The site leads of two companies expanding in Limerick talk about growth plans.
Located close to the Shannon estuary and about two hours’ drive by motorway from Ireland’s capital Dublin, the suitability of Limerick’s location as a base for multinationals who want to set up in Ireland can’t be disputed.
But Limerick is more than its proximity to Dublin. In its own right it is one of the largest and most populous cities in Ireland.
While Galway is known for medtech, and Dublin and Belfast are renowned for fintech and SaaS, Limerick has been busy carving out a niche of its own in Ireland’s business landscape.
“There’s a bustling can-do spirit here where innovation and R&D are nurtured and supported,” said Gert O’Rourke, manager of the Nexus Innovation Centre, a facility for the region’s entrepreneurs located at the University of Limerick campus.
“New companies are being established and growing successfully, creating high skilled jobs and bringing investment to the region – and international companies increasingly choose to have a presence in Limerick,” O’Rourke added.
Some of these multinationals like US semiconductor company Analog Devices have been in the region since the 1970s.
Others, such as FileCloud, Vitalograph, WP Engine and Legato Health Technologies are newer arrivals. All have one thing in common: they are actively growing their teams in Limerick.
WP Engine has been in Limerick since 2016, when it was given a temporary co-working space by Limerick City Council. It soon expanded at such a rate that it was taking up the entire co-working space. Back in 2016, WP Engine committed to hiring 100 staff for Limerick over a three-year period. As of very recently it had 120 staff working in Ireland. The company specialises in WordPress tech, providing managed WordPress hosting and e-commerce services to name a few.
Thanks to its rapid growth in Limerick, site lead Paul Ryan and the team decided it was “time to really set roots in Limerick and find our own space”.
Ryan added that the Limerick operation has grown from a very small staff of support and engineers to a “fully-fledged” branch with finance, HR and a growing e-commerce team that is focusing on R&D and what the future of e-commerce might look like.
By chance they nabbed their building on Henry Street the week before the lockdown hit. The announcement that they were moving to a new location coincided with a plan to recruit 20 more staff.
The company wanted its new office to have a tangible connection to the city which has watched its Irish team grow over the past few years. The new building on Henry Street – a former gym – now has employee lounges, meeting rooms, phone booths and a large collaboration space in the basement where the gym’s locker rooms used to be. Ryan joked that the building even “technically has a swimming pool”, but that’s been floored over now.
While WP Engine might not quite be up to embracing underwater working life (if there is such a thing) it has embraced hybrid working. Many of its staff are based all around the country. This is a relatively new, post-Covid development, according to Ryan.
He is adamant that the Henry Street office won’t be just another “opaque, obscure window” that people outside pass by, but “that you actually see the people inside and see the building, that you can see what we’re about”.
So what is WP Engine all about? What is it like working for the Texas-headquartered company? On Ryan’s first day working at the company at its headquarters in Austin, he was greeted with a hug by CEO Heather Brunner. He smiled recalling it.
It’s a leadership style he is aiming to replicate in Limerick. “You don’t really see office doors with names and titles. We’re not that kind of business. There’s a hierarchy for organisation but we manage it as if it was a flat organisation. Everybody is just part of one big team.”
He likes to see people smiling when they’re walking into the building, as this is not always the case for people coming into offices. “And even when you arrive, you arrive into kind of a fun environment. It’ s not your corporate reception area … there’s usually something quirky. For example, here in Limerick, we’ve got a moss wall and there’s almost like a coffee shop section right off reception. People walking by probably guess it’s a boutique hotel.”
Ryan is glad that the team didn’t go with their original plan to separate the engineers from the tech support team. He often hears engineers chatting with support staff about projects in the building’s common areas, which he thinks is definitely a positive development for everyone.
And WP Engine is not the only company expanding into Limerick. A newer arrival to the city, Legato Health Technologies is celebrating its first year in Limerick this November. The company is a subsidiary of US-based Elevance Health and it specialises in software for the insurance and assurance sectors.
Legato’s R&D hub has been up-and-running in Limerick’s Technology Park since late 2021, with the company announcing a series of recruitment drives last year and this year to build out its team there.
The most recent hiring announcement from Legato said the company aims to have 200 staff on its roster by summer 2023.
According to John Shaw, Legato Ireland’s country head, the company initially planned to have 60 employees in Ireland and now has 136.
When the company president visits Limerick to celebrate the one-year anniversary, he will meet the Irish staff at the office for some networking events. It will be a celebration of Legato’s workers and the products they work on, which Shaw said are ultimately about improving lives.
Like many companies now, Legato doesn’t mandate its workers to come into the office unless it’s a special occasion. Most of the time, workers can work remotely or in the office as they choose. Trust, optimism and purpose are all important values to Legato, said Shaw. He said he prefers to treat employees like the adults that they are.
“We talk about measuring outcomes rather than presenteeism. The results we are about: it’s software product delivery. That’s what it’s about. Not were you at your desk at 8.30 this morning,” he said.
“You assume that the people we’ve got are smart, professional and want to do a good day’s work. You start with that assumption and you behave as if that’s true, and then it flows from there.”
Given that Legato is a company that makes software designed to help insurance companies predict healthcare outcomes, is employee health also important to Legato?
Shaw said that all staff can benefit from Ibec’s wellbeing programme, which Legato is following. The programme involves things such as onsite shiatsu massage every Tuesday and guided meditation every Friday.
Most importantly, staff can finish early on a Friday. “Our work week finishes at 4pm on a Friday. You have to give permission to people to finish on a Friday or their mind races all weekend, right? We’re well aware of that need.”
Unlike WP Engine’s site lead Ryan, Shaw is not a native to Limerick having moved there from Leinster. But he has embraced all things Limerick. Legato is involved in community and sports outreach projects as well as an effort to repatriate the remains of Patrick Sarsfield, a famous figure in the city’s history.
As for Ryan, he acknowledged that he may be biased, being a Limerickman, but he believes WP Engine’s success in Ireland is down to its location and the local talent. “We found that we could find the people that were of a similar mindset to the WP Engine culture.
“I certainly go out there and advocate Limerick in Ireland as a location for business – even within our company – as much as anything else to keep those teams coming our direction.”
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