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Featured Business: Dive & Marine Contractors
Name: Michael Butler, Managing Director, Dive & Marine Contractors
Employees: Two directors, one other employee, and contractors
Two heads are better than one when it comes to setting up a successful business, and Dive & Marine Contractors is no exception. During the downturn, two businessmen with commercial diving experience got chatting and came up with the idea of a diving contracting business.
The result is a company that works both in water and on land: wherever there is water and work to be done in, near or under it.
A lot of building and civil engineering work goes on underwater, and a lot of inspection work also has to be done there at design stage. Dive & Marine Contractors does civil engineering, outfalls, structure foundations, moorings inspection, gate locks, valve repair, cathodic protection, piling inspection, bridge inspection, underwater repairs, archaeology, and off-shore wind farms.
Michael Butler, a former electrical engineer with Glanbia, had a number of businesses under his belt as well as an interest in diving. His co-founder Philip Murphy had worked in the construction industry and had done some building work for Michael as well as having a commercial diving qualification. While many people have a recreational diver qualification, there is a lot of training and expense involved in becoming a commercial diver.
Michael works between the company and other businesses, while Philip works there full-time, alongside a full-time underwater engineer (a commercial diver with an engineering background). They then call on divers with specific experience depending on project needs.
Michael runs a suckler farm as well as wind farms for UK company DW consultancy. From his experience in other businesses, he stresses the importance of having a partnership or a few people behind a new business – something that has worked out well for both Philip and Michael.
Interview with Michael Butler
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
Philip, who had been in the construction sector, is a commercial diver. During the downturn in 2008 we started looking at different options. We came up with the idea of a diving contracting business. We investigated it and started into it. It was due to necessity for Philip to spread his wings from house building.
How did you initially fund your business?
It was our own funding and AIB backing. We had to buy a lot of expensive commercial diving equipment, and we funded that ourselves. As it expanded, we got leasing and overdraft facilities.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
When we started out, we were looking at underwater work. Since we have taken on our engineer, we do a lot of overwater engineering surveying as well. We have worked for British Rail on a number of bridge inspections. A certain amount of our work is associated with water, but it’s overwater as well as underwater. We have diversified.
What have been the highlights to date?
Watching the company grow from nothing to one of the foremost diving companies in Ireland.
What’s the bravest step you’ve made in relation to your business?
The bravest step so far has been trying to keep up with the expansion. It has taken off at such a rate that to keep up with it was a brave step. At the moment we’re expanding into the UK. We have a sales man who looks after Ireland, and he’s now moving to the UK to look after that for us also.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
Watching it being successful. The money doesn’t come into it; it’s the success end of it.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I actually find the work so enjoyable that I find it hard to get away from it. I am a bit of a workaholic and sometimes I have to say, “I have to leave this and do something.” It’s a struggle. Even at the weekend the phone rings, there’s always something going on. I try and get away on my motorbike, or for a hill walk, on the weekends.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
I admire anyone who is successful. I love watching people being successful, for example, businesses I have dealt with. Anyone who gets on in life and has initiative to work, I admire.
What tools or technologies do you use that benefit your customers or business?
The web, I find, is the tool of the future. A lot of the younger engineers or people looking for someone like us will go to the web to find you. Having a very good website that is simple – and not pages and pages of waffle – is very important. If our website explains to others what we’re about, then there’s something right; if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
We have a policy in the company that we always give customer satisfaction. We don’t leave a job unless the customer is happy with what has been done. That brings repeat business. We keep in contact with them. When we finish a job we always look for customer feedback. We go out of our way to redesign what’s being done to make the whole thing very streamlined and efficient. When the job is finished we always ask them “Is this what you wanted, is this what you got and would you use us again?” So far they’ve all come back and been very positive about us. It’s all about talking to them and asking for feedback. I know you can’t please all the people all the time, but we try to please most of them as much as we can.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
The rapid expansion. The big thing facing us at the moment is breaking into the UK market. We want to get ourselves as well known in the UK as we are in Ireland.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
Delegation. If you can’t delegate you just cannot get on with it. You can’t be answering the phone, on site, doing the accounts, doing the sales and doing everything – you just can’t. We’ve taken on someone to do the accounts and we just have to delegate it to her. I’ve learned this the hard way. I’ve been involved in a number of businesses and I found the only way to get on is to delegate and trust.
How did you scale/grow your business?
By employing good staff. You’re only as good as the people around you. We have a good panel of commercial divers. Our work so far has been so diverse that one person is never able to do everything.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
By listening. Sometimes it comes from the customers, and you listen to what they want, or you listen to what the other dive contractors are doing. Our own employees, I find, are the best people to know what’s going on.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
Watching it succeed. Money doesn’t motivate me, success is what motivates me. The other thing is – and it might sound corny – I love watching people come into a business, I like sharing success.
What’s your vision for the future?
At the moment we’re looking at moving into the UK market and expanding our Irish presence.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
You’re only as good as the people you employ.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
Businesses starting out are not an overnight success unless they win the lottery. Don’t be disappointed if it takes you five years to get a business up and going. Have a good business plan starting out and build into it a five-year plan. Watch the pounds, shillings and pence at all stages. If you’re comfortable with your financial position, you can be comfortable with decisions. You’ve three figures to keep an eye on: the money you have in the bank, the money you have to pay out, and the money that’s due in. Be comfortable in that position at all times; then you’re able to make good decisions. If you’re making decisions without that sort of financial advice you’re playing Russian roulette. That’s how you run a business. It’s only three figures. Then you can make a decision whether you’re going to go and buy your sandwich or invest in some equipment that day or not. That’s about the size of it.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
I remember watching Feargal Quinn on the Late Late Show saying, “Don’t envy your competition, copy them and do it better.” He was talking about shops, but it’s the same for every business.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
Looking back, I wouldn’t change a whole lot. The timing was very good, as both of us were in a position to do it. We all make small mistakes, like pricing a job wrong. There hasn’t been a whole lot to date. Everybody we have taken on has been 100%.They’re all good people.
Phone: +353 86 2531740
Interviewed by: Web Content Partners
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