CMYA 2016: How Paul Marlow came top of the class
Paul Marlow’s superfast construction of student accommodation in east London landed him overall CMYA for 2016 and another three major contracts from the client too. Denise Chevin reports.
Attending award ceremonies can be a tense time for short-listed finalists. But for Paul Marlow, the Construction Manager of the Year Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on 16 September was a particularly nervy occasion. His second baby was expected any day and he’d agonised over whether he should risk attending rather than stay by his wife’s side in County Tyrone.
The 30-year-old McAleer & Rushe project manager made the right call. He scooped the Gold medal in the Residential Over Seven Storeys category and went on to crown the night by beating 10 other Gold medal winners to take the overall title of Construction Manager of the Year. To his enormous relief the new baby had decided to wait until dad was back.
“I’m so glad I did come along,” he says the next afternoon from his home about an hour from Belfast. “It was quite a night.”
Marlow won the coveted trophy for the Angel Lane project in Stratford, east London, a giant student accommodation block with 759 rooms, for Unite Students. It is arranged as three sides of a rectangle, with all sides of different heights of seven, 10 and 14 storeys which added to the complications.
However, despite coming out of the traps two months late, thanks to Marlow’s radical rethink, the £29m project was completed by August 2015 in time to open for the start of the new academic year. What’s more, the successful race against the clock was achieved with zero accidents.
In landing the prize Marlow also became the first overall winner to come from a residential category in the CMYA’s 38-year history and the youngest holder of the title.
“Surprised”, “speechless,” “it’s down to the team” are phrases that many construction managers turn to when asked how they feel about winning – being, as they are, something of a humble breed – and Marlow is cut from the same cloth. But you don’t beat 85 other finalists to the top without something special and by all accounts it is Marlow’s ability to come up with solutions no matter how tough the problems that won him the plaudits from his employer and the judges.
“Paul showed outstanding leadership in galvanising his team to deliver a challenging project on time and within budget, with a ‘wow’ factor quality of finish,” says Luke Engmann, Unite Students’ development manager for Angel Lane.
Marlow won the overall CMYA for his work building student accommodation at Angel Lane in Stratford
“Angel Lane was the first project Unite and McAleer & Rushe worked on together and Paul’s all-round competence, continued improvement and leadership was a key component in giving me a sense of confidence that the project was in a safe pair of hands. This was demonstrated when I informed Paul that start on site was delayed by two months due to third party works.
Instead of saying this was an issue he took the information away and identified a way to reduce the delay and mitigate any future delay caused,” say Engmann. Or, as McAleer & Rushe construction director Martin McGee, puts it: “Paul is a winner – others lie down, he makes things happen.”
Marlow radically revised the build strategy to claw back the vanished two months by switching from a post-tensioned to a reinforced in-situ concrete frame. Crucially, he also selected a new lightweight cladding system that could be installed by scaffold, mast climbers and cradles, freeing up tower cranes to complete the concrete frames.
If the scheme had gone for traditional brickwork rather than the 7,000 sq m of Gebrick lightweight brick cladding it would also have taken longer because of skills shortages and the weather. “It wasn’t so much a highly complex building, but the sheer scale of it and the speed of construction and fit-out that was the challenging part,” says Marlow, citing the near-800 bathroom pods that came fully fitted out and then had to be craned into their positions.
But the project also faced major constraints: it was bound by a main road, a bridge and a neighbouring building site. There was also live rail track less than 6m from the completed building, which meant Marlow had to get extensive pre-approvals from the rail operator and guarantee 24-hour access across his site for rail maintenance teams.
Power was another issue, as there was no extra capacity in the local electrical network, so a new supply had to be delivered from 1km away. Turning to a regular supply chain of subcontractors and suppliers was a key factor in getting the project completed on time.
“My management style is bringing people on side – and listening to what they have to say. Sometimes you do have to shout to get things done, but I think it’s more important to work together to find solutions.”
Marlow says he bangs the table if he has to, but it’s rare. “My management style is bringing people on side – and listen to what they have to say. Sometimes you do have to shout to get things done, but I think it’s more important to work together to find solutions.”
His easy rapport with the team didn’t go unnoticed with his client. “The project was very challenging in terms of programme, site logistics and budget but Paul’s ability to communicate all issues and foster a real sense of teamwork has set the benchmark in terms of stakeholder management and leadership,” says Engmann.
The client and judges were equally impressed by his leadership on health and safety: with more than 500,000 man hours worked and 1,836 people inducted onto the project, there was not a single reportable incident or accident on site. “No job is so critical you have to compromise health and safety and we’re very passionate about that,” he says.
Marlow is from a crop of very ambitious and enthusiastic people, which has helped grow the construction business to a turnover of £230m for 2016.
McAleer & Rushe, which entered the awards for the first time, also picked up a second gold medal for Residential Under Seven Storeys, won by Marlow’s colleague Ciaran Tiffney, another one of McAleer & Rushe group of home-grown talent.
“We train and nurture our people and then give them responsibility and autonomy to deal and deliver for the client,” says McGee.
This year’s Construction Manager of the Year has always wanted to work in the sector. His father is a digging contractor and he’d helped out on site since the age of 16. He went on to study quantity surveying at the University of Ulster, graduating with a First Class honours before joining McAleer & Rushe straight from university as a project manager.
His card was marked as one of McAleer & Rushe’s high fliers and he quickly got given big jobs to get stuck into. He was number two on the £50m redevelopment of the Swiss Centre into the W Hotel in London’s Leicester Square, where McAleer was also the developer.
He had a similar role on the delivery of the 182-bed Novotel and 297-bed Ibis Hotels at Blackfriars Road in London. And he took overall charge of a 100-bedroom hotel in the village of Brae on the Shetland Islands which was manufactured in Northern Ireland, then shipped out to Shetland and assembled there under Marlow’s direction as project manager.
Now based on a Unite Students job in Edinburgh, he admits that it can be hard working away from home. A typical week would be three days on the project and two days at head office in the early days of a project, but up to five days working away from home at critical stages.
Marlow’s skills and work ethic will undoubtedly ensure we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the big projects of the future. So what’s his advice for aspiring construction managers who’d like to join him amongst the industry’s elite? “You’re only as good as your last completed project… you have to look to continual improvement.”
Paul Marlow Q&A
Do you have a mentor?
I have worked very closely with our contracts director Dominic Trainor on this project and great credit must go to Dominic for his support and advice throughout. I have also been very fortunate during my time here to work very closely with two other McAleer & Rushe contracts directors in Shane McCullagh and Peter Devlin, as well as Martin McGee.
Any advice for other construction managers entering the awards?
There is a lot of talented people within our industry putting in a lot of hard work. Given the demands of the job, it is not always easy to find the time to give to an awards submission/selection process. However, having been entered in this award for the first time it was most definitely worthwhile and I would urge everyone, particularly younger people within our industry, to enter.
Would you do anything different in hindsight on Angel Lane?
In hindsight there were a few areas where extended lead-in times for specific packages increased our programme challenges on Angel Lane so we would look to close out these packages earlier in the future to get ahead of the extensive supply chain demands of the industry.
What do you get up to when not working?
I am a keen sportsman with my main sport being Gaelic football which I have continued to participate in right up until the last two years when injury and our 18-month-old son have halted progress on that front somewhat. I still continue to support my sport and adapting to life as a father has been the greatest experience of my life to date.