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Just a Man, Minding His Own Business


Building success - insights from Paul McKenna

What kind of leadership qualities are needed to develop a company from 1 employee in a small office in Northern Ireland to the 9th highest grossing contractor in Ireland with 130 employees across 4 offices with over €155m turnover? Not to mention Fit Out Contractor of the Year for the last two years in a row, ranked #59 on the Sunday Times list of the UK’s fastest growing companies, #487 on Financial Times fastest growing companies in Europe, delivered 3 of Ireland’s 7 LEED Platinum rated projects, 60 new construction roles created in 2017 and 93% repeat business. mac founder and CEO Paul McKenna shares his insights on this and more in a recent interview with Ulster Business Magazine.

You need to articulate the vision, passionately own it and relentlessly drive it forward.
How have you got to where you are today?

Through hard work, sheer determination and never accepting the status quo. We have built a fantastic business by listening to what type of service our clients needed, not by giving them the standard industry service or following industry norms.

How does mac differentiate itself from the competition?

When we started 15 years ago we set out to be different, to be disrupters, to challenge the industry practices and deliver what we promised. Our loyal staff have bought into our brand and ethos and what it means to be a mac brand ambassador, every day we seek improvement, better ways of working, and being part of a team that cares for each other.

Most of your business now takes place outside the island of Ireland. How do you manage such a large business remotely?

We don’t, a member of our main board visits our London and Birmingham offices every week to support the local directors and senior managers, we are very much team players, all our staff go through a detailed induction/re-introduction to the company driven by our HR department, covering every aspect of the business. Departments inter-act through daily teleconferencing (all mac offices inter linked) and managers attend group wide seminars. Every quarter we host a company wide town hall meeting, we encourage feedback and participation. Whilst this takes considerable organising and cost we believe its worthwhile.

You’ve led the company through difficult times for the economy. How do you keep the workforce engaged during those periods?

In honesty, engagement wasn’t an issue, their continued employment was. Having led the business through the worst recession the industry has seen, I am very proud of the fact that we never cut salaries or laid anyone off, instead we cut our margins, diversified our offering and travelled to locations where our clients had live projects, (London, Prague, Hamburg, Munich, etc) our staff bought into being flexible and were duly rewarded. Today, we employ 90% of the staff we did in 2007-10.

What qualities does a good leader need?

Confidence, and having the ability to create a vision. Then you need to articulate the vision, passionately own it and relentlessly drive it forward. You will need buckets of courage, there is no certainty in business, you will have to take calculated risks to achieve your goals. You must believe in your vision 100%, integrity and humility are required in abundance, along with strategic planning and risk evaluation. But to scale a business you need to be a good delegator, you need to hire people that have the skills you don’t, know your weaknesses, accept them and hire the best people you can. Invest, train, mentor, foster staff and make them feel valued and it will be repaid. Also have fun doing it, its not all about the bottom line.

What does the future hold for mac-group? 

I have no doubt we will have to reinvent, re-imagine and redesign our services but also the way we approach work itself. Our clients of tomorrow, growing up today with artificial intelligence will demand authentic data driven experiences. We are seeing our decision making clients getting younger, using 21st century platforms in lieu of spreadsheets or historical analysis. We will have to make a mental shift from doing work to designing work. But until then, we will continue to foster the mac brand, delivering real value and service for our many local and international clients, we will continue to build a company that has a strong ethos, a stronger balance sheet and continues to be a great place to work.

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