Theo Cullinane, CEO, BAM Ireland
Theo Cullinane, CEO, BAM Ireland, speaks with ROBBIE COUSINS about some of the contractor’s successes in the past year and discusses issues that need urgent attention if the sector and economy are to bounce back from the Covid-19 crisis.
Theo Cullinane, CEO, BAM Ireland, oversaw another strong year for the company in 2019, when the contactor completed and progressed several key public and private development projects.
During 2019 and into 2020, BAM Ireland completed a number of high profile contracts in various fields.
BAM completed the M11 Gorey to Enniscorthy Motorway and the New Ross Bypass PPP schemes. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge – part of the N25 New Ross Bypass PPP Scheme – which was officially opened in January of this year, gives him particular pride as it is one of the largest and most challenging civil engineering projects in the State’s history, and the longest bridge in Ireland at 900 metres.
In 2019, BAM was awarded the contract for the new N5 Westport to Castlebar Road in Co Mayo, a development that represents the Government’s largest investment in Mayo’s road network. In Cork, BAM completed work on Navigation Square, the largest and most significant office development to be undertaken in the city’s commercial centre to date. It also completed the 23-storey Visual Control Tower at Dublin Airport. At 86.9m high, the tower is one of the tallest structures in Ireland.
Work was advanced on the new National Children’s Hospital (NCH), the largest infrastructure project currently ongoing in the State. The NCH Urgent Care Centre at the Connolly Hospital campus in Blanchardstown opened in July of 2019, and work is ongoing at its sister satellite centre in Tallaght. In the private sector, BAM recently started construction on the One Lime Street residential development for Marlet, a 216-apartments development in Dublin’s South Docklands.
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge, Co Wexford.
Covid-19 has had a significant impact on BAM’s operations. The company followed all official guidelines and closed its non-essential sites as soon as these were clarified, including the NCH.
“We continued to undertake separate Covid-19-related work on the main St James’s Hospital during the shutdown at the request of hospital management, as well as some essential motorway maintenance and facilities management work around the country,” Theo Cullinane continues, “Following the lifting of restrictions, we returned to work on all our sites, with full implementation of the Government’s mandatory Covid-19 restrictions as a minimum. In many cases, we have exceeded these where local conditions required. The safety of anyone who comes to a BAM site is always our top priority, even more so in the current situation.”
Like many others, BAM’s senior management team is currently navigating the choppy business landscape that has resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic. But Theo Cullinane, says that although he is concerned, he is also confident that the company and sector will emerge stronger, and he calls on Government to make a number of progressive procurement decisions.
“The pandemic put every non-essential project in the State on hold for months, and now we are coming out the other side of it with a great deal of uncertainty,” he explains. “The full cost of reopening sites is still unknown to us, as is the ultimate loss of productivity. The primary focus for all construction businesses will be safely maintaining operations and working with clients to understand and mitigate the impact of restrictions. The health and safety of our staff must be our top priority.”
He says that the impact of Covid-19 on the sector and the broader economy is his most immediate concern and that everyone in the sector is working hard to meet this challenge head on. However, there is only so much that the sector can do and Government must now make progressive decisions that will benefit the sector and the overall economy.
“I have repeatedly raised the serious issues that exist with the current structure and framing of public works contracts,” Theo Cullinane comments. “The process places too much risk on the side of the contractors, and procurement teams are often not able to manage their own risk allocation, and this then leads to conflict. This adversarial model delivers for no one – least of all the taxpayer.”
He says that now more than ever, this issue needs to be reviewed.
“I think a framework recognising the huge additional costs and productivity issues for all construction companies that have had to absorb the cost of reopening sites with the Covid-19 restrictions in place would be a good place to start,” he continues. “We have seen great dialogue and mutual solutions achieved with private sector clients, but at the moment, we cannot say the same for the public sector.
“The guidelines are going to be changing all the time as the situation develops. So, clear lines of communication between all stakeholders will be key.”
In relation to the public works contracts issue, Theo Cullinane adds that a strong functioning construction market must be maintained.
“We need our international partners to see that Ireland is a reasonable place to work, that risks are not uncontrollable and that the State is committed to a collaborative working approach. We have been using the PPP approach, where collaboration and cooperation provide certainty for both client and contractor. We must now ensure that appropriate risk-sharing is embedded in all procurement models going forward as the Irish construction industry must strengthen to enable future planning. We need continued priority and requisite investment in ‘Project Ireland 2040’.”
In September 2019, BAM was one of the first construction companies to sign up to CIF’s Inclusion and Diversity charter.
“We recognise that diversity and inclusion make a business stronger by driving innovation and performance, as well as improving the engagement of our stakeholders by reflecting the communities in which we work,” he comments.
Last year, Royal BAM Group celebrated its 150th anniversary, and to mark this, 150,000 trees were planted around the world.
Theo Cullinane says that sustainability is at the heart of everything the contractor does.
“When we talk about sustainability at BAM, we think of three things – Climate Change, People and Resources. Globally, BAM is committed to having what we call a net positive impact in these three areas by 2050.
“We are making a positive impact on climate change and resources by converting as much of our fleet and staff vehicles to electric vehicles as possible, and employing energy from environmentally-friendly sources on site and in our head office. We are also upscaling our use of more environmentally-friendly cements and other materials in the construction process, while working to counterbalance what we cannot offset through proactive initiatives, including the planting of 9,000 trees in Cork, Fermanagh, Antrim and Wicklow last year.
“In January, we were pleased with the announcement that we once again achieved a leadership place on the ‘A List’ with the Global Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) for climate change. This ranks us in the top 2% of thousands of companies worldwide that disclosed their environmental impact through the project.”
Your Safety Is My Safety
Theo Cullinane knows that the company’s work can positively influence the lives of both its staff and the communities in which it operates.
“We believe in looking after our people by providing a holistic approach to improve the safety, health and wellbeing of our colleagues. We recently launched our Wellness Programme that incorporates an Employee Assistance Programme. This programme incorporates access to a qualified counsellor 24/7, 365 days a year by phone, email, or live chat. This is backed up by our robust ‘Your Safety is my Safety’ culture, where colleagues are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves and each other on site, in the office and on the road.”
BAM has also been actively engaging with local communities around its projects.
“We engage with local communities around our projects to ensure BAM’s projects positively influence local lives. In January of this year, we unveiled the €500,000 Community Benefit Fund for the new National Children’s Hospital,” he says. “This will provide education bursaries, apprenticeship support, aid various community projects, and develop cultural, arts and sports initiatives in the areas close to the site of the NCH during the years 2020, 2021 and 2022.”
In closing, Theo Cullinane references several awards that BAM won during the past year, which he says are acknowledgements of the incredible work its project teams do.
“Being awarded the prestigious ‘Project of the Year’ award, at the 2019 Irish Construction Excellence Awards for our work on One Microsoft Place was a significant moment in the year, as well as winning four awards at the CMG Irish Building Design Awards 2019, including ‘Engineering Project of the Year 2019’ for the Visual Control Tower at Dublin Airport. We also received the Health and Safety award. I was particularly pleased that we were recognised in this area as at BAM, health and safety is our number one priority and something we put a lot of emphasis on,” he concludes.