‘You feel a part of the city. You get used to the earthquakes’

Wild Geese: After noticing a gap in the market for managed labour, Dave McSorley, now based in Christchurch, New Zealand, was soon employing 200 staff at Max Contracts

Dave McSorley: “I’d definitely like to take part of the business back home to Ireland, as well as to Australia”

Success in business requires dedication. For Dave McSorley (31), originally from Malahide, Co Dublin, that meant working at his construction labour hire company in New Zealand all day and then reading until late at night about the country's tax laws and other business information.

As with so many other Irish people who moved abroad, McSorley’s story starts with the recession.

“I’d lost my job at the age of 21. I was in my last year of an apprenticeship and all the senior guys were laid off and my apprenticeship was put on hold,” he says.

He finished his training with Fás and left Ireland in January 2009.


“Once I’d finished my final phase, I booked a flight to Australia, where I had a couple of friends,” he says. “I worked in Brisbane for two years as a residential carpenter.”

But things didn’t quite work out in Australia and McSorley looked into moving to Canada. However, he would have had to move back to Ireland to apply for a Canadian visa, so he went to New Zealand instead.

The September 2010 earthquake had recently hit Christchurch, and his plan was to work on the reconstruction of the city. But his first port of call was Auckland, because he could not ship his tools to Christchurch.

“I got a job as a labourer and worked my way up to management,” he says. “Then I got offered more money to work on the railways around New Zealand, and worked my way up to being a foreman. In dealing with a lot of labour agencies, I noticed there was a gap in the market for a managed labour team, and set about setting up our own company.”

McSorley's company, Max Contracts, got a six-month contract in the South Island town of Invercargill.

“We implemented our systems on this job, with great success, and got some traction,” he says. “Once that contract ended, we moved back to Christchurch and focused on the sales and marketing aspect of the company, knocking on doors. At the time I was still on site, managing jobs, but within a year, as the office grew and we took on more people, I stepped back to look after branding the business: sales, marketing and strategy.

“We grew quite organically to about 200 staff. We pulled the reins in a little at that point to manage what we had, and now we’re looking to take the next step. We’ve established three offices in New Zealand. Our head office is in Christchurch and we’ve also got offices in Auckland and Wellington.”

Natural disasters

There is, of course, an emotional aspect to working in a place where natural disasters are a constant concern. After the September 2010 earthquake and aftershocks, the earthquake on February 22nd, 2011, caused widespread damage in Christchurch and killed 185 people.

“It’s a great reward seeing the community come back to life after the devastating earthquakes,” McSorley says. “Everyone feels the same, having worked here for a few years. You feel a part of the city. You get used to the earthquakes. New Zealand sits on the Ring of Fire arc of seismic faults, and earthquakes are common, but at the end of the day the work still needs to go on.”

Further earthquakes last month have again increased the need for foreign workers in New Zealand.

“There is a skills shortage here and the country needs more workers,” McSorley says. Max Contracts is looking to Ireland, Europe and the United States to fill some of those vacant positions. “We’re looking to attract people over here and give them opportunities.”

Though he was very young when he left Dublin, McSorley has noted differences between the business culture of Ireland and that of New Zealand.

“One thing I noticed straight away is that, in both Australia and New Zealand, the larger companies have a minimum staff themselves and they outsource a lot of their labour needs to recruitment companies,” he says. “In Ireland, companies employ a lot of their own staff, but on this side of the world they outsource everything.

“From our structure, we noticed that you could have a busy job and then it would drop off, so we started to get into contracting with our own workers. That way, if there is ever a shortfall, we move our guys around to different companies.

“We have established five companies all doing their own thing, but all working towards a common goal.”

With his entrepreneurial zeal, McSorley has expansion on his mind.

“I miss my friends and family from home, of course, but as your business grows the people that are around you are like a family also. We’re all in it together at this stage, and just trying to push on. I’d definitely like to take part of the business back home to Ireland, as well as to Australia.

“That’s the plan, to take the business national in New Zealand, then to Australia and potentially to Europe to have an office, either to help with recruitment or to set up the same sort of business model back home.”