“Control the controllables.” CEO Q+A: Mary Mulcahy, Co-founder, Ireland Waste Water

by Aoife
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Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

I have been in the industry since 1997 and owner-manager of Ireland Waste Water which myself and my husband established in 2004. Since we began manufacturing and servicing Treatment Systems, Rainwater Harvesting Systems, Grease Traps and Pump Chambers in 2004 my priorities have been threefold, firstly, making sure the business operates effectively on a daily basis. Secondly, maintaining and building upon our position as one of the largest suppliers of domestic Waste Water Treatment Plants in Ireland. Thirdly, following the recent launch of our Circle7 tertiary treatment system, we want to continue to grow the business and it is the charge of both myself and my husband to lead that growth.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Scaling for growth. That said, its possibly the most welcome challenge of my past 10 years in this industry. Thankfully any of the challenges we faced over the years have been met with the support of family, friends and our dedicated staff. Having launched Circle7, our next biggest challenge is to establish ourselves in export markets which we plan to do in the coming years.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

They are more than a team to us, they are family at this stage, which very much aligns with the ethos of our business. Communication is very important, so we work to be open and transparent on what’s going on and we encourage and trust each member of our team to take ownership of their roles. They know hard work and thrive on getting the job done.
We always acknowledge that our success is due to developing the competencies and capabilities of our employee and we provide our employees with training opportunities to continuously develop these skills.
I like to think that they see us as working shoulder to shoulder and that we don’t ask any more of them than we do of ourselves.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Overcoming the “grey water” contamination problem in Irish households is a challenge we have already set out to combat with the creation of our new wastewater treatment system Circle 7. Because of an increasing usage of chemicals grey water is damaging septic tank & wastewater systems as they currently stand in homes all over the country, with the primary risk being contamination of the clean water supply into a home, as well as of the surrounding land.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Over the last 5 years, we have definitely felt the growing demand for eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable solutions. As well as that, homeowners are looking for a solution that has a smaller footprint, to avoid the necessity of having to install raised beds to conceal the unit’s location.
Based on this, and our own convictions, all our products are designed to be eco-friendly. Our new Circle7 tertiary treatment system is recognized as having the potential to make a significant positive contribution to the development of rural housing in Ireland – something we are very proud of.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

We pride ourselves on our product design, development and manufacture to certified EU Standard through PIA (Prüfinstitut für Abwassertechnik GmbH). I would like for there to be greater visibility of the existence of uncertified wastewater system suppliers currently serving the market. If Ireland is going to advance in this area, all operators in the market need to be held to the Standards and best practice.
While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are doing a good job, I would like to see more providers go further the standards they attain. We have developed our products so that they conform to the highest international standards.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

We are fortunate to have been able to retain key personnel during the downturn period and have begun to recruit new people in response to growth demands. However, there is a definite drain on resources in the country and we know from speaking with others in the sector that skills shortages are an issue.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

We were fortunate that we had a diversity of products and services for the commercial and agri sectors, which reduced our exposure to and dependency on the domestic household market. We did like every other business at the time, we focused on business development, doing quality work and providing excellent customer service and critically. We also started a significant phase of new product design and innovation so that we would be ready when the market returned.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

We have worked to shield the business in terms of anticipating longer lead times and potential price hikes for material. We manufacture all of the core elements at our facility so, are not overly dependent on third party suppliers, but like any other business in Ireland, we are alert and keen to understand the real-time implications once Brexit is finalised.
We are looking to establish ourselves in other markets and our outlook is positive.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Our yardstick for success has always lay with customer satisfaction. We are a solution-driven business. Our strategy has always been based on identifying real solutions for problems that exist in treating wastewater. We ask – can we develop a better solution, and can we do it to the highest possible standard, so we that we can provide a best-in-class product to our customers? It’s a long process to get these things just right – for example, Circle 7 took us over three years to bring the solution to the market – but it is worth it to deliver for our customers.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Enjoy the journey from starting the business in the late 1990s to today. Also, each day we do our best to ‘control the controllables’.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Without doubt it was the recent launch of our Circle 7 Tertiary Waste Water Treatment System. It is a genuinely innovative invention that will purify wastewater in homes, schools, factories and businesses throughout rural Ireland to a higher standard than what’s currently achievable, saving them thousands of Euro in the process. It reimagines the traditional flawed septic tank process which, when not managed correctly, is a risk for contaminating the land and the water system. It provides a new system to treat wastewater by taking household waste, percolating it using an advanced filtration system and bringing it to a near drinking water standard.

Q. What’s next for your company?

We don’t intend to stand still, with 20 years of activity behind us! Our business development plan is well underway for national growth and entry into new export markets.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

Well on our way to fulfill our vision for Circle 7’s to be part of every new domestic wastewater treatment plant in Ireland, after which we will look to the UK and US markets.

“We are looking to establish ourselves in other markets and our outlook is positive”


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