Turnkey data centres make Winthrop one of Europe’s biggest engineering players
Landing projects valued at upwards of a hundred million is today’s new normal at Winthrop Engineering and Contracting, an engineering-led company which has distinguished itself in the data centre design and build space internationally.
“From the moment I joined the company in the mid-nineties, every new project has always been our biggest to date,” says Anne Dooley, Managing Director of Dublin-based Winthrop Engineering and Contracting.
“From the beginning at Winthrop, the mindset was always ambitious – that’s part of what attracted me to it. We’ve just kept growing in line with the projects we were winning so the scale of things has completely transformed in the last number of years”.
In the last six years, the company’s revenues have multiplied because of Winthrop’s very specialist expertise in the area of data centre development. Turnover has grown to €350m in 2019 – which is more than a multiple of ten since 2013 - and the company now employs 750 staff. The order book is currently so full, that the company has had to – very reluctantly – turn down international projects from global players in the data centre sector.
“We’re on a much bigger scale now but it still feels like a small company,” she says. “We’ve a very tight-knit team, and a flat structure so we all get on with the work that needs to be done”.
While Winthrop could be mistakenly dubbed the 25-year ‘overnight success’, there are definite challenges to scaling at such a rate.
As Winthrop’s unique expertise in turnkey data centre development was becoming globally recognised, the company needed to grow quickly and refocus in various business areas ensuring they delivered for their clients, on time and within budget.
“We needed to make a plan and get moving. We needed to grow the team, learn to delegate, develop skills and competencies or hire them if we didn’t have them already,” says Dooley.
“Our operation is very engineering-led with a strong technical background,” she says. “That gives us an edge in certain areas, such as our data centres business. Those data centres are not complex building structures per se but the mechanical and electrical installations are very complex, so our technical knowledge really helps us win and drive these projects”.
Winthrop also continues to work in the commercial field. The recent commercial portfolio includes the new Central Bank of Ireland, Miesian Plaza in Dublin, the National Gallery of Ireland, as well as high-profile projects for Facebook, Google and EY.
Current projects include TU Dublin on their impressive new Grange Gorman campus as well as the Mechanical and Electrical services for the Spencer Place Office & Hotel development on North Wall quay. This is to become a global Headquarters for Salesforce and will be known as Salesforce tower.
“Our approach is not really about one-off projects but rather building partnerships in the longer term,” she adds. “Once we get to know a client, we’re prepared to go wherever they need to go. All our technical, procurement and coordination works are done here in Dublin, but the physical projects span all of Europe”.
Winthrop’s mission critical (data centre) team is currently in the process of delivering €500m worth of data centres across Europe in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Norway and Bulgaria. In the greater Dublin area alone, the company is currently working on data centre projects totalling over €150M.
“I think our unique selling proposition comes from a willingness to move any mountain in order to deliver a project,” says Dooley. “Even if projects don’t always progress the way they were planned, our clients know we’ll deliver. Rather than pointing the finger or trying to push risk down the supply chain, our focus is always ‘How can we fix this?’ and working together with the client and our supply chain to find solutions. We’re very big on collaboration, we trust and work closely with our sub-contractors and for the client that creates a very high level of trust in us.”
On Brexit, she is circumspect.
“Like most industries, we’ve prepared as best we can,” she says. “We hope it will be an orderly Brexit, but of course we have to be ready for the worst. We have to anticipate risks and threats, and make sure the supply chain is in the best possible shape to absorb any unintended consequences.”
Dooley describes Winthrop’s stellar track record in delivering international data centres to global clients as her biggest career achievement to date. One might muse that perhaps, equally, she should be recognised as one of very few female bosses in the construction industry, not to mention one whose company is delivering profits above €20m for blue chip clients, every year.
“It seems like only yesterday that was our total turnover” says Dooley, almost sounding surprised at the success the company has achieved.
“There hasn’t really been one big eureka moment,” she says of her two decades with the firm. “It’s been more like a series of continuous eureka moments. Every project feels like a eureka moment, put it that way. I’ve never been afraid of hard work and there’s been plenty of that!”
And the strategy she applies to that hard work?
“Lead from the front, that’s probably our approach,” she says. “Get everyone into the mindset that the client is king. Be involved in everything, pay attention to the details. Always bring the supply chain with you. That’s what works for us.”