Managing Director Richard O’Farrell was recently featured in the June edition of The Sunday Times Business & Money Section Editorial by Sandra O’Connell “How I Made It” – Expansion Engineered My Escape From The Downturn.
Richard O’Farrell was a child who took everything apart to see how it worked, especially electrical items. Electronics were, for him, a hobby. After doing his Leaving Cert in Carrigaline, Co. Cork, in 1994, he studied electrical engineering at UCC and then worked as a design engineer in the pharmaceutical industry for a number of years. By 2003, he had struck out on his own setting up Engineering Design Consultants, or EDC.
He really was on his own. It was just him and a single contract for a mixed development of commercial units and apartments in Cork. As a consulting design engineer specialising in MEP – mechanical, electrical and plumbing, he subcontracted and work with which he needed help. His second win was a grain processing facility, and he grew the business from there.
He was not so good at networking he admits. Of course, in the boom years of the Noughties, no one felt like they needed to learn how to sell. Business just materialised. “It was only when I got to bigger cities such as London that I recognised the value of networking,” O’Farrell says. “But back in the Celtic tiger days, we were flying.”
By 2007 he had 12 staff and got one of the luckiest breaks imaginable for someone in the Irish construction sector. By sheer chance, six months before the financial crisis hit, he opened an office in London. He and his team spend six months “knocking on doors” before winning their first UK project, a student accommodation scheme.
“We worked with Enterprise Ireland and did a lot of networking with Irish businesses in London – and it paid dividends.” He says. As it happened, throughout the downturn EDC continued to grow back home. “We managed to stay just about profitable, though cashflow was tight. That and the work we secured in London, where the recession hadn’t such an impact, insulated us through those tough times.
By the economic recovery of 2014, he has 26 staff. The following year he opened a second Irish office, in Dublin. The company had developed a reputation for being able to deliver design engineering services for a wide range of projects such as data centres, logistics hubs, nursing homes and offices. In 2020 he opened an office in Limerick, followed by one in Galway at the start of the year.
For another new office, which was set up last year, he took something of a detour. “We had been trying to solve the staff resourcing challenge, so as a solution, we opened an office in Istanbul,” O’Farrell says. It paid off, enabling him to tap into Turkey’s highly-educated engineering talent.
Energy projects are a growing part of EDC’s work, as well as projects such as national schools, waste-to-energy incineration schemes and social housing developments.
Today the business has 1,500 successful projects under its belt and employs 100 people. It has grown every year since 2011, at an average annual growth rate of 19%, and last year turned over €9 million. “The plan now is to continue to expand our market share,” says O’Farrell, who is clear about what he finds the most satisfying about his work: “I like success.”