“Operating within our span of control to ensure value and delivery is of critical importance,” says Jimmy Kirby, Executive Chairman, in this #PeopleFirst

As we continue to explore the people who have shaped and are shaping our business, we delve into strategy, sustainable business, and stability with Executive Chairman Jimmy Kirby.

When you speak to Jimmy his passion for strategy is clear. Paired with his deep understanding of the M&E and construction industry, and his drive to ensure company stability for our people and our clients, Kirby’s success and longevity come into context. We ask him if this approach is a luxury that only a private family business can afford; he laughs, “If we get the delivery right the rest will follow”.

Jimmy joined Kirby Group Engineering in 1991 after two years in London working for another family engineering company – CG Bartley – firstly as an Estimator and then a Project Engineer. In 2010, he took on a role in strategy. “I was in the fortunate position to be able to work with some good people in the field and completed an IMI Diploma in Strategy and Innovation. From there, I went on to do a Master of Business Studies.” He has published two papers on strategy, one in 2013, and another in 2016.

“The company-wide strategy management process I developed in 2010 remains with us today; it has evolved, but its principles remain the same. Operating within our span of control to ensure value for our clients is of critical importance to Kirby.”

We remark that it is unusual for a business to have the same strategy for 14 years. Jimmy explains, “We work within a strategy framework, each move we take is carefully thought out and executed. It has evolved; we have added services, sectors, and geographical spread, but the core remains. We have been able to grow a reputation for excellence in one area and use that capability and trust to move into a new arena. It’s this commitment to strategy formulation and execution that gives the business stability.”

We explore client perception of Kirby. “We have worked hard to ensure consistency of reporting and delivery, that is why the Kirby Way is so important. It ensures that wherever we work, our clients have the same experience of working with us. They know what to expect and what we stand for.”

This guiding principle is borne out through Jimmy’s role as Executive Chairman. He points me in the direction of his biography on our website. It says, ‘Jimmy is Group Executive Chairman with responsibility for ensuring that the board is effective in its task of formulating and implementing the company’s direction and strategy’.

In 2015 the board set out a succession plan for the key officer roles up to, and including, 2024. “We are careful about ensuring suitability across all of our roles. With a long-term view, we were able to invest in our people to ensure they had the training and development they needed to succeed.”

That succession plan included Jimmy’s role as Managing Director from 2017 to 2020, and the handover to Mark Flanagan in 2020. When Mark Flanagan took on the role of MD, Jimmy concentrated on a key project (our largest in Ireland at the time) for three days a week as part of his wider role.

We ask about the business strategy when his father and uncle led the business; he explains, “I don’t remember there ever being anything written down, but there were moments when they took decisions that changed the course of the business. One was when they were looking to grow the company outside of Munster, they looked closely at Dublin and London, and decided to keep operations within Ireland at that point. It was a good decision that worked well for the company.”

There have been many of these moments since that point in 1990. A move to the UK came later in 2008, after securing two CCGT power station projects with Siemens in Wales. A further move into mainland Europe came in 2010.

These were decisions that played a big part in the success of the company. Another was the acquisition of a mechanical contractor. This additional service offering enabled our successful move into the data centre sector.

The work we have done and continue to do in the power and renewables, data centre, industrial and life sciences sectors has and continues to provide us with our biggest challenges and opportunities. Jimmy agrees, “We are constantly looking to the bigger picture and positioning our business where we believe investment is and/or will be. By looking forward and adapting, we are ensuring our capability is fit for purpose to deliver and deliver well.”

Jimmy is a man clearly passionate about learning and development, and that is a key investment piece for Kirby, which has a dedication to ensure delivery through the expertise of its people. People operating within our interlocking business capabilities and carefully planned processes and procedures that together ensure excellence in delivery.

Now based in South Africa, he is overseeing the establishment of our Cape Town office. “I was approached by our Planning Manager, Michael Bonandrini, on site in Ireland. He presented a business case for an office here, employing talented engineers and BIM professionals to increase the capacity of some of our capabilities, which were stretched due to the tight talent market in Europe. We now have 36 people working in the office. It was a good move for the business, and the office continues to add value to the overall company,” explains Jimmy.

As we move into our 60th year, we look to turnover more than €700m. Jimmy’s parting words are, “We will always strive to operate within the span of our control, that is the best thing to do for our people and our clients and will ensure the reputation and future success of our business.”

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Jimmy Kirby, Executive Chairman
Jimmy Kirby, Executive Chairman
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