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Building the project management profession: celebrating 21 years of APM in Northern Ireland

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Mike Browne of the APM Northern Ireland branch committee is the Ulster University’s MSc Programme Director, and founding Chairman of APM's NI Branch. One of the MSc programme's first graduates, is chartered architect and Project Director, Jim Bannon who now heads up the $400 million Daytona Rising stadium project for International Speedway Corporation in Florida. Specify magazine interviewed the two men about how home-grown project management skills-set are in high demand across the globe. 

"The Association for Project Management (APM) has come a long way since we had our first branch meeting at Ulster University 21 years ago," explained Mike. "It is now the UK and Europe's leading professional body that provides leadership to the movement of committed organisations and individuals who share a passion for improving project outcomes. From our first committee meeting at the Jordanstown campus, the NI Branch has evolved into a thriving network of project management professionals from across a diverse range of sectors who enjoy regular opportunities to meet and share best practice both locally and with their peers in GB."

Many of the Masters Alumni who are members of APM have progressed on to varied and exciting careers such as Martin Hare, also a former Chairman of APM's NI Branch, and now Partner of McAdam Design, which has been appointed as part of the project team for Ulster University's new £250M Great Belfast Campus development, one of the most significant construction projects taking place in the province at present.

Jim Bannon is one of Mike's first graduates. Originally from Belfast, he is now Project Director for Daytona Rising - the $400M, 100,000+ seat stadium re-development project at Daytona International Speedway (DIS) in Florida whose parent company, International Speedway Corporation, is a leading player in US motorsports, promoting more than 100 racing events annually. The company owns and/or operates 13 major motorsports entertainment facilities, including Daytona International Speedway. We caught up with Jim in Belfast, on his way back to the Florida from speaking at a Stadium Design and Development Summit in Madrid about his work.

Jim attributes his project management success in the United States to his formative years as a practising Chartered Architect in Belfast with Mc Adam Design and DSA Architects, his link with APM, his continual professional development and the learning experience gained on the Masters Course.

Jim explained he moved to the States in the early '90's for a one-year teaching post on the Masters in Architecture Degree course at the Savannah College of Art & Design. He got his green card and decided to stay. "There is no doubt that the Masters opened doors for me in both project management and teaching at tertiary level. Both the experience and the award itself has acted as a catalyst for developing my career."
He combined teaching with consultancy in Savannah Georgia. He gained experience on a range of new capital, refurbishment and renovation projects within the educational, sports and ecclesiastical sectors.  

Since then Jim has been responsible for the complete financial and managerial oversight of complex capital construction programmes, the procurement of architectural & engineering professional services and construction management services. Inclusive of his current work load, he has had oversight of circa $1.4B design and construction projects since 1999. The Daytona project is his single, biggest undertaking to date including oversight of the design and construction process.

The transition from Belfast to working in the United States wasn't without its challenges though. Grappling with a whole new set of construction terms was tough at the beginning. "For example, a 'snag list' is known as a 'punch list' in the States," explains Jim. As well as differences in terminologies and the 12-hour working day, there is also the weather to contend with. "Dealing with huge deluges of rain is a particular challenge in Florida and the vapour barrier is in a completely different location in the wall assembly."

MSc students and graduates benefit from its alumni network. Jim has part hosted a very successful study tour to the United States. Both men agree that there are significant benefits from investigating international approaches to delivering projects and would encourage anyone wanting to progress their career in project management to gain overseas experience. Jim also gained significant insights when he joined the group when visiting the project managers both in Universal Studios and in NASA.

Whilst the Masters course is construction related, Mike points out that alumni have progressed careers in different sectors of project management such as nuclear, oil and gas, ICT, aerospace, transportation, disaster relief and management consultancy. "Like Jim, graduates have been able to develop their careers in project management across the globe from mainland Europe, the Middle and Far East, Australia and New Zealand and North and South America. This reinforces the fact that project management skills are totally transferable both between disciplines and geographical locations," explains Mike.

But whilst a career in project management can appeal to such globetrotters, Jim who has now been working in the States for 20 years, still considers Northern Ireland 'home' and looks forward to swapping Florida orange juice and sunshine for "an Ulster Fry and a brisk walk by the Lagan on a cold, winter's day!"


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