Featuring Ballymore: Interview With Sean Mulryan (Chairman & Group Chief Executive)

Making The Difference

(The Following is a Promoted Article)

“Ballymore is different,” says Chairman and Group Chief Executive Sean Mulryan. Driven by creative ingenuity, a passion for improving the lives of those people its work ultimately serves, and an ingrained desire to get the best out of its workforce, Ballymore sets the bar high. What is astonishing is that it keeps surpassing its own ambitious goals. This has seen the business grow substantially from its origins in Ireland into one of London’s top developers. Indeed, the company has become synonymous with regeneration across the entire city.

Its history dates back to its founder’s twenties and Mulryan’s time as a bricklayer and stonemason. He established Ballymore as a source for accomplished bricklayers to serve the needs of local contractors before moving into development work in and around Dublin. Many noted his attention to detail; a work ethic that brought the best out of those that worked with him, and as a result delivered optimum standards. These principles remain the cornerstone of the business today.

Growth was unsurprisingly rapid and by 1992 Ballymore was one of Ireland’s largest homebuilders. A reputation for quality, creativity and value for money drove the sort of word of mouth any company director craves for, and the business flourished. However, Mulryan’s ambitions demanded he took Ballymore further afield, finding and successfully undertaking opportunities in London.

Now an established developer in the city, the company has extended its reach, quickly showcasing its exacting standards and strict quality control in Europe. Proudly, for example, a development in Bratislava won two major European Awards for Best Building and Best Retail Development, highlighting not only the company’s ability to take its expertise to the international market but showing its depth of knowledge in building mixed use developments that combine office, retail, hotel and leisure facilities.

“We’ve always taken a different approach,” notes Mulryan. “The difference is in the detail. We put an enormous amount of thought into every development, as if we were going to live or work there ourselves. A lot of time is spent discussing how and where people are going to live in the future. I like to think that the imaginative work we do in our developments and their surroundings will play a big part in improving the quality of life of our customers.

“If we can achieve that, as well as creating great buildings that truly grace the landscape, then we will have succeeded in realising the vision I had for this company some thirty years ago.”

Mulryan, as CEO, now oversees a business that has an accomplished track record as an international investment and development company. With a focus on large-scale projects in London and across Europe, Ballymore is recognised as a leader in urban regeneration and distinguishes itself over competitors through a capability to take on a scheme from initial conception through to final realisation with full management control along the way.

It is the company’s hands-on approach and skill to tackle every element of a project that enables it to deliver the standards it strives for. Unquestionably, the painstaking attention to detail witnessed in Sean Mulryan’s work from the outset is still seen today; the only change being Ballymore’s scale.

This combination of workmanship, management and expertise across all aspects of a development not only delivers customer satisfaction but has caught the attention of many awarding bodies within the sector. One of its most recent accomplishment was the successful delivery of Embassy Gardens Phase One in London, a 2.6m square foot mixed use development that includes apartments, office space, housing, and flexible retail and leisure space. For this, the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) rewarded Ballymore with a Bronze in its 2015 National Site Awards.

Indeed, if Ballymore sets out to improve the life of its customers on delivery of a project, the CCS award highlights how that ethos begins at conception. Fergus Boyle, Projects Director, believes there were several reasons why Ballymore achieved the CCS award.

“We were very considerate of the local environment and the people in that area,” he says. “As we were working on public roadways we kept everything neat and tidy and continually kept our carbon footprint as low as possible through the project. This meant managing our traffic movement effectively, keeping as much traffic as possible on back roads so it would not block up public roads. In terms of deliveries on site and the public traffic around the area, we separated our walkways from the public so we would not be interfering with people’s daily movements.”

The Scheme looks at all aspects of construction activity that may directly or indirectly impact on the image of the industry as a whole. This involves focusing on three key areas: the general public, the workforce and the environment.

Boyle says that these areas are given equal footing on every project Ballymore undertakes. “It is very important to have a considerate site especially for the surrounding public as we are effectively disrupting their lives. Therefore, we must be as considerate as we possibly can in all aspects of the project. The main things that we carry out when setting up our site is to keep it away from the general public so that it does not affect them. Also, all of our deliveries go on back roads rather than the main public routes.”

This extends to the safety of the workforce on site including, importantly, subcontractors. “Before anyone is able to come on site we insist that they take an online site induction – this includes all of our subcontractors and suppliers. The induction can be done in 12 different languages and we make sure that these inductions are done ahead of time rather than when someone comes to the site for the first time and having to go through it then.

“In the mornings, anyone that is coming to the site for the first time after completing the induction, would have to do a further half an hour tour around the site to make sure they are familiar with it.”

Certainly, health and safety plays a crucial role in the success of Ballymore. It therefore conducts a robust safety regime. “We have an extensive list of courses that all of our staff attend on a monthly basis. Each course is always on a new topic which is important in the current construction industry.

“We also have our own internal safety personnel. On the Embassy Gardens project we had two members of staff dedicated to health and safety,” adds Boyle. Given the size of the scheme, which at its peak had 1,250 people on site, this was a necessity. In addition, recognising the sheer scale of the challenge, the company brought in an external auditor each month to look over the site and make sure that everything was compliant with legislation.

It is particularly satisfying for Ballymore to achieve the CCS Bronze for a scheme as demanding as Embassy Gardens. While it is one of many large-scale developments successfully tackled by the company, it remains one of its proudest achievements.

Significant for a number of reasons, not least its size, Embassy Gardens, as part of London’s “Nine Elms on the South Bank” regeneration scheme, marks a new age of residential development and neighbourhood planning. The completed project will deliver 1,982 homes, vibrant bars, restaurants, shops and beautifully landscaped gardens over three phases. Ballymore was tasked with developing 10 acres of land and, with the US Embassy at the development’s core, design of the mixed use space was inspired by the attractive residential and commercial spaces that evolved over time in cities such as New York and Boston.

“Phase one is 639 units of high end residential buildings, wrapped around the new US embassy,” remarks Boyle. “The area had been left undeveloped for some time before we took it over so we were eager to take the opportunity to rejuvenate the land which was a former warehouse zone. Both the American and Dutch embassies are now situated in Embassy Gardens, hence the name of the locale. The project has lifted the whole area from a warehouse zone to a high-end residential zone in one fell swoop.”

The project unsurprisingly required a highly collaborative effort, calling for delicate and imaginative management of several different architect partnerships to create an entirely new district. For instance, a Spanish interior designer who is known for high specification hotel work, designed the entrance lobby giving a luxurious entrance to the apartments.

Arranged around the US Embassy, Manhattan’s Meatpacking District of the 1930s was a key inspiration with the various buildings arranged in open, fluid spaces. Much of the masonry will use brick that has been treated to extend its life with each building enjoying a unique appearance thanks to an open-glazed head.

The brickwork is important, states Boyle. Even though there is a strong North American appeal about the design, the use of brick is very much a mark of London itself.

“The architectural design that we use is something that we implement to complement the local environment,” he says. “A lot of our recent developments contain a large amount of brickwork in them. This goes back to the core base of what London was built with. A strong driver behind our approach is to blend in with the ethos of London and the brick culture in the days following the Second World War.”

Elsewhere, the various homes are typical of the calibre of Ballymore with parquet floors, tall ceilings, fully glazed floor-to-wall windows with magnificent views, modern kitchens, marbled bathrooms and an array of other high specification features. Thermostatically controlled comfort cooling and heating is also provided with balconies or winter gardens providing plenty of natural daylight.

It is further evidence of Ballymore’s commitment to excellence through the marriage of unique and dynamic design and the capability to bring a concept to fruition. “We aim to bring everything up to a five star level in relation to the accommodation that we are trying to provide,” remarks Boyle. “What sets us apart is the features of the buildings, we always build something a little different with unique elements.”

That is certainly true of Embassy Gardens but is further exampled in Ballymore’s award-winning Penthouse at Wapping Lane. In addition to its triumph with the Considerate Constructors Scheme, the company scooped the top prize at this year’s Evening Standard New Homes Awards.

The prestigious Grand Prize and Best Apartment accolades were bestowed upon Ballymore for the 5,000 square foot penthouse perched on top of an 18-storey tower. The circular glass walls and vast terraces provide a wonderful 360-degree view of the city. The first new build in Wapping for more than a decade, the development injects fresh design into an area steeped in unique maritime history.

It’s a pivotal time for Ballymore. Indeed, the company will undoubtedly turn heads in the coming months as City Island, London’s own “mini Manhattan”, opens to the public. Set for completion in 2016, the scheme will provide 1,700 new apartments alongside al fresco spaces, vibrant new bars and restaurants, boutique shops and waterside parks. This unique 12 acre island is yet another example of modern living in the city; self-contained metropolises that offer exciting and inspirational places to live.

The potential to develop on this strip of wasteland was first noticed by Sean Mulryan more than a decade ago after he attended a conference on the city’s urban growth and population change. He recognised that London’s housing needs meant building development had to focus on the eastern portion of the city. At the time, many thought it would be impossible to get planning permission on former containership land that had been left to wither. However, Mulryan’s persistence and vision, typical of the Ballymore ethos, made the project possible.

It’s been a long-standing goal of Ballymore’s CEO and now, as the project nears its completion date next year, is something he’s particularly proud of. Detractors thought any residential scheme on the former docklands would prove pointlessly inaccessible but Ballymore was instrumental in persuading two boroughs to build a critical footbridge linking the peninsula to Canning Town and the Jubilee Line. It was vindication of Mulryan’s ambitious vision.

The centrepiece of City Island will be the rehomed English National Ballet. Those passing by the ballet’s new base will be able to witness rehearsals through floor-to-ceiling windows. A mark of East London’s growing arts scene, provision has been made for a new ballet school, which will increase student capacity while outdoor public spaces will be available to showcase their talents.

John Mulryan, Managing Director, noted his excitement about unveiling the distinctive residential and leisure district, calling it a “new neighbourhood for London.” He said, “Ballymore is a company that creates something more than just bricks and mortar. We make places, districts – even communities.”

The completion of City Island, a dynamic and eye-catching development in its own right, is however one of many successes for Ballymore in its recent history. 2015’s RESI Awards run by Property Week Magazine celebrated these achievements by presenting the one constant in all of this success – Sean Mulryan – with its Personality of the Year award. This was in addition to the Best Development accolade for the groundbreaking Royal Wharf, which was developed in partnership with Oxley Holdings.

As the judges highlighted their reasoning behind bestowing Ballymore’s CEO with their biggest prize, it was a reminder that the company’s reputation as a visionary leader in London’s regeneration has come as the result of the unwavering ambition of its founder; an approach perfected during humble beginnings.

RESI noted Mulryan’s role in shaping major residential projects in London, his passion for quality and a commitment to design excellence. It’s what sets him, and by extension the business, apart from competitors in today’s development market.

“Ballymore has had a very successful year so far in 2015. The London market for new homes is very strong, particularly in the areas that we are developing in,” said Mulryan when accepting the award.

“The definitive result that the general election has delivered brings political stability which is good for people thinking of buying property in London. Ballymore expects very strong demand for its new developments as a result.

“The award reflects Ballymore’s thirty year contribution to developing residential projects in London. We have worked hard to maintain our focus on design and quality while shaping some of the capital’s most iconic developments.

“Our deep knowledge and experience in delivering projects from inception through to completion and post completion estate management in London puts us in a great position to take advantage of the exceptional development opportunities in the city.”

These are exciting times for Ballymore. As a clutch of major projects begin to see their first occupants including Embassy Gardens, City Island and the new neighbourhood at Royal Wharf, the company’s visionary ambition and the sheer scope of its activities will begin to bear fruit. Now, and for generations to come, these developments will undoubtedly form the core of the city’s most desirable places to live and work.


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BDC 317 : Jun 2024