Friday 18 October 2019

'Being a woman in a male dominated industry gave me an opportunity and a voice' - Kingspan's digital director

Ellie Donnelly

Ellie Donnelly

Having joined Kingspan’s graduate programme just over 12 years ago, Louise Foody has worked her way up though the ranks of the global insulation maker.

Today, Kingspan’s director of digital and brand said that employees need to be prepared to be comfortable in the unknown.

"This is something that is applicable to any industry, we don’t know what’s around the corner, which is an exciting thing if we are able to embrace change, and we need to be resilient enough to be comfortable in the unknown."

"Even in my own position as a director of brand and digital, which was a new role created in February, we have hired five people into positions that didn’t exist before anywhere in the group, that in itself is a signatory of change."

However, Ms Foody said that being female in what has traditionally been a male dominated industry, is something that has never been a negative for her.

"I never felt any different to the men in the company," Ms Foody said.

"It might sound a bit clichéd, but I always felt actually it gave me an opportunity and a voice, because being a female, and because there are less of us, you are remembered; "that was the woman who came to the site" so I always saw it as an opportunity to bring my skills on something different and it has always been welcomed."

She added that she would like to see a lot more women in the industry in the future.

"I think we will see it over the coming years, because there is a lot of work being done in terms of the image of the construction industry, that image of building sites and it’s for men, I think that is changing, particularly with architectural engineers, that investment is going into the subjects to try and encourage females into the sector."

Today, as well as her role as the group’s director of digital and brand, Foody is also on the board of Invicara, a US based software firm that Kingspan has paid $10m (€8.1m) to buy a minority stake in earlier this year.

When it comes to the Michigan-based Invicara, Ms Foody said that Kingspan is both working to carve out new business opportunities for the company, and also looking at where Invicara products can be sold alongside Kingspan solutions.

"Although traditionally we are primarily known for selling building materials, we can benefit from Invicara in terms of what digital solutions can assist architects and designers in designing their buildings and also from a contractor standpoint what help with designing for building the buildings."

"It has been a big learning curve for us as well, into this new world of digital."

For Invicara, which has a cloud-based platform that creates a data-rich 'digital twin' of a building and integrates its system with building information modelling (BIM) to generate the digital mirror, the company she says can "get in under the bonnet of a manufacturing business.”

"As a software company they have all these ideas about selling products into our sector, but to really be able to get in and see what are the challenges from a manufacturing standpoint, and the challenges that our customers have as well, then trying to come up with solutions to solve them, that is key."

"Traditionally this has been very much a paper based type industry, it hasn’t evolved massively, but we are starting to see that shift now, and I think Ivicara will play a big part in that role for us with Kingspan," she continues.

Despite the investment from Kingspan and the obvious overlap between the two companies, Ms Foody says that at this point Kingspan does not have any plans to buy Invicara outright.

"The goal is to make the company successful, and also for Kingspan to learn a huge amount, that’s the big thing for us, that we get up the curve in terms of software and digital technologies that will make buildings more efficient."

In terms of the challenges facing the industry, Foody cites the increasing use of digital technology in the industry.

"The question is, what type of industry will we be in the future?," she says.

"If you think about the Amazon’s of the world or Airbnb, a few years ago none of these companies were in the their respective industries at all, but now they have become the industry, and this is a big challenge for the construction companies that are quite traditional in how they are managed right across the world, can they make that transition to the digital world?"

"Also today we don’t know where the competition could potentially come out of, it may not necessarily be the player you think it will be, it could be a tech company."

Another issue facing the industry that Ms Foody cites is a shortage of labour, both in Ireland and internationally.

"With our type of construction, the more that is done off-site and then brought to site, in terms of efficiencies, that is all going to be a good thing," she says.

Whatever the future hold for the industry, Kingspan is built of strong stuff to meet any potential challenges. 

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