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Wood’s new boss Ken Gilmartin feels like he’s ‘coming home’

Ken Gilmartin, who takes over as chief executive of Aberdeen-based Wood on July 1.
Ken Gilmartin, who takes over as chief executive of Aberdeen-based Wood on July 1.

Irish businessman Ken Gilmartin flew into Aberdeen to start house-hunting today after being unveiled as the next chief executive of Granite City-based Wood.

“I feel like I’m coming home,” he said, explaining the “smell of the sea” in the city to which he will soon relocate reminded him of his home town in the north of Ireland.

His latest visit to Aberdeen, where he will take over as Wood’s chief executive from Robin Watson on July 1, is his sixth since joining the multinational engineering and consulting business as chief operating officer last August.

The first thing I noticed about Aberdeen was that you can smell the sea.”

Mr Gilmartin, 50, has led a nomadic life since his days at University College, Dublin, where he studied civil engineering.

His career could have run a very different path following a stint as “frustrated goalkeeper” for League of Ireland premier division football club Sligo Rovers.

But his engineering degree instead took him to Germany and jobs with railway company Deutsche Bahn, Siemens and Uhde.

Sligo, in Ireland, was the starting point for Wood’s new chief executive.

He had spells working for the German firms in locations including the Middle East and Egypt before joining US-based engineering company Jacobs – initially in Ireland and later, as he worked his way up the management ranks, on America’s eastern seaboard.

The upcoming move to Aberdeen will see him relocate from Philadelphia, along with his Dublin-born wife, Karen, and their youngest daughter Aisling, 16.

Eldest daughter Ciara, 20, is currently at college in New York and middle child Aine, 18, is due to take up a university place in Sussex this autumn.

Mrs Gilmartin is “CEO of our household”, her husband said.

His is moving to Aberdeen from Philadelphia.

Mr Gilmartin said he was “absolutely thrilled” by his promotion to the top job at Wood, and also the chance to lead the company into a “new era”.

It is a company he knew well long before he joined the payroll as it would often beat Jacobs to major contracts, he added.

He said the phone call he received from Wood chairman Roy Franklin to tell him he’d got the CEO’s post, after the company searched internally and externally for the best candidate to replace Mr Watson, was “a very proud moment”.

Wood’s new boss aims to ‘maximise face time’

After taking time to “stop and breathe” in order to consider what is next for the company as it strives to recover from the pandemic, he plans to get out and about visiting its global operations and meeting as many of its people and clients as possible.

“I want to maximise face time,” he said, adding: “What is really fantastic about Wood is the depth of relationships with our people and clients. I want to continue to build these relationships.”

Mr Gilmartin also revealed the company is planning a “strategy refresh” after recently striking a deal to sell its built environment consulting business to Canada’s WSP Global  for about £1.5 billion.

Aberdeen will put Wood’s new boss and his family within easier reach of relatives in Ireland.

Sligo Rovers, in red, against Shamrock Rovers in Ireland’s SSE Airtricity League Premier Division.

Whether or not Mr Gilmartin develops a passion for the Dons after he settles down to his new life in the north-east remains to be seen.

But he will be keeping a close watch on the fortunes of Sligo Rovers, just as he done throughout his time in the US.

Asked about his early impressions of the Granite City, he said: “I grew up in Sligo, by the Atlantic. The first thing I noticed about Aberdeen was that you can smell the sea.

“It really does feel like I’m coming home.”


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