When William and Laura Donnellan ventured to Vancouver from the West of Ireland in 2009, they could never have imagined the success that would follow. After working tirelessly for many years, the husband-and-wife duo now run IRL Group, which includes multiple companies across Canada and over 150 employees. IRL Group started in 2011 when William noticed the opportunity to bridge a gap in the market that had persisted for years. While working in a management position for a concrete contractor, William encountered issues involving securing and maintaining a consistent supply of labor in Vancouver. As is often the case in construction, a helping hand is sometimes needed, and subcontracting is very much the norm. However, the outsourcing of labor comes with an element of risk. Invariably, workers would arrive on site without tools or PPE. In some cases, workers would not show up at all.
Recognizing this flaw and seeking to find a better solution is what led to the setup of IRL, where the goal was for a different caliber of workers to be provided. IRL supplied its workers with PPE, training, company vehicles and even helped source personal tools. While skilled labor hire may have been the spark that ignited IRL, the company has developed enormously, building a wide array of services. IRL offers total construction services including renovations, tenant improvements, formwork, rebar, concrete, carpentry, construction management and more. As William would say, there is not too much that IRL cannot do. With contracts typically ranging from $5,000 to $5 million, IRL has worked on numerous noteworthy projects.
“In 2012, we completed a project up in Dawson City (Dawson City Water Treatment Plant) basically as far north as you can go. It was for a group called Corix Utilities. They asked me to go and manage the job for 3 months. That ended up being almost a year, and it was phenomenal. A small village with about 800 people, 24 hours darkness in the wintertime and 24 hours daylight in the summertime.”
As William explains, the variety of skill within the company has led to a growing list of successful projects. “We worked on another project in Vancouver, the Seaforth Armory. A military base close to our head office here in South False Creek. We were there for about three years doing a seismic upgrade and a new build. We also worked on the Haida Gwaii Health Centre, which is up in Northern BC. I remember Prince William came in for the official opening on that project. Another successful job was the Kitsilano Elementary School, which is also close to us here in Vancouver. There are many, I could keep going on and on”.
Another area that IRL Group has delved into, and succeeded in, is the hospitality industry. Building 10 bars in eight years, holding onto, and operating 5 still today. This enormous expansion is a long way from where it began back in 2011. In fact, as the success of these bars continues, IRL Group is developing franchise plans to expand across Canada in the near future. This move will further develop its portfolio and is a venture that the group is incredibly excited about.
In addition to this, IRL Group has recently launched Vanway Properties, the group’s new development company. Vanway was setup with the intention of building more affordable homes for the people of Vancouver. This is something that, for William, is a vital component of the work IRL Group does. While construction and contracting are successful elements, there are countless endeavors that allow the organization to work with its local community. At IRL Group, success is not merely a financial consideration. The group has won multiple awards for the positive impact it has had on the local community, including multiple awards from the BC Small Business Association. Over the last 10 years the organization has also sponsored a massive number of local sports teams and continues to be involved with these clubs.
“Throughout everything that IRL Group does, there is one common thread connecting it all: passion.”
Recently, IRL Group ran the Irish Fusion Festival in its local community. This unique family friendly music festival included activities such as pony rides, dunk tanks, hurling and football exhibitions, Irish dancing, Scottish dancing, and more.
In addition to this, William sits on boards such as Pacific Riding For Developing Abilities (PRDA), which is a not-for-profit therapeutic horseback riding facility in Langley, BC, that provides opportunities for persons of all ages with physical abilities. Evidently, giving back to the local community is something that is important at IRL Group. Not only does it keep William and Laura grateful, but it reminds William of something his mother always told him growing up: ‘It costs nothing to be kind’.
This link to their homeland is an intrinsic aspect of IRL Group. For William and Laura, it is important that they always remember where they came from. The couple are extremely proud of their Irish roots, so much so that it forms a huge part of their company’s brand identity. As William explains, IRL Group is not just a corporate chain, it is a haven for people who are looking to connect. “My wife came up with a brilliant idea recently. She saw lots of people online during COVID saying that they were lonely, anxious, and fearful. We started a networking event to support people in this regard, ‘New and not so new in Vancouver’. It not just for people that have recently come to Vancouver, but also for those who have been here for years, or people who grew up here. It absolutely exploded, and now we run it monthly in Donnellan’s Irish pub on Granville Street. It’s like speed dating. We set up about 10 tables and every three minutes people move to the next table. Guests absolutely love it; it has been a huge success. I have to give full credit to my wife Laura for that.”
Throughout everything that IRL Group does, there is one common thread connecting it all: passion. The company has huge passion for its work, its employees, its community and even passion for those it has yet to meet. However, for William there is one thing he is truly passionate about. Promoting the construction industry and developing people’s interest in securing a career in construction is hugely important to him. Coming from a small village of 3000 people and a family of 10 kids, William was the one who did not go to university or get third level education. Instead, he joined the construction industry and went on to build an empire. For him, construction represents an opportunity that is unique to the industry. “I really promote the construction industry. I love the trades. I’m always trying to encourage people to join, even my own kids. We’ve got three little boys, one, three and six. I would be so proud if they said they wanted to be a digger driver, or they wanted to be a carpenter, or an electrician. I think there are endless opportunities in the construction industry and with the right attitude, the sky’s the limit.”
People often ask William if he could do it all over again would he opt for the trades rather than going to university; his answer is always the same… “Absolutely”.