Name: Michael Barry
Business Name: Calla Woods Limited – Structured Solutions for Complex Projects
Position Held: Managing Director
Business Location: Hong Kong & Ireland
In your own words what does your company / business do?
We provide Project Management, Commercial Management and Construction Management services to deliver Luxury Residential and Education projects. We also partner with select businesses in the luxury space to deliver projects and scale their businesses in Asia and The Middle East.
What are your main priorities and goals in your role?
My main priority is to have our team work on exciting, challenging, and meaningful projects which provide opportunities to learn and grow within the industry. Secondly, being in the market and explaining to clients why we are better. Its easy to be different but its difficult to be better.
What are your biggest challenges?
COVID has obviously created numerous challenges. The biggest challenge right now is getting to meet people face to face at events. There is always a great buzz at industry events and connecting with people in person is the essence of doing business so not having that is difficult. Not being able to travel is difficult. We set up our Irish office in January this year and I am yet to see it. That is less of a challenge though as we have David Lynch on the ground there so the business is in good hands.
How has your business strategy been adapted in the context of the Covid-19 crisis?
Pre COVID, the option was there to drop into the slipstream of larger organisations. Given the reduced opportunities, we’ve had to stand toe to toe with the bigger organisations especially in the education sector. Thankfully we have been successful at this and it’s a great feeling to win projects when up against the more established firms. With our luxury residential projects, we’ve adapted to provide a construction management service to clients where essentially, we replace the traditional contractor and manage the multiple trade packages inhouse. Because of the lack of international travel, we’ve helped several international businesses maintain relationships, deliver projects and scale their business in Asia and the Middle East. This is something we have really enjoyed doing.
What are the challenges facing your industry going forward?
From a professional services point of view, the bigger firms are diluting the quality of services whilst slashing fees. Clients and projects suffer as a result because their projects are placed in the hands of inexperienced people who do not spend the necessary amount of time on a project. We see it first-hand when we are brought into recover projects. Usually the bare minimum is in place but that’s usually it.
Within construction, reducing the carbon impact is the biggest challenge. Id like to see a collective approach to this from the tier 1 contractors and big manufacturers. Competition is important and healthy, but the impact of a collective approach is game changing.
What new trends are emerging in your industry?
Like every other industry, technology is replacing people and making things move in a better way. Digital twins (physical and digital assets) and smart buildings – where usage data and improved connectivity is assessed – are the two I see as emerging. On a more human level, the traditional adversarial nature of contracting is starting to diminish, thankfully. For years it seemed that if you were not a grumpy old man, you couldn’t work in construction. I see more women in the industry now, rightfully, taking leadership positions on big projects. But not just in leadership. Particularly in the UK I see more and more your women picking up trades, being crane drivers and so on. In Asia, it is very common to see a lot of women on construction sites.
Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?
Within construction, Id like to see the design/building standards and regulations levelled off for a while. The cost of construction is getting out of control, especially in Ireland and it all ultimately falls onto the consumer be it through increased house prices, increased rent and higher cost of living.
Are you finding any skills gaps in the market?
Yes. The willingness and ability to be flexible. Far too many people in the industry are rigid in their work and direction. Being flexible is a great skill to have and a great way of learning. As an employer, we look for attitude and character first. Some of our team are fulfilling roles they have never done before and they are thriving in it. Its great to see and gives everyone a real boost. It tells me a lot about a person if they are willing to try something new as there are increased opportunities to fail at it. If you can accept that, navigate it, learn and come out the other side, then you have a bright future.
How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?
From a direct business point of view, we are not forecasting any impact but let’s wait and see how it plays out. We can easily get to the UK from our Irish office. Some of our alliance partners do business in the UK so we can pop over and support them when necessary. Brexit has got lost within the weeds of COVID for the past 12 months so lets see how it pans out.
How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?
Satisfied (and repeat) clients and a happy workforce define success for me. Getting opportunities to show clients that we can do it better is a big driver for us. There is a certain level of complacency in the market which is frustrating to observe.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?
The best advice I’ve been given in business is to “get on with it”. Whatever the problem is, just get on with it either through analysing the problem, talking about it, confronting people etc.
What have been your highlights in business over the past year?
We got an enormous amount of satisfaction from competing and winning work against the more established businesses. It gave us a real shot of confidence and cemented our belief that we would bring value to the market. We started our business at the tail end of the social unrest in Hong Kong and the beginning of COVID. It has been a very difficult baptism into business so the fact that we have built a business with great staff and great clients in 2 countries is very satisfying.
What’s next for your company?
Grow our existing operation with the right people and open a third office. We can take on more challenging and diverse work and we need the right people to do this. This last 12 months has shown us that we don’t know what is around the corner so we will take a very measured approach to expanding. We really enjoy partnering with great businesses and getting them into Asia and the Middle East.
What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2021/22?
The unexpected mass remote working experiment has proven there are many ways to function in business remotely either through technology or partnering with the right people. I see an opportunity to strengthen partnerships and develop new ones while we all continue to operate remotely.
Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?
Continuing on an upward trajectory. Whatever is thrown at us, we will adapt and get on with it. We will have completed a number of great projects, grown our staff count and helped other great businesses expand globally.