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Innovation Excellence Awards 2023

IRL Group–  Vitalizing Irish culture in Vancouver by creating spaces, networks and employment opportunities.

IRL Group– Vitalizing Irish culture in Vancouver by creating spaces, networks and employment opportunities.

IRL Group is a Vancouver-based corporate group with businesses, partnerships, and management expertise in the construction and hospitality industries. IRL Group and its co-founders, Laura and William Donnellan, have always had the primary goal of putting people first, and the firm continues to reflect that in the warm, inviting, and simply fun entities that it has established and will continue to establish. IRL stands for integrity, reliability, and loyalty—values that beat at the heart of everything this entrepreneurial couple offers.

William Donnellan, Principal CEO of IRL Group, spoke exclusively to CIO Bulletin about how he and his team are bringing back the old charm of Irish bars and are attracting a loyal and happy clientele.

The Flashback: Rise of the IRL Group

William moved to Canada with his wife Laura fourteen years ago, looking for better construction opportunities. He started out working as a carpenter for a Vancouver based company and noticed that temporary workers did not help the labor shortage. He was exacerbated by how many      workers would show up without the right tools or the right PPE, and he saw firsthand how this negatively affected projects and their ability to complete jobs on budget and on time. Laura was working as a talent acquisition specialist for Bell Mobility. It was a combination of these concerns and the pairs’ skillset that led to the creation of IRL Construction.

“IRL Construction was founded in 2011, starting with Laura, one other employee and myself. Within one year, there were five of us, which quickly grew to 15, then 50. We had over 100 full-time employees on our team after just 5 years. This substantial growth was due to the huge demand for our unique construction and skilled labor services. Our workers are supplied with vehicles and top-of-the-line Hilti power tools. In 2016, we acquired Donnellan’s on Granville Street. That was our first pub in Vancouver, and now we have five very successful locations and over 150 incredible people on our team,” said William Donnellan.

Carrying forward the legacy

“I have always been involved in construction and hospitality, starting at a young age. Both sides of my family were involved in construction and contracting, while my Mum’s side was well known for their work in hospitality. My grandfather, Thomas Smith, had pubs in Dublin City, and his son (my uncle), Michael Smith, did the same. Michael was a very famous and successful barman back home, and he actually came over to Vancouver to open Smith’s of Gastown with us last year. He has All-Ireland Medals for pulling pints of Guinness.”

A family-like culture with a solid community presence

“We have a small business mentality and our team are like family. Every person is as important as the next. We try to make sure that all our teams and customers are given the best possible experience. We provide regular training for our management, and we ask in return that they treat their team the way they would like them to treat their customers. We always try to practice positivity, service with a smile, and a drive to be better. We have a significant advantage because we are the only Irish pub group in British Columbia that has run pubs in both Ireland and Canada. With this knowledge, a good selection of drinks and hearty pub food, this allows us to bring the true Irish experience to our friends here in Vancouver.”

Operations are different here

“The background systems, mechanics, and operations of the pub business in BC are very different to back in Ireland. For example, here we often experience serious supply chain issues, with products coming in from Ireland. Something I took for granted back home in Galway. Here, we purchase through BC Liquor and things are more regulated. It is very different in Ireland. This took us a while to wrap our heads around. With IRLC, there were different codes, terminology, and methods to get used to. Our key is training our employees; we provide training regularly, and we’re always on the lookout for new tools and equipment to make us better and more efficient. Also, reducing our carbon footprint is something that is extremely important to us. We currently have a fleet of electric vehicles, and at the moment we’re looking to introduce      EV pickup trucks to our fleet.”

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Giving Back to the Community

IRL takes part in many local community events each year. We enjoy bringing people together for a drink and some music while also supporting some amazing charitable causes. “In 2021, I did the Vancouver Sleep Out; we have participated in charity rides and fundraising events for the Pacific Riding for Developing Abilities group; and we also give back to the likes of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, Peita House, BC Children’s Hospital, and more. We sponsor a number of sports teams throughout Vancouver and were delighted to be involved with Vancouver Queer Irish for their Pride Parade last year. We also host regular private and community events. Philanthropy and giving back is very important to us at IRL Group.”

Real Estate & Property

“Real estate is something that we’re passionate about and that we plan to acquire more of going forward. We have a number of properties here in Canada and in Ireland and we hope to grow our portfolio in the future.”  

William Donnellan, Principal CEO of IRL Group, in his own words

Our entire team work tirelessly to ensure the success of IRL Group. Honorable mention must go to our Executive Committee for keeping things, and me, on track.

Laura Donnellan, Co-Founder & HR Business Partner

Laura brings not only a strong background in HR, but also an exceptional eye for design to IRL Group. She played a vital role in the design of the 5 hospitality locations and is integral to the day-to-day operations of the company. Her tireless contributions both in and out of the office have been instrumental to the success of the company over the past decade.

Aaron Lacey, Director of Operations

Aaron joined IRL Construction as HR Coordinator in 2020 and was promoted to Director of Operations in 2022 due to his dedication and excellent work ethic. He works closely with all IRL Group divisions to drive business success and is known for developing strong relationships with his colleagues, clients, and partners.

Mike Roche, Vice President of Construction

Mike brings over 17 years of experience in the construction industry to IRL, offering a highly sought-after skill set. His unwavering commitment to providing quality service and his ability to embrace challenges make him a strong leader for our teams.     

Brian Donnellan, Management & Organizational Analyst

Brian is a highly experienced and committed accountant with over 20 years of experience in finance and business development. He has a strong track record of delivering successful projects and building relationships while maintaining a focus on technical expertise and quality.

Jen Rafer, Senior Bookkeeper

Jen has extensive experience in accounting, boasting a 15-year career in the field. For the past two years, she has served as the leader of the finance department at IRL. She consistently strives for improvement and works tirelessly to drive the success of the IRL Group.

“We have a small business mentality and our team are like family. Every person is as important as the next. We try to make sure that all our teams and customers are given the best possible experience.”

“Our key is training our employees; we provide proper training regularly, and we’re always on the lookout for new tools and equipment to make us better and more efficient.”

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