7th November 2023

Sir Robert McAlpine welcomes back Mike O’Donnell

We caught up with Managing Director of the Commercial sector, Mike O’Donnell to hear more about his return to Sir Robert McAlpine and his ambitions for the future.

After his first 100 days back at Sir Robert McAlpine, we sat down with Managing Director of the Commercial sector, Mike O’Donnell to hear more about his return and his ambitions for the future.

Mike O’DonnellMike O’Donnell was no stranger to Sir Robert McAlpine when he was appointed Managing Director for the Commercial sector. In fact, Mike had first joined Sir Robert McAlpine twenty years prior, before taking up an opportunity to work on a major project in the US in 2019.

It was almost inevitable that Mike would follow a career in construction. The son of a bricklayer, construction ran in the family, and it was the high regard in which the ‘McAlpine’ name was held that drove him to seek out opportunities with the company. Joining the company in October 2003, Mike went on to work on the Olympic Stadium, the O2 Arena and Bloomberg’s iconic offices.

Upon returning from the US, Mike set his sights back on Sir Robert McAlpine and seized the chance to help deliver the company’s new sectoral approach and take charge of the Commercial sector. The first mission he set himself was to visit each and every one of his schemes, meeting each client and design team to establish the needs of every project.

“Coming back and getting a national perspective on the way in which projects were performing allowed me to see how we could improve. This was part of the reasoning to go sectorised, you can offer your clients a more consistent quality and approach to how you build.”

Growth for the commercial sector

Although the Commercial market has slowed, the demand for premium lettable space remains buoyant and Mike is ambitious to grow the company's presence in key markets wherever clients may need support.

The drive to make the Commercial sector more client focused is one of Mike's priorities for his new role, and with everyone acutely aware of the challenges of achieving net zero 2050 targets, decarbonisation is also at the top of his agenda. With Sir Robert McAlpine's reputation for delivering engineering excellence, he is confident that his team will be able to meet this challenge.

“We’re known as an engineering business and have been for many, many years. The definition of engineering is constantly evolving and changing to keep pace with what clients are expecting, but with the in-house expertise Sir Robert McAlpine possesses, we are best placed to deal with the 20 million square feet of unlettable space that will exist in London by 2030, for instance.”

He points to façade engineering as an example: “In the case of façade engineering, I think we employ some of the best engineers in the industry, who are able to work with our supply chain to keep ahead of clients’ demands in the sustainable space.”

Iconic buildings and challenging briefs

Having such a longstanding relationship with Sir Robert McAlpine, Mike has a privileged insight into the company’s evolution over the years: “The business has developed and grown into a very modern company. It’s very diverse, and very interested in attracting people from all walks of life into the industry. We must continue to do that.”

Looking back on his own career at Sir Robert McAlpine, Mike feels particular pride in getting the opportunity to work on some of the country’s most iconic projects, particularly the London 2012 Olympic stadium.

“The stadium itself was quite a simple build. The fantastic part was meeting Olympians who, in two or three years, would be participating in that one-off event they had been training for most of their life. And they were asking me questions! To have that interaction with the end user was quite special, I must say.”

Another of Mike’s career highlights was working on the Bloomberg building, the first Sir Robert McAlpine project to win the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture. The challenge of delivering on the impossible, such as breaking down the requirements for a huge screen in Bloomberg’s auditorium, is one of Mike’s fondest memories of working on the project: “We were meeting the aspirations of the client on items that didn’t yet exist. That was a challenge like no other.”

A legacy for the next generation in construction

Past bringing that tenacious, client-focused approach to project delivery as Managing Director of the Commercial sector, however, Mike also has big aspirations for his time back at Sir Robert McAlpine.

“When you get to my stage of a career, it becomes about legacy. It’s bringing people with you on the journey and encouraging them to achieve some of the things that you’ve achieved. For me, the construction industry has always been a world of opportunity, and I think it’s about opening people’s eyes to those opportunities so that they can go and achieve whatever it is they want to achieve in life.”

“We’ve always been a business that looks after our employees, so long may that continue. At the end of the day, we are all about our people.”

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