A lot of things were chaotic about Zoe in the early years. Royceton, the company established within Zoe Developments to look after design and construction management, became very important. Royceton's staff was kept ultra-lightweight but still imposed order on things. Liam Carroll's relationship with his 'contractors', (usually known as subcontractors in the traditional model) depended on their being able to carry out a lot of detailed design.
In the Zoe developments model you had a couple of guys at Royceton in charge of millions of euros worth of construction. You didn't have the numbers of employees at Royceton that you see working for other professional practices. With Carroll, the electrician or metalworker 'contractor', who would otherwise be a subcontractor in usual arrangements between the main contractor and the client, interfaced directly with Liam Carroll, the client. All that Royceton did was facilitate that relationship in an orderly and regulated fashion.
Royceton was the accountancy, cost control, finance, procurement, property management, and sales department of the Zoe outfit. In the end, it expanded to include rental and hotel management, retail and commercial lease supervision, and so on. You had contract management, health and safety, human resources and fire safety. We always had external auditors in the building from accountancy firms, who kept the books of 250 companies in order. Royceton had to outsource for its legal services. Usually, a Royceton director would step in and act on behalf of Liam Carroll himself.
Royceton employees were representing the 'client' in many ways, but still doing their own specific jobs in design, engineering or finance. Building repetitive projects such as apartment developments, the brief for projects could be drawn up by the quantity surveying department in cooperation with the financial staff. You could almost cut designers out of the loop to a significant degree.
The plan was very fluid, because Liam would leave it until the last minute to acquire crucial plots to make up a 'building site'. The design process had to remain flexible enough to accommodate these late alterations to the brief.
Carroll was willing to give everyone a chance to act on behalf of his company. Employees developed within themselves an ability to see what was required and what price one should have to pay. Architects, who would otherwise be interested in spending as much of the client's money as possible, began to see things in a different light. Engineers, who would otherwise not worry about the structural efficiency, began to speak up and demand consideration for cost savings in terms of structure. External consultant architects and engineers often found it difficult to fit into this process.
Even if you worked within a speciality in Zoe, such as architecture, that was only part of your job description. Your main purpose was to learn how to act on behalf of the client in whatever you did. If you could cut costs and improve efficiency by producing fewer drawings, or fewer lines on a page, that is what you did. One would take drawings to site and deliver instructions individually to the person responsible for using a blowtorch on a roof or driving a nail. The regular consultant model cannot afford this level of engagement with projects.
At Royceton, the architect had direct access to electricians, plumbers and many other tradespeople. We often became acquainted by first names. That would not happen on a typical building site. The main contractor would be present and take notes of everything that was said.
Working at Royceton was a bit like playing as the midfielder. You had a mandate to roam the entire field, or as much of it as you were able to. If mistakes were made, we made good on them and kept going. It used to freak people out who came to work for Royceton, to see they dumped all of the earlier revisions of drawings issued to site for construction. If we were on revision 'F', you would not be able to find revision A, B, C, D or E.
That was not to do with laziness or lack of understanding. It was a very conscious decision not to bother looking backwards. Because Danninger and Royceton were working for the same company effectively, there was never a conflict over what an earlier revision of a drawing showed or didn't show – the very thing that causes most of the conflict in other building situations.
You can imagine what a job it must have been for the main directors at Royceton – Liam Carroll, David Torpey and John Pope – to supervise and organise such a radical departure from the norms of the construction industry in Ireland.
Danninger had a strange role in all of this. Liam, David or John could instruct Danninger to stop a job and move resources to a different construction project if they wished. You would sometimes see a building site become quiet as resources were diverted elsewhere. You don't see that happening on too many construction projects. But it doesn't bother Zoe Developments to have building sites sitting there doing nothing.
Having Danninger enabled Liam Carroll to operate in a way that no other property developer could afford to. It meant he could send in his team to do excavations before any contracts or tenders had been agreed or drawn up, even before full sets of drawings were finalised and drawn up. It was not uncommon to have a building complete up to first-floor level before a single architectural drawing was released. That is where the expression 'doing it on the back of a cigarette box' comes from.
Danninger had an interesting privilege of being the 'apple of the Liam Carroll's eye'. Royceton employees and directors were also satisfied working for the company. It afforded them a unique relationship with the process of building, one they could not find elsewhere. Royceton would actively look after Carroll's interests and ensure that safety, quality and economy were enforced throughout the different projects.
There you have it. Somebody who was a lowly subcontractor in another context was interfacing in Zoe with a billionaire client. No other billionaire except Liam Carroll would have been comfortable in that situation. It is funny when you think about it, really. As a client, Liam Carroll was unconventional in that he could distribute responsibility among so many people. As a builder, Liam Carroll was unconventional in the extreme.
Brian O'Hanlon was a project manager at Royceton