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“My passion is people”: Mark Flanagan

Kirby Group Engineering is a family-owned business that has been around since 1964. Founded in Limerick, the company is a leading mechanical and electrical engineering contractor that operates across Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe, serving customers the “Kirby Way” in a variety of sectors including data centres, life sciences, industrial, commercial, and substations and renewables.

Mark Flanagan, Managing Director of Kirby Group Engineering

Yet, that’s not the spiel the company spins to get new customers. Nor does it broadcast the fact that it has a 55-plus-year reputation for going the extra mile to serve its clients, or that it boasts a €360 million turnover and industry-leading expertise – at least, not at first.

“If you view our advertisements, you’ll see that we pretty much tell people who we are before we tell them what we do,” says Managing Director Mark Flanagan. “People buy from people they like. We are a family business, and we pride ourselves on being a family business with a family ethos. And even though we’ve grown quite a lot over the past number of years, we’ve put in plenty of time and effort to maintain our roots. Who we are is a big differentiator, and we certainly see that.”

Setting the bar

By putting people at the forefront of everything it does, Kirby’s success seems to naturally follow. “Being a values-driven business, we put people first,” Mark says. “We believe that if you invest in your people, then they will help you grow your business. They will help you build those relationships and they’ll help you provide good-quality work and deliver on your promises. This is what takes a company into the future.”

There was this foxhole mentality where everybody dug in and got together, doing what they needed to do, which really helped build resilience and relationships.

Kirby collaborates with some of the biggest companies in the world, using some of the most advanced technologies to deliver complex solutions. Yet, even with its unparalleled knowledge, capabilities and innovative prowess, Mark believes with conviction that Kirby’s ethos trumps everything.

“We’re working at the cutting edge of technology,” he says. “We work in the power, pharmaceutical and data centre sectors and deliver mechanical and electrical engineering contracting services across nine jurisdictions in Europe. But what’s embedded in everything we do is our traditional values of relationships, integrity and honesty. We aspire to be the most trusted provider of the services we supply, so the bar is high.”

At Kirby, the team adheres to the values of people, safety, quality, delivery and value, and serving clients the “Kirby Way” – the company’s distinctive corporate culture, which places a premium on collaboration, innovation and integrity and where customer satisfaction is everything.

“Our culture is the glue that holds everything together,” Mark explains. “It doesn’t happen by accident; it’s something that comes with having a clear vision and strategy. We wouldn’t be able to consistently deliver services to our clients without this scaffolding.”

Challenge accepted

When it comes to COVID-19, the word ‘challenging’ seems like a bit of an understatement. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on businesses around the world. Yet, for those with a strong foundation, a progressive digital presence and a hefty dose of optimism, COVID-19 has presented opportunity. And for Kirby, that couldn’t be truer.

Kirby Goes Platinum

This year, Kirby Group Engineering beat its previous gold rating, taking home the platinum accreditation from the highly regarded Investors in People program. This puts Kirby in the top ranks of its category of architectural, engineering and construction activities.

“We were fortunate to a large degree because a lot of the work that we do is deemed critical,” Mark says. “Our strength lies in digital. So, while the first lockdown in Ireland saw us shutting down 40% of our business immediately, we were back up and running within six or seven weeks. And since then, we’ve literally never been busier.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, Kirby has experienced significant growth. And Mark chalks it all up to the immense power and perseverance of Kirby’s employees. “It’s a true testament to the grace and integrity of our business and the people within it,” he says.

“They showed great loyalty. We continued delivering projects across Europe, dealing with incredible challenges regarding quarantines. Our good people rose to these challenges and delivered on every project. Some of the larger projects even hit their original, pre-COVID dates simply through the resilience and dedication they showed.”

The pandemic also meant the company learnt new ways in which to work. “Collaboration has really increased in our industry and, funnily enough, so have relationships probably because there was this foxhole mentality where everybody dug in and got together, doing what they needed to do, which really helped build resilience and relationships,” Mark says.

Going forward, Kirby has chosen a hybrid style of working where employees will work in the office a few days a week and remotely the other days. Mark believes this flexibility will create balance, which is better for the people and, ultimately, better for the business. “It’s going to be beneficial to everybody,” he says.

“When it comes to sustainability, this is a fundamental part of it. If your employee has a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle, then your retention rates will be high. And it will benefit our people going forward and hopefully society as a whole. People don’t have to be in the office at eight o’clock in the morning to get things done. Flexibility is key, and we’ll work with our people on that, ensuring it works for them as it works for us.”

Fast-tracked innovation

In today’s world, digitalisation is important and, in Kirby’s industry, it’s king. And while COVID-19 has certainly accelerated a lot of the advancements, it’s an area Mark says the company has been investing in heavily for some time.

“Projects are becoming more complex and, at the same time, they need to be built faster,” he explains. “So there’s a tremendous value in de-risking projects, building a large percentage of the facility offsite and then bringing it onsite. This means we need to have a really strong design upfront; it needs to be fit for purpose, ensuring there are no clashes.

“Luckily, we have Mark Danaher on our team. He’s won the Autodesk 40 under 40 accolade for the innovations he’s brought to light, regarding linking 3D design and coordination to offsite manufacturing and modularisation. And he’s the only person in Europe to win that.” Now, in conjunction with augmented reality, Kirby can walk its clients through projects virtually.

“We’ve been using this a lot during the pandemic for clients who can’t make it to the site due to restrictions,” he says. “We’re able to talk them through the progress of the projects, showing them in real time what’s going on.”

Mark Flanagan has been with Kirby for 26 years, signing on first as an electrician. And as his career has progressed, so has his passion – in perfect alignment with the company’s people-first ethos. “Turnover doesn’t drive me,” he shares. “The business will be what it’ll be in the market you’re in.

“My passion is people. When I think about our business, it truly is all about the people. If we invest in our staff and give them the best opportunity, then they’ll love getting up for work in the morning. And that makes business easy. Suddenly, you’ve got this momentum, this energy and it really is contagious. Clients see it and it definitely creates an environment for a strong, resilient and sustainable business.”

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