Episode 39 – Richard Fitzmaurice
Challenges Operating A Building Company Through COVID-19
What is the biggest challenge for a builder trying to stay open through our current restrictions on construction?
Yeah. What is the biggest challenge with that? I mean, there’s a few things there that we’re touching on. Like the unknown is something that people are really starting to struggle with. If I just had a date, and this whole concept of: we just reopen within a week or two weeks notice, I mean, supply chain, organizers, subcontractors. I mean, it’s just not going to happen like that. I mean, what is the biggest challenge do you think?
I think for me, personally, for us, I think employee retention is or was, our biggest challenge. Guys are getting frustrated now. There is contractors that are working away there. They can offer them jobs that we don’t have enough guys out there to fill those positions. It’s not that it’s a rat race, but there’s always offers on board there. So, it all comes, in my opinion, 9 times out of 10, it comes down to salary and what guys are on. I know I’ve been hearing of companies in the UK they’re offering guys twice the wages what they are around here, plus supplying them with accommodation. And that’s our thing. So that’s going to start to appeal to fellas. If they’re on 350 euro a week and they’re paying rent and there’s no sort of life, that sort of thing. So I think we need to get back on track to get a workforce back in play.
Are there enough government supports available for our builders through the current restrictions on construction?
Construction, certainly in Australia, certainly in the UK, certainly in mainland Europe. I mean, we just haven’t seen this lockdown which, I mean, it’s crazy. I mean, do you feel that there’s enough support then in place for the business?
No, I find this very frustrating. Like I don’t think at all there’s enough support for us. We’ve basically been told to shut up shop, close our sites, so to speak. And we’ve no income and revenue, we’ve no choice, but we have to keep paying in our insurances. Most guys will have finance on machinery, finance on vehicles, the rent on offices, rent on storage facilities. We’ve basically been given no support on that. And I suppose we’re in a position now where we’ve cash reserves, and we can bridge payments and that, but there’s a lot of guys out there who aren’t, who are Joe Bloggs, who might have one or two guys on the books, they’re doing small extensions. Now they’ve basically been told, “No, that’s it. You’re cut off.” And I don’t see how it’s fair to them.
Even now where we’re starting to feel the pressure of it ourselves in B&G. And you can’t get on site, so you’re not creating revenue, so you’re not bringing money into the business. There’s only so long you can sustain it. But if we were a business, basically, where we had a premises and we were selling something out of it, we’ll get a support payment. But because we don’t, we’re not entitled. Now I know there’s a couple of schemes coming in there over the last week or two. But it’s very difficult, I think, for people to do that, it’s not straightforward. You’re comparing revenue turnovers from 2019 and that on week on week. Unless you’re managing everything perfectly… And if someone is offering to pay you for a job, you’re not going to turn it down. And that’s how I think it’s very difficult. And it’s going to be detrimental to some companies, and some smaller guys that just can’t do it and will just have to wrap up.
What positive learnings will we take from COVID ?
There’s got to be… I think that when we look back on this there’ll be something that we look back fondly on. I mean, there’s challenges, even when we look back at the last bad session, we had, you’ll always look back and look at something fondly about it, that if it wasn’t for that, maybe I wouldn’t have done this, or whatever it might be. If I was to ask you and fast-forward you to 2025, let’s call it, and I was to say, looking back on COVID, do you think you would be able to highlight any positive from this whole experience?
On a personal level, my own experience, I think it’s sort of made me more efficient, my use of time, managing my time, making best use of it. It also gave me time to… Me personally, I always like to keep that sort of structure at home. I was in to work every morning, half seven, between myself and me wife we were sort of managing kids. I was working probably until two or three some days and then coming home and she was working her job probably until 10, 11, 12 o’clock at night. And we just sort of managing… we were lucky with grandparents and that sort of thing helping us out. We’ve two young kids one’s four and a half and the other one’s a year and a half. So they were out of school and out of creche there, they’re not able to manage themselves.
So we had to sort of get that work-life balance and work that in. And looking back as if I was looking back from 2025, I think it gave me a chance as well, when I was at home minding kids and that sort of thing, that took a step back and took a whole look at everything and thought where we come from and how far we’ve come over the last few years. And we’ve built a company that’s, I can be… I am and Byrne and Gary can be very proud of what we’ve achieved and built. We’ve basically built a company from nothing and we’re taken up to a fairly serious turnover.
So building from nothing to something I think is what I remember. I’d always be… a glass half full sort of guy, that’s the way, I always think positively on that, and that’s my mindset. And that’s what I’d sort of think about. So I’d always think about how we’d evolve a bit and do certain things and took time as, we come in and we’d have sort of team meetings between the management team and how we can do something better and make something more efficient. Efficiency is a big thing in myself, how I can, as I said, better manage my time and instead of spending 10 hours doing something, how can I use LiveCosts, as we say.
And that’s given me back a lot of time and that sort of thing. So I’m always open to evolve in that way. So it gave time there to get better systems in place, put better people in better positions and that sort of thing. So that’s the positive I take back from it.