Learning from the future: The Hanley Energy Story
As Big Tech burst into Ireland in the 2000s, a homegrown Irish company saw an opportunity for global success. Here’s how Hanley Energy became the go-to partner for the world’s biggest data centre owners.
In 2009, Hanley Energy co-founders Dennis Nordon and Clive Gilmore, scanned the fast-evolving landscape in Ireland and saw that there would soon be an urgent need for managed service providers who could serve the critical power sector.
Today the business has grown from only three employees in Ireland to over 760 employees globally, with an additional 225 new hires in the northeast of Ireland in 2023.
The demand for Hanley Energy’s services has led to global growth, and the company now have 12 offices worldwide, including two HQs (Stamullen, Ireland and Virginia, USA), whilst serving customers and partners in 26 different markets.
Enter the largest Cloud Service Provider (CSP) in the world
The early focus for Hanley Energy was on providing Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) for customers, but the company’s trajectory and ambitions were about to experience a critical surge.
In 2012, the world’s largest CSP approached Dennis and Clive with the first of what would be many “impossible questions”. They wanted a solution that could help with load shedding and managing energy to prevent a critical power incident.
Dennis and Clive mocked up the concept and the new client was so impressed that, since 2014, their solution has been used in all of their new data centres around the world, as well as being retrofitted to existing ones.
How did a conversation Hanley Energy fundamentally change how the largest cloud service provider in the world operates globally?
Part of the secret is that Hanley Energy had the foresight to look beyond product alone. Their successful proposal also took care of creating training modules and providing operational support to assist in rolling out the solution globally.
In short, Hanley Energy didn’t just focus on what the customer needed now, but what they would need next.
Coming to America
“Everything we do is bespoke and we’re very proud of that,” explains John.
The Hanley Energy strategy is now about creating marketplaces and eco-systems predominantly for large Cloud Service Providers and the large hyperscale co-location clients that need to do business with each other on a daily basis through connected environments.
From Powerlink asset monitoring software to bespoke switchgear and UPS backup modules, Hanley Energy “develop brand new products for customers from cradle to grave,” according to John, “and we’ve done it 18 times in the last five years.”
Not surprisingly, success has spurred even bigger ambitions.
In 2017, Hanley Energy opened a US headquarters to establish a presence in Ashburn, Virginia.
“We wanted to be where the data centre business is and our HQ sits right in the heart of “Data Center Alley”, one of the most affluent parts of North America,” says John.
Regional offices in Ohio, Oregon and San Francisco have followed and the US operation now employs more than 300 people.
Yet rapid expansion has not come at the cost of focus.
How Hanley stays on task
Today, Hanley Energy provides professional strategic services for three key verticals:
- Data Centres and Cloud Service Providers (CSP)
- Industrial manufacturing
- Critical Power and Intensive energy users
Most companies just build the product, but Hanley Energy partners on the project “from start to finish”, according to John. The process usually takes around 18 months. “We do full lifecycle management from design, R&D, build, commission, lifecycle, maintenance and preventive maintenance.”
“A customer comes to us with a specific business need. We’ll either take it, give consultancy and hand it over to them, or build a prototype and get it tested for the EU and US, so that the customer will go into production”.
Increasingly, customers are not simply searching for a product. They’re looking for R&D or Project Management as a service. That trend is one that resonates with Hanley Energy’s own direction.
“We’re seen as an extension of the customer’s R&D department,” he says. “They may want to develop a product or service that we may not even manufacture, but we’ll take care of all the testing and accreditations (Hanley Energy operates one of the only temperature testing lab tests in Ireland), and can still deliver a bespoke product whose IP is owned by the customer.”
Once the product is in place, the Hanley Energy team support with “the overlay on top that allows the customer to measure, maintain and monitor performance through critical data analysis. That allows them to manage their own critical power infrastructure and sell their own proposition to their clients.”
Not only does this full end-to-end support establish Hanley Energy as something of an outlier in the sector, but the team also tests every single product that leaves its factories. “Around 95% of companies batch test their products,” says John. “We don’t. It might be a huge cost, but it’s a non-negotiable for us. You’re dealing with electricity and energy. It’s got to be right and we do not let our customers down.”
From a product to a philosophy
“We’re customer obsessed,” says John, “and we don’t overpromise. In fact, we’d rather walk away from business than let a customer down.”
That’s not a top-down manifesto, either. Hanley Energy cultivates a “One team, one dream” culture. When it comes to hierarchy, we’re as flat as a pancake.”
That shared sense of purpose is not restricted to success. “When there’s a problem, we don’t stand around and point the finger,” says John. The solution is allowed to come from anywhere within the company.
Proud partners to local communities
The face Hanley Energy shows its multinational customers is the same one it portrays in the local community too. After all, the ethos is still a family business despite international success. Instead of being confined to an out-of-town business park, the company EMEA HQ in Stamullen, Ireland serves as a catalyst for activity in the local town, supporting its sporting successes and cultural activity. The team also present regularly in local technical colleges and schools to nurture the next generation of talent.
That focus on the future applies to the company’s sponsorship strategy too with Hanley Energy putting its support behind up-and-coming and underserved causes. In recent years, the company has been an official sponsor or the Irish Women’s Cricket Team, RL Sailing, and Dundalk FC Academy in Ireland, and the SCYA Bulldogs in Maryland, USA to name a few.
Where next for Hanley Energy?
The outlook for the next few years remains healthy — the data centre industry in Ireland is expected to register a CAGR of 14% to 2030 — but complacency has never had a place at Hanley Energy.
Supply chain issues, for example are a challenge that needs to be addressed. “We’ve invested in a number of new manufacturing facilities to maintain the level of service we’ve built our reputation on,” says John. “We’re building diversity into our supply chain to mitigate risk. We’ll dual source components so that if a client runs out of their existing one, there’s a back up to the same spec and it’s all signed off for use.”
In 2023, Paul O’Donnell joined Hanley Energy as Global Head of Procurement, to spearhead that supply chain resilience. On top of an M.Sc in Logistics and Supply Chain Management from the Cranfield School of Management, O’Donnell brings over 30 years of experience in managing complex high-volume supply chain operations.
Securing a steady stream of talent is also an ongoing challenge. “We’re in a male dominated industry, so we’re investing heavily in female talent and leadership,” says John. But the company is also searching now for technical experts in areas where it doesn’t yet deliver. “We’re not waiting for the wave to hit us,” John explains. “We’re signing off new roles every week and getting in early on recruiting.”
Luckily, Hanley Energy has established a strong reputation for having leading subject matter experts within the data centre sector, so employee churn is low.
Staying ahead of the tech curve
The obsession with predictive rather than preventive maintenance applies to not just talent but also to testing.
“We’ve invested heavily in hardware and software management to get the product data that can drive business efficiency and train for critical incident response,” says John.
That level of agile thinking also came into effect during the pandemic, when the team used Virtual Reality glasses to conduct remote site visits for customers in Singapore, allowing them to overcome the physical challenges and talk the client through what was in front of them step by step.
Celebrating a “not-so-secret” success
“Through focusing on the three R’s of Resources, Resourcefulness, and Results, we’re striving to become a €500m business in the next few years,” says John.
Of course, that means pivoting to new products and services as required. “We’ll see a lot more investment in hydro and wind power, as well as data centres putting excess back into the grid,” John predicts. But already the team see that challenge as an opportunity to help data centres self-deliver with their own power sources and maximise efficiency through data.
As one customer recently said to John, “You’re the best kept secret in the business.”