New SCSI President.  Picture fennellsStandards and engagement are likely to be at the heart of the O’Connell presidency of the Society. PAUL O’GRADY interviewed Roland O’Connell for the Surveyors Journal.

Roland O’Connell entered the property industry at the start of a very deep recession. It was 1981 and he had just completed his foundation certificate in property studies when he joined Osborne King Megran (now Savills). He did all the things that new entrants to the business do: brochures, letters, sign boards and plenty more. John McFarlane was the managing director of the company and he set high personal standards. Another director at the time, Ian French, observed that it was a good time to learn because the directors had more free time to tutor the young staff.

During the 1980s, Osborne King Megrane merged with Hamilton & Hamilton to become Hamilton Osborne King, and then came a lift in the market.

“It was very exciting to see a proper functioning market,” observes Roland, who by this time had moved through commercial property to the office market. “Inward investment brought growth and the time was marked by the arrival of technology companies in Ireland.”

Merrill Lynch also opened offices in Dublin and despite a little dip in the early 90s, Roland says there was good activity right through to 2000.

“There was a slowdown from 2001-2003, but the office market, like much of the rest of the economy, was busy from 2003 to 2008. The Lehmann Bros. collapse marked the start of a very difficult time since then, although there are small but continuing signs of improvement now.”

In 2006, Savills acquired Hamilton Osborne King and Roland is Director of Offices for Savills. Continuing education is a theme of Roland’s presidency, and it is an area he took seriously from a young age. He studied property economics through the correspondence course from the University of Reading at night, while working in Osborne King Megran. Not long after qualifying, he got a call from Alan Cooke in the Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institute (IAVI) asking him to serve on a committee. He accepted and it has had two major life consequences for him: he met his wife through the Society; and, he has now risen to the highest office of the Society, which merged with the Insititute.

Goals set

Roland was deeply involved with the negotiations between the bodies prior to the merger and is, therefore, very satisfied at how successful the merger has proved to date.

He says: “The merger has worked very well. The members, officers and executives have combined to ensure the smooth functioning of an efficient and effective single organisation. My primary goal as  President is to ensure the continuing successful development of this superb Society – one which while historic, also has the freshness of a new organisation. The merger has provided a significant boost to the dynamic of the Society – one which the previous bodies, on their own, would not have achieved”.

The new President’s three other goals for his year in office are interrelated:

“I want to actively encourage younger members to get involved in the Society and to promote more engagement with the Society by members, in general. And given that the construction and property sectors have suffered such a difficult time, it is unsurprising that we have seen a lot of people emigrate to find work. I want to ensure that we don’t end up with a generational gap in the professional expertise provided by members of the Society. This would present real difficulties in areas such as expert witnesses and arbitrators if we do not ensure that we have those skills in every relevant age bracket of our membership”.

His final objective is clear:

“We need to encourage more school leavers to enter the business. There has been a drop in the number of applicants to enter third-level courses that function as entries into surveying. However, I believe that in four years time, we are going to need newly qualified staff. And the equation is very simple: if we don’t get more school leavers entering our courses, we are not going to have the staff necessary to run our businesses”.

Government performance

Asked his opinion of Government performance to date, Roland is quick to point out that the Society has been on record as saying it is in favour of water and property charges as it views them as being necessary for the financial support of local authorities and water providers. Against the very real political difficulties posed by introducing water and property charges, the President feels that it has been refreshing to see the emphasis on job creation.

“There is some reassurance that the Government does appear to be aware of the critical importance of increasing the numbers in employment. That is encouraging. On the other hand, there is also a sense that they haven’t bitten the bullet yet on several contentious issues. This would appear to be particularly true in relation to cost cutting. It’s not clear to the public yet that the Minister for Public Expenditure, Brendan Howlin, is getting any greater value on our behalf. And on construction, there is a need for long-term planning to ensure adequate infrastructure and better value for the country. I would really encourage the Government to talk to us and other interested parties about the benefit of long-term planning of Government construction projects.”

Get involved

Roland O’Connell has a clear message to all members: “Get involved!” He continues: “We are here to help people and to improve standards. I would encourage all members to get involved in some way with the Society and to give us your feedback”.

On membership…

“Customers are demanding ever-higher standards from Chartered Surveyors. The Society is the leading professional body in construction, land and property, and sets standards that have always exceeded statutory requirements. So the question is not why would you be a member – the correct question is: why would you not aspire to membership?”

On standards…

“The Society has always led by setting standards for members that are well in excess of any statutory requirement, and the Society will continue to do that – even with the advent of the Property Services Regulatory Authority and the appointment of the Society as the regulatory body for building and quantity surveyors.”

On NAMA…

“NAMA has a very difficult job, made more difficult by the fact that it has a political dimension and operates in a goldfish bowl type of environment. It is dealing with an awful mess and while we are sympathetic, you would like to see things move more quickly. We would especially like to see more stock brought to the market.”