability also covers our neighbours and the way we interact with them. We aim to minimise the disruption caused by our projects and our extraction activities.”
Naturally, events on the international stage have an impact on the business.
“The cost of materials has risen, and the cost of transportation has gone up as well. Our people are under pressure, and we are doing things for our people to help ease the burden. We are helping them with guidelines and advice on energy efficiency and things like that. We are also making cost of living payments to people who need them.”
The effects are being felt at all levels.
“Prices are rising across the business. This means we need to be smart about how we deliver value for money to our customers.”
It also requires careful management at the procurement end.
“Oil prices vary from month to month. That requires daily monitoring and management. We are talking about it every single day to see what we can do to manage the business. At the Group level, we’ve hedged our fuel and energy costs and that provides us with about a year of visibility.”
This all adds up to a tough environment.
“There are all sorts of pressures on the construction industry right now,” he continues. “We have to deal with constant change and volatility. Not having an executive in place in Northern Ireland slows everything down as well. Inflation is having an impact everywhere, and decision-making processes have definitely slowed down. But we have to deal with it. It’s not going to be easy, but this is where our entrepreneurial DNA will come into its own. We will continue to focus on sustainable organic growth, and the right acquisitions should the opportunities present themselves,” Pat Gilroy concludes.