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Published in Construction on 26/05/2020

Lunch with Nigel Spence KMCS


CNI reports

Nigel Spence is a Chartered Surveyor and the Managing Director of market leading project management and cost consultancy firm KMCS. Spence is KMCS through and through, joining the firm in 1978 and becoming managing partner in 1990 at just 30 years of age. 

Well known for their work with international as well as domestic giants, KMCS now counts top tier businesses such as Facebook, eBay, Twitter, Dropbox, Stripe, Symantec, and many more among its clients.

KMCS’s business on the west coast of the US came about shortly into Spence’s time as MD and has grown substantially over the last two decades.

A dedicated Leinster and Rugby fan, Spence lists one of his proudest work achievements as being part of the team that delivered the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road on time and on budget!

Our virtual lunch date spanned topics as diverse as the global pandemic and its impact on the industry, wider issues of social justice and the importance of hard work.

How do you start your day?

I usually start the day by reading any overnight emails and texts, on my phone – a lot of our clients are west coast US, so it’s been their working day while we are sleeping. As I am reading, I am letting our Cockapoo out into the back garden for nature to take its course!

I prepare her food and while she is eating head back up for shower and get ready for day ahead. Head down and grab my own porridge and berries whilst speed reading the Irish Times and checking LinkedIn for overnight posts and market news.

Pre-lockdown I would normally head into the office ahead of the traffic and be at my desk by 08.00 to get ahead of the posse!

Are you from a large or small family?  

Small family – one sister who has lived in UK for past 35 years, so the care and management of our now elderly parents falls to me.

They moved about 2 years ago (reluctantly) into independent living within the grounds of Brabazon Nursing Home and now agree it was their best decision ever! 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Originally an Estate Agent and then spent a summer at 16 years working in a PQS practice and I was hooked. A friend of my Dads was a brother of Walter McConnell (one of the original partners of Keogh McConnell – later to evolve into KMCS) and the rest appears with hindsight to be predetermined history.

Where were you educated?

Kill O’ the Grange Primary School in Deansgrange – a downhill bike ride through the fields of Kill Lane, then 6 years in St Andrews College, Clyde Road and Booterstown and finally College of Technology, Bolton Street where I attended a 6 yr part-time Construction Economics Degree / Diploma course and worked with KMcC. 

Have you ever had a mentor?

My earliest mentor would have been my Dad who used to bring me to site and shared his grá for the outdoors / indoors of a construction career.

Later during college, my ex colleague, Jerry Fogarty would have helped me formulate my career direction and ambitions.

More recently the individual mentor has evolved into a ‘kitchen cabinet’ drawn from family and friends including colleagues from within the industry.

How physically fit are you?

Currently, not as fit as I would wish but I have started back into my gym and am looking forward to getting back to a regular regime with my trainer, Alan Farrell, who doubles up as a confidant and part-time psychologist. When I am back to regular training I would commit to approx. 2hrs a week of 3 sessions and then walking the dog is additional

What is more important – ambition or talent?

I believe you require different degrees of both at different stages of your personal and business career but they probably even out at 50:50 in the final analysis.

In the formative career years you need to demonstrate more talent in order to be seen and considered for promotion which in turn offers opportunity.

At that point you require ambition to capitalise on this opportunity – some people call it LUCK but it’s all about maximising and recognising the LUCK when it lands and how you then exploit it. Too many miss it because they don’t recognise it

Where in the world are you happiest?

Out with family and friends enjoying good food and wine and having some well-earned craic – that could be anywhere in the world – it doesn’t have to be Ireland .

We spent a fantastic month travelling around Japan last October to coincide with the RWC and really enjoyed the culture, cuisine and country with my immediate family while hooking up with friends along the journey

What would you like to own that you currently don’t?

If possible a ‘magic wand’ so that I could eradicate global homelessness and poverty. We are all talking about COVID-19 and rightly so but wherever we travel – Europe, US, Far East – the greater pandemic is homelessness and I would love to eliminate that 

What drives you?

A strict work ethic inherited from my parents – always give 110%, do your best work all the time, if you don’t know ask but learn from the answer you receive, so you don’t have to ask it again……

What would you like to be remembered for?  

Here lies a good guy – honest, no-nonsense, caring, generous, always ready for a good laugh, and a bottle of Pinot Noir.

What trait do you find most irritating in people?

Self-centred, arrogant, lazy, lacking in humanity or social awareness

What would 18 year old Nigel think of who you are now? 

I think he would be rightly proud of what he achieved. I remember being told by my then Headmaster of St Andrews College as he handed me my mock Leaving Cert results that ‘third level education is a bridge too far for you Spence!’

Maybe he was half right – pure academia was not my forte but given the opportunity to work and train simultaneously in a technical university for a professional qualification proved an ideal learning environment for me and I flew through Bolton St with a honours degree and the ambition to become chartered ASAP.

My greatest project thrill to date has been being part of the team that delivered Aviva Stadium to programme and on budget!

What is the biggest challenges facing the industry now?  

Reigniting our amazing industry and steering it back to where it was only a few months ago pre COVID-19. Our broader industry has always relied on a large mobile and smart work force which has successfully built most of the modern world. We are now faced with a gargantuan monster which has soaked up billions of Euros and dollars across the world and will continue to do so for some time yet.

The CIF, led by Tom Parlon, engaged very quickly with both senior membership and Government and drafted a return to work protocol and procedures document that many other groups are still thinking about. This ‘can do and collaborative attitude is what persuaded government to reopen sites from last Monday in a safe and socially distant manner.

Have we eliminated the pandemic virus? No we haven’t and I’m sure there will be further outbreaks and spikes but we can start to feed money back into the state coffers and replenish the outflow which has been unprecedented over recent months and will continue until some kind of normality has returned.