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Leading with Purpose: Chairman Eric Wallace on Mercury’s relentless drive to be the European leader in construction solutions
For over 50 years, Mercury has helped world-leading corporations deliver technologies and life-changing advancements that connect people, communities, and businesses across the globe. Mercury has reached many significant milestones in its transformational journey. What started with two men, founders Frank O’Kane and Joe Morgan, has now grown into a pan-European company with a diverse workforce of over 4,500 people, spanning 50 nationalities and 16 countries.
As it continues to expand its workforce and diversify into increasingly complex technologies and industries, Mercury has taken the bold decision to embark on a comprehensive strategic review to ensure its future is underpinned by a clear purpose and values system that remains constant in a climate of rapid growth and development.
Someone who has helped steer Mercury through this exciting and challenging process has been its Chairman, Eric Wallace. Before his appointment to the Mercury Board, Eric enjoyed an immensely rewarding 27-year career with KPMG, both in London and Dublin. He became a partner in 1994, before taking on the role as Chairman of the KPMG Partnership in 2004. His tenure spanned 15 years until his retirement in 2020.
It was there that Eric first partnered with Mercury, acting in an advisory capacity for the Company through his role in KPMG. This was the start of a 30-year relationship, which has continued through his role as Non-Executive Director of the Mercury Board, and now, most recently, as Chairman. Eric is now two years in that role, but 30 years into knowing the Mercury culture and mindset.
“When I joined the Board, I already had huge admiration for Mercury,” Eric says. “I trusted them as a company and liked them as people. I felt I had a contribution to make to the future direction of the Company. When I was asked to take on the role as Chairman, I didn’t want to take a back seat. I could see that Mercury’s Beyond50 five-year strategy already had been largely achieved within a short three-year timeframe. I could see the business was on a rapid growth trajectory. We therefore needed to challenge ourselves again. Open ourselves up to scrutiny. Ensure that we don’t become complacent.”
“A short time into my tenure with Mercury, I visited a number of sites in Frankfurt,” Eric reflects. “This showed me the ‘real world’. A conversation arose around our values. Seeing the challenges of our people on the ground first-hand really showed that it wasn’t going to be an empty exercise. We have real values which capture who we are. In my career, I have seen so many anodyne sets of values, but I don’t think ours are. There’s genuine passion and conviction behind them. But as we grow, so do our responsibilities, and we need to make sure that our values are a solid base for our future, shared by the team and communicated widely and consistently.”
This prompted more intense discussion with the Senior team and the decision was made to commence a strategic evaluation that would ensure that Mercury’s purpose and values were firmly aligned with its future Business Strategy and growth ambitions.
“As you mature, evolve and push into new areas you need to question whether your strategy, purpose and values are still right and relevant,” Eric points out. “Our Semiconductor Division is a case in point. We built our reputation in this industry right here in Ireland. We are now breaking new ground in Germany. We’re making powerful strides, working in different territories with different cultures. However, we know that reputation can be lost in a moment. Our purpose and values need to be consistent and rock solid to ensure that we safeguard what we’ve worked so hard to build and maintain that same exemplary reputation wherever we go.”
A clear purpose
A company’s purpose is an organic, living entity. Just as the world’s needs are constantly shifting and changing, companies have a responsibility to evolve their purpose too, in order to remain focused and relevant in an increasingly challenging global climate.
“If a company doesn’t have a clear purpose and set of values, or is not true to them, it simply isn’t sustainable for the long-term future of the business,” Eric emphasises. “Companies lose touch with who they are, start hiring the wrong people, taking the wrong jobs. They start doing the wrong easy thing instead of the right hard thing.”
However, evolving a company’s purpose isn’t an easy task. It means re-evaluating every aspect of the organisation – its business strategy, operations, the people it employs, and the clients it serves. It’s a tough process, which relies on deep engagement, sharp scrutiny and, most importantly, the collective input from the executive team, the wider workforce, partners, and stakeholders.
“We had a purpose which we felt was mostly right,” Eric explains. “We had values that we thought were largely right. But we really needed to look closer at how we articulated them. We wanted them to be a true and complete reflection of who we were and what we stood for collectively. We wanted to ensure that they were future-proofed in the context of our revised strategic objectives.”
To achieve this, Mercury sought input from the wider team through a series of strategy workshops, industry benchmarking and culture & values surveys, reaching out to over 800 key staff members across the organisation. This was essential to ensuring an authentic shared purpose that Mercury could stand over for both its clients and its people.
“It’s not always an easy task to undertake – it may seem like ‘fluff’ to busy people driving towards demanding timelines,” Eric points out. However, he has the utmost respect and admiration for the team and what they achieved. “Many companies claim to have a purpose, but these are often merely a box-ticking exercise and of little value. We wanted to ensure that our purpose was authentic, credible, meaningful, and shared by all. Every single word was analysed and debated. We pushed ourselves to really understand the ‘why’ in terms of our reason for being. We tested our work with the wider team to ensure that it embodied the culture of our people and rang true across every single facet of the business. Ultimately, we wanted a purpose and set of values that captured us, and that we are proud to share with our clients, our partners and the next generation of talent who want to join us on our journey.
Communicating our Purpose and Values
Mercury also applied the same rigorous process to its charter. This declaration of intent brings the purpose and values to life through key behaviours and actions for everyone in the Mercury tribe. The charter is displayed on the walls of every single site, building and office that Mercury operates in. The Company is delivering face-to-face sessions and workshops across all regions to ensure that the purpose and values are further embedded into the Mercury culture through everyday roles and responsibilities. It is also incorporated into our project start-up procedure.
“Undertaking this process has allowed us to really clarify our purpose in the context of our clients,” Eric affirms. “We are enablers and we are very good at that. We shouldn’t lose sight of that. We make it possible for our clients to do incredible things which, in turn, have a positive impact on society. Safety underpins everything. That mindset runs through every individual, team, and rank right throughout the business. We stand over everything we say and do, commit to logic and always deliver certainty. This is now built into our DNA.”
“We also widened our purpose to explicitly embed our people in it. We give so many people the opportunity to use and grow their great talents, to become better. We offer fantastic opportunities for people who have the ambition and courage to pursue them. We encourage and back our people to realise their vision of themselves. It is completely consistent with what we do for our clients. We are enablers for people with vision.”
“Our purpose is real – it lives, it’s evolving. It captures the genuine value of who we are and what we do.”
An evolving purpose based on a solid foundation
When asked what makes Mercury’s purpose authentic, Eric is very clear. “Our purpose is real – it lives, it’s evolving. It captures the genuine value of who we are and what we do. Our clients are seeking to do incredible things. We help them do those things quicker and better. We don’t make microchips and store data, but we are part of the magic that enables our clients to be the change makers. We are a serious part of it, but we are not overclaiming, and that’s critical. It’s this balance that allows us to build genuine relationships that thrive.”
“When you move into completely new territories a genuine purpose gives you a compass and a starting point. I remember when the financial markets fell apart in 2009, KPMG was fortunate to have a Managing Partner who had a firm belief in the quality of its people and what the company stood for. We went back to basics, but those core values were the solid foundation that helped us navigate through an incredibly turbulent landscape. In the same way, my role is to support Mercury in securing the future of its business in a safe and measured way. Our Purpose is a fundamental part of that. It’s our North Star. We must continuously ensure that everyone is moving together collectively.”
Placing people at the heart of it
Eric has been particularly struck by the culture that flows through Mercury’s veins. “The one word I would use is ‘Heart’. The supportiveness, the courtesy to look out for one another. People really do that. Minding each other, minding the team. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that Irish people have a great natural ability to pull people and teams together towards a common goal. We’re not Teutonic, instead, we are a great glue. The Irish inclination is to look for the shared objective and seek to solve the problems to achieve it. But there’s great camaraderie too. A mutual respect and genuine friendship that underpins it all.”
This is a quality that Eric wants to maintain and build into the culture of Mercury as it grows. “I have met so many highly talented people from many different nationalities across our sites. Brilliant professionals that we’ve given an opportunity to, and in return, they’ve given us their amazing skills. We pride ourselves in our Irishness, but we are international. So at the end of the day, it’s really the Mercury culture that defines us, not where we come from.”
What does the future hold for Mercury? “The team has such a sharp focus on the next challenge. The fact that they are coming to those challenges with great strengths, but also the knowledge that there are always areas for improvement, shows just how driven they are.
“I see people who want to do more. They are so driven. When you engage with the team, and you see that inner spark and hunger – it’s infectious. When you have really, really good people who are supportive of each other, working together, wanting to learn, wanting to deliver for their clients – that’s purpose in action.”
Your Vision, Our Duty
We deliver our clients’ vision through leading-edge construction solutions. Our commitment to the client puts them at the centre of everything and positions Mercury as a strategic partner.
We encourage and back our people to realise their vision of themselves. We place them at the heart of what we do, providing challenging opportunities to develop within a great team in a supportive environment that allows them to reach their full potential.
We go beyond the call of duty with a bold promise that Mercury will always deliver. This serious dedication turns clients into partners, people into teams, and builds relationships that thrive.
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