Welcome Mr President

The Hardware Journal is delighted to welcome new Hardware Association Ireland President, Michael O’Donohoe to his new role and wish him well for his two year term of office.

For those who aren’t familiar with you, could you give us a little bit about your background, and your journey to where you are now?

I am Country Director for Ireland for Wavin and have been in this role for the past six years, having initially joined the business back in May 2008. What a time that was! Talk about having a baptism of fire in what was the earlier part of the longest and deepest recession in Irish history. My path into Wavin might appear to be quite unorthodox, given that I was a total newcomer to the Construction Industry at the time. Prior to Wavin, I spent most of my career working in science-related commercial positions, mostly in the Pharma/Biotech Industry, which of course is very much in focus today given the successful development of vaccines for COVID-19. I was approached to join Wavin Ireland from the then Managing Director, Brendan Murphy.

It did take a bit of convincing to get me onboard at first, but the role had some very attractive features, allowing me to try something very different and join a market-leading company in Ireland. My previous roles had a lot of international travel and this opportunity gave me a much better work-life balance with virtually no international travel, something which was very important with a young family at the time.

Being a science graduate, I started my working career as a Technical Sales Representative selling Laboratory Instrumentation and I had various roles in Sales & Marketing, all gradually taking on more responsibility, eventually culminating in my role in Wavin.

Wavin has been in Ireland since 1958 and played a key role in the modernisation of the country. The former Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, was Wavin’s first Chairman. The company’s name is an amalgam of water and vinyl chloride (i.e., PVC). Like many companies, Wavin has gone through significant change over the years and the wider Wavin Group today globally has over 12,000+ employees operating in 40+ countries. Wavin is part of Orbia, a community of companies bound together by a shared purpose: to advance life around the world. Today, Wavin Ireland employs 65 people and is part of the UK/Ireland Territory within the European business.

What drew you to the Presidential role and how will you approach your term as HAI President?

I have been a board member of HAI for the past four years, being one of the two supplier representatives on the board (the other being Dulux). I am truly honoured to take on the role of President and see my appointment in part linked to the recognition and legacy which Wavin has in the mindset of the merchant trade in Ireland and my predecessors who successfully founded, developed, and led the business over the past six decades.

I am fortunate to have a great team of people around me on the board, which I think provides a great service to the membership. I am especially appreciative of the outgoing President, Sean Moran, who will keep a watchful eye on me having just successfully completed his term of office, but also Martin Markey as CEO and the other HAI staff, Jim, Aoife, and Orla.

Notwithstanding the current difficulties our industry faces due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am really looking forward to my term as President and while I may work for a supplier, you can be assured that I will endeavour to serve and represent all of our members equally to the best of my ability. Sean certainly had some challenges in his time as President and it is my hope to build on his legacy and improve and enhance the organisation in the next couple of years during my term.

If you are reading this and feel you want to contribute in any way, please contact the HAI office.

What are the challenges facing the sector over the next two years?

It unfortunately seems to ring true that as time goes on, the level of uncertainly is only increasing. Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic give testament to that. I can still see the wise words emblazoned on my mind, from a business lecture many years ago: ‘’the future is uncertain’’. How true that is.

Whilst the ink is still drying on the post-Brexit deal between the EU and the UK, we are just waking up to the new reality and still learning what it might mean for our sector. The flow of goods is less straightforward than it was before and the added complexity of customs is causing a delay by lengthening the supply chain and increasing cost to clear the red tape. This will settle down but will be a feature of bi-lateral trade for some time, I think.

COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now. It has affected so many of us in so many ways and continues to have a dramatic impact on the psyche of everyday life in Ireland. We have all had to adjust personally and professionally in the on-again/off-again framework of restrictions. I know many merchants have been under a lot of stress keeping things going implementing rigorous new safety precautions.

This is against a backdrop of strong demand, having to put in long hours with reduced resources at times. Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel with the various vaccines in the pipeline and hopefully we can see our way to some semblance of normality in the second half of this year. COVID-19 has increased the pressure around meeting a surge in demand and we need to try and manage that as best we can and gradually gear up resources for future growth, which I accept is very difficult to plan for.

The sector needs to renew itself in terms of attracting employees and new talent. Investment in technology and digitalisation is an important part of this, for example by offering e-commerce solutions (look at the COVID-19 boom in online orders) and providing accurate and accessible web-based information services about products and services. Ours is a great industry and is people-led, engaging, and rewarding and this message needs to be promoted to highlight this promising and interesting career-path.

The sector needs to be seen to lead and not lag in terms of investment in technology, while striving to resonate and engage more with consumers, not just through stores but also online. Many consumers are today using their smartphones for everything except making a phone call!

There is a higher awareness of the environment and sustainability globally, which was also informed in part in the Irish context by the Green Party’s entering government. Sustainability and environmental friendliness will become increasingly important. For building materials their carbon footprint, certification, and ethical sourcing, building methods (BIM – Building Information Modelling – accurate design and precise bills of materials, minimising waste), and energy efficiency (insulation, heat sources, water re-use etc.) will be to the fore.

Last and not least we still of course have a shortage of supply in terms of housing and all the myriad issues around it in terms of affordability, building costs, mortgage lending rules, dwelling size, rent levels, planning permission, labour supply, among others. There seems to be consensus between economists that we built less than 20,000 units last year, against a requirement of 35,000. With a waiting list of some 69,000 households in need of social housing, the sector is under considerable strain and challenges remain. Ideally supply should steadily increase in the years ahead rather than having a sudden spike which could lead once again to the boom/bust cycle of the past.

How you believe HAI helps the sector and what changes, if any, do you plan to implement in your new role?

The HAI has a key role to play in our sector as it is the national representative body for hardware/DIY retailers and builders’ merchants, as well as manufacturers/distributors to the trade. It represents all levels of the supply chain and includes national and international companies, multi-branch chains as well as smaller independent hardware businesses among the membership ranks. HAI is the lone unified voice of the Irish hardware industry.

Hardware Association Ireland’s mission is to advance the mutual interests of, and deliver relevant benefits to, hardware and builders’ merchants through effective representation, training and development, market intelligence and networking opportunities. It supports our sector by:

  • Representing & Lobbying: for and behalf of the hardware and building materials sector.
  • Business Support Services: advice, HR support, Corporate Partners, articles, and phone assistance.
  • Market Intelligence: the HAI Business Index, and regular industry research.
  • Regular News & Updates: including our superb bi-monthly publication The Hardware Journal.
  • Training & Development: including a regularly updated range of sector specific online and offline courses.
  • Careers Portal: Hardware Jobs.
  • Seminars & Trade Shows.

In my role as President, I hope to widen our membership base further as it is clear in these uncertain times that we are stronger together. The focus on representation is also important to ensure our voice is heard clearly when representing the interests of our members and trying to positively influence government policies.

Lastly, this year the bi-annual Hardware Show has been rescheduled to November due to COVID-19. Given everything that has happened over the past year I think the timing of this event is optimal to provide an excellent focal point to bring us together to review and renew our association connections and see the latest innovations and offerings from across our sector.