Derry City's Factory Reset

COVID-19 has proved itself a devastating opponent for Derry City Football Club during the past 12 months.

Monday, 22nd March 2021, 12:51 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd March 2021, 12:52 pm
Former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, with Julie Sinnamon, CEO of Enterprise Ireland and Philip O’Doherty, Managing Director, E&I Engineering, during his visit to E+I Engineering in Burnfoot, Co Donegal to announce 90 new jobs back in 2018.

However, Candy Stripes Chairman Mr Philip O’Doherty reckons the pandemic has granted him a unique opportunity to reconnect with the club and with his own workforce at E&I Engineering.

As one of Ireland’s leading businessmen he’s normally jet-setting across the globe between his bases in South Carolina and Dubai.

Indeed, Mr O’Doherty admits he has been exclusively travelling 70% of his time over the past 10 years for the multi-national firm which is one of the north west’s biggest manufacturers.

That all changed dramatically when Covid effectively grounded him and he’s been forced into making a rapid transition and taking a new approach to his business strategy.

Continued safety measures have made remote working and digital meetings the new normal as management figured out optimal ways for the team to stay connected and continue business-as-usual.

Keeping team members informed about strategic decisions and providing them with a platform to voice concerns and raise suggestions was key.

And that’s a strategy Mr O’Doherty has now implemented with Derry City Football Club as all lines of communication to the Board of Directors have been opened.

Investing in the Youth Academy structures is key to securing the future of the club and, following an in-depth review, they’ve put in place a three to five year plan.

Plans to build a new training base are already in motion and Mr O’Doherty wants everyone involved to have input.

In fact, a Whatsapp group involving the Academy coaching staff has been set-up allowing the board to get regular updates on successes and failures.

The Chairman insists he’s now more accessible than ever as the club plans to invest heavily in its future and keep everyone in the loop.

Just like his own business, Mr O’Doherty is taking time to get to know those tasked with driving success at Derry City as the club prepares to enter a new SSE Airtricity League campaign with renewed hope.

He claims he was once able to walk around the shop floor of his business premises in Burnfoot without being recognised by some of his own staff pre-pandemic.

However, he’s now had the time to invest in getting to know most of his 1,250 Irish employee base, albeit mostly on a computer screen.

Mr O’Doherty, now in his 11th year as Chairman of Derry City, reckons this fresh new approach, regular team meetings and a more transparent and accessible Board of Directors, will soon reap its rewards at the club.

And he’s been suitably impressed with the individuals on the Brandywell club’s payroll.

“Every four weeks I’m speaking to the youth team managers directly and we’re talking about the budget, what we spent last year, and it’s a very open conversation,” explained the chairman. “I don’t think it was a conversation they were expecting, nor were they used to it. So we’re being as honest as we can.

“They would normally hear this stuff third or fourth hand, now they’re hearing it first hand and they appreciate that.

“We’re going to get a Whatsapp group as well because the Board wants to know about successes, about things that maybe aren’t going right,” he insisted.

“There will be a lot more access to the Board of Directors for the youth team set-up because they really are important.

“And there’s some very impressive individuals involved. I heard their names before but never met them but I’ve certainly met them all now.”

The same applied to his workforce at E&I where he has employed staff at manufacturing facilities in Campsie, Burnfoot and most recently Letterkenny as operations continue to expand.

The onset of Covid-19 on these shores last year brought challenges for his business but E&I were quick to react and enforce new safety protocols.

“First and foremost you have to make sure you run your business safely and E&I Engineering made sure we did that from day one.

“We made sure our facilities were clean and safe procedures for manufacturing were in place. We had two metre social distancing and we had masks and visors from early on.

“We were doing it, we think, almost before anyone else because we saw the way it was going and we basically used our supply chain to get a lot of masks and visors before there was a shortage of them.

“We kept that going and split production into shifts and it’s taken a lot of my time but there’s a great team at all three facilities.”

And he’s grateful he’s had the chance to get to know his team a lot more over the past 12 months.

“I’m not travelling at all really at the minute. I had one trip during December but just like everyone else I’m spending my time on team meetings to get to know our employees.

“There are 1,250 people here in our Irish employee base and a lot of them have been recruited over the last 10 years. I hardly know anyone as I spent the last 10 years almost exclusively travelling,” he admitted. “So I’m delighted to get to know people who have been working for us for so long.

“I walk through the shop floor at times and I don’t think some people know who I am,” he laughed. “I think they do now because I’m about so much. I think we’ve done a good job with safety and we’ve handled Covid as well as can be expected.

“But we all appreciate a bit more that what we’re about is creating employment for people in Derry and Donegal and doing that safely is more important.

“I think we might realise we’re lucky if we come through this. Obviously people haven’t come through Covid so we should thank God we’re still here.”

As Derry City Football Club plots its exit from the pandemic going into the 2021 season, it does so safe in the knowledge that Philip O’Doherty and his Board of Directors are engineering a pathway to recovery.