In the executive chair with: Martin Searson

by | Jun 16, 2021

As CEO of Quality Positive Ltd, Martin Searson supports engineering and construction firms in developing operational processes, digitalisation strategies and management systems. With over 20 years of M&E industry knowledge and a background in BioPharmaceuticals, Searson has been chair of the CIF’s Modern Methods of Construction – Working Group since May 2020.

Best advice you’ve been given?

I was told by my great mentor Noel that ‘everything is possible’. There’s a solution for everything, you need to go find it or come up with it yourself. When I was 15 or 16 on a construction site I was told ‘knowledge is power’ and that stuck with me. It’s more relevant now with the amount of data, information and analysis going on. Data is the new liquid gold when captured and fed back. My gran also said ‘life is one damn thing after another so enjoy each day as it comes’.

What project are you most excited by?

We are working with a well-known main contractor developing their Lean Construction journey. They have a great culture and people, which they are looking to develop to the next level of Lean Maturity as part of a four-year roadmap. We are also working with an M&E specialist to automate their operational processes, so they can also leverage ‘big data’ and streamline their operations and QA/QC management to deliver consistent outcomes.

What industry trends are you noticing?

Off-site manufacturing, increased digitalisation and sustainable construction against the short to medium term backdrop of market constraints such as labour and material shortages. Innovative approaches are needed to increase efficiencies and leverage competitive advantage as clients move more towards lean, green and digital solutions. This will be a disruptor in the near future, as companies innovate further, costs of building off-site reduce in controlled environments, coupled with the support of educational research. Sustainable construction and the circular economy is gaining momentum too. Mindset and thinking will flip more towards the value of construction waste in terms of its reuse, repair and repurposing. Ireland still has work to do to get there before other leading engineering and construction countries.

Who’s impressing you right now?

It’s all about staying true to core values and processes in the long-term. Companies bringing new ideas to the table are Sisk, Mercury Engineering, Jones Engineering, Walls Construction, Gaga Muller Group, CJK Engineering, Kirby Group, EIDA Solutions, Linesight, RKD Architects, DCT Group, Vision Built, Modular Homes Ireland to name a few.

What technology are you embracing?

We are currently working with Kianda Technologies software to digitalise a client’s Quality, HR and EHS processes, particularly around repetitive tasks like annual performance reviews, field quality control inspections, BCAR 2014 walkdowns and project QEHS audits. We are automating their payroll to link directly with the finance module. We are also developing our own digital solutions for periodic inspections and Lean Construction tools. All companies should be looking at their current data capturing and analysis to see where the value is and what’s driving key decisions.

How do you approach long-term planning & strategy?

Weekly task planning is key for all projects. Risk-based thinking helps realise strategic objectives at all levels. Jimmy Kirby and the Kirby Group Engineering directors taught me this. As Warren Buffett says ‘risk comes from not knowing what you are doing’. Planning is critical and allow yourself a 10 to 20 per cent buffer to cover the unknown.

Lessons from your biggest mistake?

I was on a building site one summer in the early 1990s as a general operative working on the Tallaght Hospital project. I leaned against a wall, which had only just been put up by the bricklayer. It toppled over. The electrician shouted at me to run – an angry builder was coming for me! How I escaped alive I don’t know, they were paid by the brick back then. I put it down to learning and being careful what you touch on site. To this day that story still stays with me as a lesson in the art of craftsmanship and respect.

Who’s your role model?

There are many industry leaders and trailblazers but my two original mentors, Noel and Jack, still stand out. At present, the work that Felipe Engineer-Manriquez and Jason Schroeder are doing in terms of Lean Construction and driving operational excellence. Clients that push the boundaries of possibility and the young savvy engineers coming through with their level of digital knowledge impresses me.

Book or podcast recommendations?

Johnny Sexton’s Becoming a Lion – it’s great to get an insight into how high-performance people perform in adversarial, pressurised environments. Also the work of Felipe Engineer-Manriquez, from his EBFC Show, about making building easier and better.

What’s your passion outside of work?

Rugby having played for years (not at any great level!) but I’ve made great friends. I was kit manager for the Leinster U20 and Ireland U19 teams from 2000-2008 while working full-time on site. It was a fantastic opportunity to work with stars like Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Cian Healy and Keith Earls. I had a great tutor in the wonderful Paddy ‘Rala’ O’Reilly, current Lions kit manager, and in the Ireland U21 kit manager Colin Philips. Two great guys. I’m now coaching U9 Mini Rugby as my youngest son enjoys his rugby and has fun, which is what it’s all about.

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