According to Michael Barry, Managing Director of real estate and construction consultancy Calla Woods, projects are extremely complex, regardless of the scale. “That complexity can really suck you in, and if you’re unable to untie it and bring a structured approach to it, then it can be very difficult and it can beat you down,” he explains.
Michael doesn’t seem like the sort of character to be beaten down easily, though – and he has a strong vision for Calla Woods: giving the more established project management giants a run for their money and offering potential clients a different option in the market.
Born in Ireland, he worked in the UK and Dublin for a few years after gaining his qualifications, before moving to Hong Kong via Thailand. With well over a decade spent in Asia with project management consultancies and developers, the more he experienced of the industry, the more he thought he could improve on what was out there.
“I saw a lot of issues and felt I could do something about that,” he says. “I set up Calla Woods and, after six months, David Lynch came on board as a partner. He has the same outlook on non-design professional services and the improvements that need to be made. So that’s the path we’re on – to give clients a different option.”
It was an incredible bit of insight that gave Michael the first inkling he should start his own company – an observation he made that might be true of a number of industries. “I noticed a lot of the people tasked with delivering projects seemed more focused on their careers within their organisations, as opposed to delivering a project to the best of their ability,” he reveals.
“Ultimately, the job is about delivering projects. Working with the contractors, working with designers, working with stakeholders. You have to understand all of that and know what buttons to push. You need to look at designs and ask the right questions. So that’s what we do.”
Michael’s broad experience as a contractor, consultant and developer combines well with David’s background as a career contractor. “We can sit at the table with anyone and are comfortable to discuss any project matter with them,” he says.
We don’t just pop a generic project manager into a project. We understand who our client is and what type of person is needed.
“To me, that’s invaluable for the clients, because it’s a dedicated, focused, safe set of hands to deliver projects, regardless of the scale.”
Next for Calla Woods is a focus on continued growth. The company opened an Irish office at the start of 2021 to service national and international clients. “David runs the Dublin office. It’s a market we’re very familiar with,” Michael says.
“There’s also a lot of international companies already there post-Brexit.” Michael will also focus on continuing to grow his Asian team. “We’ve got a diverse team here, and if we start to give them mundane, boring, generic-type projects to work on, they’re just not going to be interested,” he explains.
“There’s a huge character-building opportunity when you are let loose on a project. The people you meet, the clients you work with, they’re all very different people. And we have to get our name out there – we’re in an industry where there are a lot of big hitters.”
Breaking the dominance of the established businesses with long-term relationships will take time, but Calla Woods is already making an impression on its clients. S&techs has been collaborating with the company since it was formed in 2019, and told The CEO Magazine that it sees Calla Woods as “a very important strategic and complementary partner”.
“Calla Woods brings the project management expertise and S&techs brings the construction management expertise to the construction process,” a S&techs spokesperson explained.
“Both firms complement each other in this respect – we understand what each of our responsibilities are to our respective clients. There is no ambiguity from the clients’ perspective as to each of our roles on the project.”
Most of Calla Woods’ work takes place in the education and luxury residential sectors. “We provide an extremely structured service for those who are delivering luxury residential projects,” Michael points out.
“That’s for private individuals who have large budgets. My background and David’s background are in hospitality and residential, so we have a very hands-on service with private clients or luxury residential work. That’s our differentiator there.
“Within the education sector, what’s different about us is that we put good people in there. Every company’s going to say that, but we recruit from various areas of the industry. We don’t just pop a generic project manager into a project. We understand who our client is and what type of person is needed. If that means we have to look outside the box, that’s what we do.”
As for regional and local partnerships, it is again a very diverse range of clients, with emphasis at the moment on helping companies enter and rescale their businesses in Asia and the Middle East.
“As well as delivering projects directly for clients, a noteworthy part of our business is our partnerships with international businesses,” Michael says.
“We partner with specialist businesses in the design and construction industry from regions outside of Asia and help them secure and deliver projects in the region. There are some amazing firms that create unique, high-quality products that strive to get exposure and opportunities in Asia and we fulfil opportunities for them by becoming an extension of their team.”
Michael also notes that Calla Woods implements a range of proptech platforms on its projects and is actively looking to bring new software to the market. But for all the technological advancement and complexity of projects, the company does seem to come down to something as old and traditional as business itself – forming good relationships.
“You have to get on with people. If you don’t, it’s a failure that is going to come down the track at you,” Michael asserts.
“We get to work with a lot of partners, and we have to build up a lot of trust in each other and be transparent. Having an awareness and acceptance of people and the inevitable challenges is a good thing to have. The major benefit is credibility. It’s very reassuring when someone contacts you and says you’ve been referred by a previous client.”
If it isn’t clear reading between the lines, Michael’s message to potential clients is clear and confident. “We’re here – talk to us, we can help,” he says. “We’re confident we can provide structured solutions to complex projects. That’s what we do, and we’re proud of it.”
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