Mercury stalwart Frank Matthews was a deserving recipient of the prestigious Industry Contribution Award at the 2018 Irish Construction Excellence Awards ceremony in The Mansion House, Dublin on Friday night, March 23rd. Building Ireland caught up with the popular Meath man, who has given over half a century of service to the construction industry.
Since 1979, Frank Matthews has been a key part of the team at Mercury Engineering – the industry-leading multi-disciplinary engineering contractor with a strong presence not just in Ireland but throughout Europe. Frank has been instrumental in the success the company enjoyed over the past four decades, helping navigate Mercury through both calm and choppy waters.
During this time, Frank has become extremely well-known across the construction industry, developing many friendships and strong business associations along the way. It would have been impossible to find a more deserving recipient of the 2018 Industry Contribution Award and the tremendous speech delivered as Frank accepted this major accolade in front of a roomful of his peers on the penultimate Friday of March typified the man: not just a significant contributor to the engineering and construction sectors but also a great character.
“When I was asked, I said they could put my name forward for the award no problem,” Frank recalls. “Then when the guy came back and said I’d won it, I was taken aback. When I walked into the room in The Mansion House and saw the size of the room and how it was filling up, I was gobsmacked.
“I thought there might be around 150 people there, but there were over 550, including a lot of people I know in the industry but hadn’t seen for years. It was nice to get the award and it was a night to remember.”
Born in Balscadden County Dublin, Frank moved with the family to Gormanston, County Meath when he was just six years old and has lived there ever since. Part of a family of nine, he and his brothers Jimmy and Thomas followed their father – who worked in the construction business as a building foreman – into the construction trade.
He served his apprenticeship with Electric from 1965 until 1970 and subsequently worked with Pearl throughout the ‘seventies. Frank started his career with Mercury in 1979, working on the Data Products Building project in Coolock with Jimmy Keane as his Contracts Manager.
The 1980s saw Frank working on a diverse range of projects and rising from Foreman to Supervisor and then Project Manager. These projects included Trilogy and Hyster Ireland, both in Blanchardstown; I.D.A. Head Office, Wilton Place; The Esso, Irish Shell and Conoco Terminals in Dublin Docks; The National Art Gallery; Ulster Bank; Dunnes Stores, Tallaght Town Centre, Drogheda Town Centre; and UCD School of Engineering, Belfield.
A long and fruitful relationship with Intel – which would see him granted the Heroes & Legends Award by Intel management – commenced in 1989 when Frank was appointed Project Manager on the Office & Plant Room extension at Intel’s campus in Leixlip, County Kildare. He would subsequently build up a team of more than 800 working on Intel projects, with Health & Safety, Training and Project Delivery to the fore, in the process generating major revenues for Mercury. Over the years, programmes were professionally and efficiently delivered not just for Intel but also for the likes of Coca Cola, Daifuku, Xerox, and DPT to namedrop just a handful.
Having worked on Intel for 15 years, Frank was appointed Mercury’s Electrical Director in 2004. Three years later, his good friend, Mercury co-founder Frank O’Kane passed away – a massive personal blow as well as a huge setback for Mercury and the industry as a whole. Then the economic downturn hit, almost paralysing the construction sector.
But Mercury was in a strong position as they had secured major projects at home including Spencer Dock, The National Conference Centre, Aviva Stadium, T2 and Enniskillen Hospital as well as 3 Data Centres in the UK. They also expanded into Europe around this time, taking on projects in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Austria.
Today, Frank’s role in Mercury is that of a non-executive director. “I have a mentoring role with the new management team following the restructuring of the business in 2017,” he reveals. “I’m also involved in business development with both current and new clients as well as closing out some legacy projects from four or five years ago. But my brief is predominantly using my experience to mentor the new management team.”
One of the recent transitions within Mercury is that the business is now sector-driven and Frank’s vast knowledge and expertise are priceless in terms of providing guidance. He still enjoys the work immensely…
“I’ve always enjoyed my work and had no problem getting up at 5am on a Monday morning. I looked forward to it. I’m not at the coalface anymore, where you had the cut and thrust of winning jobs and getting them over the line and trying to earn a few bob at the same time. It’s very hard to walk away from that.
“As I said on the night of the awards, Mercury have been good to me. I enjoyed working hard and being honest and upfront with both my own people and clients. I always said what I thought. If you tell the truth, you can’t be found out. If you treat people right, the expectation is that they will treat you right, although there might be the odd exception to that, obviously.
“I built a good team around me and a lot of people who were with me 39 years ago are still there today or have moved on to bigger and better things.”
When Frank Matthews joined Mercury in 1979, turnover was around €500,000. In 2017, it was over €600m. While clearly that wasn’t all down to him, he did play a part in the massive progress the company made during those four decades.
“A lot of our key people were able to work during the recession because our clients already had work,” he notes. “In 2008, when the downturn hit, we had to make a decision to either reduce our management staff to meet the current demand in the Irish sector or relocate some management and workforce to Europe and follow some of our key clients. We opted for this combined strategy as we had a lot of good people who were prepared to work in Europe. It was a major success … last year, 60% of our work came from outside Ireland and that figure was around 5% in 2008. We have a thriving business in Europe now and have grown that through a lot of hard work from a large number of people in Mercury.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my work, enjoyed the business and enjoyed delivering. The two original owners, Frank O’Kane (RIP) and Joe Morgan, who founded Mercury in 1972, were great people to work for. I have found it to be a good business with a lot of good people in it.
“The big challenge going forward is to retain the good people who are already there and to attract even more good people, particularly young people and more female personnel. Working in the construction industry is excellent long-term work and there are good opportunities of earning promotion. You can go from an apprentice to the top, but there is enormous competition for people now with the ‘war for talent’ from manufacturing and IT companies, who are competing for the same sort of people we want.”
Frank is quick to point out that he would never have been able to contribute so much to Mercury and the industry were it not for the support of his family: “I’ve been married to Jean since 1972 and we have twin girls, and a granddaughter. I was a workaholic and I would not have been able to work such long hours without their support and understanding. They made sacrifices but the reward is that we had – and still have – a good life.
“We came through three recessions and there was always work. The business kept going and I’ve been fortunate to have a very good career. I would encourage people to get involved in the business because there are definitely opportunities there for anybody who wants to work hard and have a successful career path.”
Like many things in life, you get back what you put in. Frank Matthews has put in an awful lot and continues to contribute handsomely.
Taken from Building Ireland Magazine, June 2018, Vol 4 No 5