'Success as much about having the right mindset as the right skill set'
Perseverance and hard work pay off for Globoserv boss who has built up company from small start
THE past six or seven years have been difficult for those working in the construction sector in Ireland. During that period, the virtual collapse of the sector has seen almost one quarter of a million people lose their jobs, down from 376,000 at its peak to 150,000 last year.
Although the sector is still slow, some companies have managed to spot emerging opportunities and in so doing, have successfully carved out a niche for themselves.
One such company is Globoserv. Set up in 2004 by David Burke, the company offers a complete one-stop shop fit-out service for businesses wishing to move into a new building or to refurbish their existing one.
The company works with a variety of clients that include office-based businesses and retail shops to industrial businesses and large-scale processing plants.
Sitting in his company's boardroom, David fires up the projector to show me pictures of some of the many projects he and his company have completed. As the images appear, it's easy to recognise that among his customers are some of Ireland's best-known brand names. These include Vodafone, Tullow Oil, 123.ie, Depfa Bank, Beacon Clinic, Luxottica, Volkswagen Bank, Citibank, Bank of America and the Morrison Hotel.
"We look after every aspect of a customer's construction or refurbishment project from the design stage right through to final hand-over. We can work with a client's design team or use our own designers to create concepts of what the property could look like once completed. And we offer both modern and contemporary designs as well as the more traditional office look," explains David.
The company takes care of everything from the plumbing and mechanical elements of projects to the lighting and general electrical works as well as the all-important IT and data infrastructure. It looks after the carpet and furniture fit-outs and can even design bespoke furniture for boardrooms as well as display cabinets and coffee stations.
David Burke originally comes from Lucan in Co Dublin. His father and brother are both electricians. He grew up surrounded by the construction sector and so it was no great surprise that, after school, he decided to become an electrician, serving his apprenticeship through Fas and the Dundalk Institute of Technology.
He got his first job working with an electrical contracting firm in Dublin and later moved to take up a role with the same company in London. While there, he decided to further improve his education and enhance his skills and so signed up to attend college in the evenings.
"By day, I worked on the tools and at night, I studied engineering in Wandsworth University," he says.
His commitment and strong work ethic saw him rewarded with management positions on a number of large contracts throughout the UK.
These projects grew over time and soon he found himself in Africa working as a foreman with MF Kents on the construction of one of the world's largest petro chemical plants. He worked too on other major projects throughout Europe including a spell in Disneyland Paris, the construction of a large hotel development in Barcelona for the Olympics as well as the Thames Water Treatment Plant and the extension to the Jubilee Line for the London underground.
It was a job with Mercury Engineering, on the building of the Fab Four phase of the Intel plant in Leixlip, Co Kildare, which finally brought him back to Ireland in 1997.
A common trait among many entrepreneurs is that they grow tired of working for other people and making money for other companies, and David was no exception. So in 2004, he decided to start his own electrical contracting business, Globoserv. He realised that because there were now fewer new factories or office blocks being built, there would eventually be a market for a construction firm that specialised in fitting out existing buildings.
However, business was slow at first. While David had lots of experience, his new company did not.
"Because I didn't have a big recognisable company name behind me anymore, I had a big job, initially, being taken seriously when quoting for contracts. I quickly realised that it was going to take time to build up my own company's brand and reputation," he admits.
He began by using whatever contacts he had to get started. In the early days, he had to content himself with doing small jobs such as fitting light bulbs and extra sockets for companies; jobs that most decent-sized firms would normally shy away from because they paid so little. However, he persevered. And his perseverance eventually paid off and he gradually got invited to tender for larger projects.
"I began to build a great team around me and we soon began to develop a reputation for quality and for getting the job done on time and within budget, which were both important considerations for customers," insists David.
Over time, projects got larger and customer demands got even greater. His big break came when he won the contract to carry out a large fit-out job for Vodafone at its headquarters at Mountain View, Central Park on Dublin's south side. The project was large and consisted of 200,000 sq ft of office space with conference rooms and data halls.
"It was a mammoth task. It took 19 months to complete and involved the upgrading of six floors of an occupied building. The real challenge was to do the work while not disrupting core business activities for the large number of employees that were working there during the process," explains David.
As his new company's reputation grew, so too did the list of his clients. However, with such growth came the usual challenges of managing not just the work load, but also the company's cash flow too.
"You soon learn how important it is to be able to fund the purchase of supplies and pay staff during the contract stage," he says. "It's often not the lack of work that cripples a company but the lack of cash flow to complete the job and survive until full payment is received," he adds.
More recently, David noticed that technology was becoming a key component of many fit-outs and decided to develop an expertise in this sector.
"Many companies now have satellite offices throughout the world and the staff in these remote locations need to be able to report in for management and board meetings," David explains.
"For that reason we now have to install complex voice, data and audio visual solutions which are capable of accommodating multiple video conferencing feeds at the same time. It's all become highly technical now," he adds.
David has come a long way since 2004 and last year his company was one of just six finalists from throughout the country in the Fit-out and Construction Awards. So what does he believe has made his business so successful?
"I know all of my customers by first name and they know that I am available 24/7 to talk to them and to understand their requirements. I realise how important these projects are in the context of their ability to deliver their targets. It is this type of personal touch that has become one of our unique selling points," insists David.
"Our staff are the real key to our success. They have a very hands-on approach and are extremely committed to delivering for our customers," he adds.
David is constantly on the look-out for new trends, new technologies and new opportunities. He is committed to continue to both grow and expand the business. Recently he undertook his first audio-visual installation in London and is keen to do more work abroad.
"People often ask me why I didn't go out on my own earlier. But, I had to get the right experience first and I also had to build up my level of confidence. Sometimes it is as much about having the right mindset as it is about having the right skill set," he says.
David Burke is an incredibly hard-working entrepreneur and business owner. Like many entrepreneurs, he started out working equally as hard for others as he does now for himself. However, this time around, the business he is building is his own.
When he set up his new business, he was humble enough and patient enough to start by doing whatever small jobs he could get. And by doing them well, he got more of them. Over time and with perseverance and a focus on quality workmanship and exceptional customer service, his reputation spread.
Today he runs a growing business and his forward looking approach, together with his constant attention to his customers' needs, leaves him set for further growth.
At a time when so many construction firms have gone out of business and so many staff have lost their jobs, it's truly inspiring to see how one entrepreneur can find a niche and grow a successful business while creating much-needed employment in the process.
Company name Globoserv
Business Design and construction of fit-outs for commercial premises
Set up 2004
Founder David Burke
Number of employees Between 20 and 150 depending on number of contracts
Location Kinnegad, Co Westmeath
David's advice to new businesses
1 It's a constant balancing act
"In order to grow and expand, you have to constantly balance the desire to stretch yourself – while at the same time making sure that the risks are well researched and do not put yourself, your company or your client's company at risk."
2 Know your customers
"You must know what's important for different clients in different sectors. This lets you deliver exactly what the client needs. Also prioritise customer service – let them know how committed you are to solving their problems."
3 Build a strong team
"You have to build the right team around you, a team you know you can trust. They represent you in the marketplace. And get a really good accountant to advise on growth – and on management of the company's cash flow."
Sunday Indo Business