Team builder: Flan McNamara talks to Building

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Flan McNamara found himself overseeing the creation of the capital’s tallest tower. But it’s all down to the team, not him

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Before he was the man who built the Shard, Flan McNamara hailed from a town of fewer people than the iconic building can hold. He was born in a place called Kilrush in County Clare, Ireland, that is home to 3,000 people. His parents were shopkeepers. “They ran a sweet shop and a fish and chip shop,” he recalls, adding jokily: “They were definitely into shops.”

At the age of 11, McNamara and his family left those seaside vistas for the north of London, due to a lack of opportunity and an ageing community on the west coast of Ireland. “For anyone young, London was the place to be,” he says. The move launched twin passions, for Arsenal Football Club and for construction. “I’ve lived within a mile’s distance of Arsenal for the last 40 years,” he says. 

The source of McNamara’s early interest in construction was his uncle Dessie, with whom the family stayed in north London when they first moved to the UK. Dessie was a ganger for Higgs & Hill, and McNamara’s weekends usually involved visiting sites with his uncle. Soon he was smitten, and went on to train as an engineer. He says of the industry: “I have done nothing else. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I love design, and the design end of construction was something I would have always wanted to pursue,” he says.

For a man who lives in and loves the north of London, and who built the city’s tallest tower, McNamara’s latest venture entails him looking beyond the capital more than ever before. Last December he left Shard creator Sellar to join start-up developer Vanguard Real Estate, a move that McNamara, who is 60 years old, concedes may look back-to-front to many. “It’s probably a bit unusual to do this towards the end of your career rather than at the start, but I am loving the opportunity to work on multiple projects at once across different cities,” he says. “It’s completely refreshing, which is why I’ve chosen to do this now.” 

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