A chance interview at ESB led to an international career in energy

Wild Geese: Catherine Hurley, Malta

There’s nothing electronic engineer Catherine Hurley enjoys more than a good chinwag about energy. Specifically, energy infrastructure projects and the bigger the better.

A former plant manager at the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric station in Co Clare, Hurley cut her teeth on largescale power with the ESB and, when she moved to Malta in 2014, her first job was as commercial director of ElectroGas Malta, a role that involved developing and overseeing the financing of the country’s first LNG-to-power facility.

The plant began commercial operations in 2017 and with the business successfully launched, Hurley began looking around for her next big assignment.

A year later she joined construction company Quad Central as chief executive with a remit to develop Malta’s first LEED commercial development in the central business district of Mriehel. LEED stands for leadership in energy and environmental design – the world’s most widely used green building rating system.

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“I took the company from start-up, to completion of all four towers and to the beginning of commercial operations at the first tower. We built over 44,000sq m of grade A office and retail space with a high level of sustainability. Building during a pandemic was challenging and required constant strategic review, perseverance and a pull-together company culture,” says Hurley, who adds that the development of very high-spec commercial property is still a new thing for Malta.

Malta is close to Ireland, they speak English, it has a great climate and it is a good sailing hub which is what initially drew us as my boyfriend, now my husband, is very much into sailing

In 2022 Hurley struck out on her own providing consultancy services to companies embarking on energy-related projects in renewables and liquid natural gas. AIS, an international company specialising in cutting-edge workspace design and construction, became one of her clients and she was subsequently offered a job with the company as head of global accounts.

“AIS has a presence in 25 countries worldwide as well as core design hubs in London, Amsterdam and Malta,” Hurley says. “My role is to lead a full spectrum of real estate services including design, workplace advisory, project management, refurbishment, fit-out and furniture. Our clients are based around the world so there’s quite a bit of travel involved with this job.”

While still at UCD, Hurley had her heart set on a career in software development. However, having seen the remarkable flair of some of those around her, she felt she couldn’t compete and turned her attention elsewhere.

She applied for a job with the ESB “for interview practice”, but as the selection process progressed she began to get a good feeling about working there and joined the company in 2005 as a gas trader.

In 2009, she moved to the Aghada power station as project manager. This was followed by a stint as asset manager at the Turlough Hill hydroelectricity station in Wicklow before Hurley was appointed plant manager at Ardnacrusha in 2011.

“The decision to relocate to Malta was a lifestyle choice,” Hurley explains. “Malta is close to Ireland, they speak English, it has a great climate and it is a good sailing hub which is what initially drew us as my boyfriend, now my husband, is very much into sailing.

“I admit that I moved with some trepidation,” Hurley adds. “I have always been very career-focused and I felt I might be limiting my prospects by moving to another small island. But in fact I got the chance to lead two really large and economically significant projects by just being there and having good experience.

“There was no blueprint for these projects, but because I came from a small island I understood the challenges and also intricacies of running a small isolated grid in a way European engineers would not.”

Hurley lives near Malta’s capital in a picturesque area known as the Three Cities which stands on one side of the Grand Harbour.

I’d say the main differences in business culture between the two islands is that Malta is very entrepreneurial and agile whereas Irish companies are stronger on structure and governance

“You’re constantly surrounded by history, ancient architecture and the mix of influences that have shaped Maltese life over many centuries so it’s a very rich and vibrant environment to live in. You’re also much more aware of African and the Middle East cultures when you’re living here,” Hurley says.

“Irish and Maltese people share a similar sense of humour. They ‘get’ us. We deliberately made local friends as we didn’t want to move just to become part of an ex-pat community.

“Malta is a very social place. There’s always something going on and all summer we are able to spend our weekends at anchor on our boat with friends. That’s very special,” says Hurley whose only real issue with Maltese life is the absence of a decent scone to go with the Kerrygold butter she can buy there.

“I’ve always been into sailing and kayaking and I used to love hiking and cycling in Ireland so I miss the greenery, the forests, Irish rivers and walking in the Wicklow and the Kerry mountains,” she says.

“I’d say the main differences in business culture between the two islands is that Malta is very entrepreneurial and agile whereas Irish companies are stronger on structure and governance.”

From a career perspective, Hurley says she is always interested in new challenges and, given her background, she is watching what’s happening in the burgeoning fields of sustainability and renewables with interest.

“Moving abroad really opened new doors for me,” she says. “I’ve built up an entirely new network and my mindset has shifted from being very Irish-focused to having an international awareness.

“I’ve had the chance to lead major power generation projects, run a commercial real estate development business and now I’m in commercial interior design and build contracting. So, there really hasn’t been a dull moment.”