Frank receiving his much-deserved Industry Contribution Award at the ICE Awards ceremony
It would be a rare person in Mercury who wouldn’t know of Frank Matthews and it’d be a rarer person yet who would have anything but good things to say about him. As he marks over 5 decades in the industry, many of them with Mercury to talk to the man himself and those that have worked with him about his career.
Frank was born in and raised in Balscadden Co. Dublin but moved just north of the county divide to Gormanston, Co Meath when he was 6 years old and has happily lived there ever since. He grew up in a family of 9 (which may sound shockingly large to some but it was small enough for Ireland back then!)
His father was a building foreman for the likes of Sisk and under his recommendation, Frank and 2 brothers (Jimmy & Thomas) followed him into the construction trade.
Frank served his apprenticeship with Pearl Electrical from 1965 to 70 (and before anyone starts to suggest he was a slow learner it’s worth pointing out that it was then 5 years long)
His First Day
A cold & frosty January morning sees a shivering young 1st year apprentice outside the Mullingar Nursing Home waiting to start his day onsite. His foreman approaches takes one look at him and bellows: “What the (expletive deleted) are you doing here?! You want to go off and become a bookies clerk or get a job in a bank. This is a mugs game!” Thankfully Frank didn’t pay any heed to his advice.
He continued working for Pearl for the remainder of the Seventies though they had subsequently been taken over by Matthew Hall who, when potential a gas field project in the west of Ireland didn’t pan out, proceeded to run down the business and Frank was tasked with closing out their remaining projects.
With young twins to feed in 1979, Frank was looking for work. Two interviews lined up on the same day. One at 3:00 pm with P. Lynch and another at 5:00 with Mercury. After a couple of hours talking with Joe Morgan, it was P Lynch that was the loser that day as Frank walked out of Joe’s office with two boxes of files, tender drawings and the order book for one of Mercury’s upcoming projects. And so his career with Mercury began 2 weeks later working on the Data Products Building project in Coolock with Jimmy Keane as his Contracts Manager.
The 80’s saw Frank working on a diverse range of projects and rising from Foreman to Supervisor up to Project Manager
Trilogy and Hyster Ireland, both in Blanchardstown ■ I.D.A. Head Office, Winton 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 ■ UCD School of Engineering, Belfield
This brings us up to 1989 when Mercury won their first project on the Intel Campus in Leixlip, Co. Kildare. And Frank was appointed PM on the Office & Plant Room extension.
“Though not initially seen as a major project as our knowledge of Intel grew it soon became apparent that this was a very significant client and that we needed to be part of the build team that would allow Mercury to grow and build a strong and successful relationship with them“
Accepting his “Heroes & Legends” award from Intel management
From small beginnings, it planted the seeds that would grow into a surprisingly fruitful and long-lived relationship. The next year Intel was to announce their first ever fabrication plant outside of the USA and Mercury won the FAB 10 Electrical Works package. Frank and his team then embarked on what could be considered the most important trip ever taken by Mercury visiting Intel Fabrication plants in the USA to learn how they did things “The Intel Way”.
With his trade mark honesty Frank recollects that “To be honest we hadn’t got a breeze about the chip business back then but we made sure that we learnt all we could from the American Engineering companies, such as IDC who had worked with Intel previously. And we learnt fast.”
The team of 7 who undertook this trip stayed together, growing to over 800, under Frank’s guidance for the next 3 Fab plants and related projects which generated revenues well in excess of €750 million for Mercury.
According to Frank “The biggest eye opener for us was the cycle of these projects. Build the plant—Work the plant for a few years and the Upgrade / Rebuild the plant. We knew then that these projects weren’t going to be your standard build them and then onto your next project type of deals. This was simply an opportunity not to be missed.”
“If you want to get on in this business, you have to be able to manage people, both up and down. You have to know how to get the right side of people to get the best out of them.”
“You have to respect people and treat them honestly, you have to fair and reasonable in your treatment of them and in return I would expect the very same back from the people I’m dealing with”
The Intel Boys! (L -R) Colm Burke, Declan Callan, Jim Butler, Frank and Joe Byrne
Working with Intel had a tremendous and positive impact on the culture of safety within the Irish Construction Industry and particularly with Mercury.
“Intel invested a lot in training & safety, which was quite a culture shock for the Irish Industry. But we saw this as an opportunity. Mercury embraced the safety culture ahead of the curve.”
Though these Fab projects were to dominate the next 15 years or so of Frank’s working life it wasn’t all Intel, Intel, Intel with Coca Cola, Daifuku, Xerox, and IBM just a few of the clients he cultivated relationships with during that period.
When asked to recollect his proudest achievement from his time working in Intel Frank states “Though it may sound a bit trite, the biggest point of pride for me was being able to deliver the programme for both the client & Mercury on every project. Key to everything in this business is people and to be able to build a large and diverse team with no major issues,
working with the client, contractors and specialist companies
Needless to say, the simple fact of the repeat work with this client is a testament to his project delivery. He adds “And we managed all this work without a single industrial dispute. For example getting the construction teams to work in clean rooms in ‘bunny suits’ without extra pay was unheard of in the Irish industry at the time.”
Quotes from his colleagues
“He’s his own breed.”
“In the Irish Construction Industry he is, quite simply, in a league of his own”
“When it comes to client meetings Frank’s presence would always get you an extra tick in the right box“
“Straight talking, direct and honest, he’s not one for the flashy ‘Hollywood’ style of presentation”
“Always calm & measured, I’ve never, in all my years working with him, ever heard him raise his voice
“Frank was central in developing the team, strategy and execution of the Intel projects and accordingly the company as it is today”
For better or worse he’s a Meath Supporter through and through
Frank was appointed Mercury’s Electrical Director in 2004 and he found moving from Intel to H.O. was a challenging transition with his focus initially on how to integrate the culture and lessons learnt from working in Intel for 15 years into the wider business. Mercury’s long-standing and industry leading culture of training, safety and quality is a testament to his success in this endeavour.
He always counted the two most influential people in his business life as the co-founders of Mercury, Joe Morgan & Frank O’Kane. Frank O’Kane’s passing in 2007 had a tremendous impact on him personally and, needless to say, the business itself.
Not long after this tragedy, the global construction industry was severely impacted by the economic downturn which many companies didn’t survive.
To those beginning their careers in the industry: “You can make a good career in this business. But you have to be prepared to wear many hats. It’s not for everyone, especially those looking for a 9 to 5 job. If you put the work in it’s a decent business. Put the effort in and you get the rewards out.”
“The training that apprentices get with Mercury is as good as anything globally and getting a trade can be your ticket to the world”
Thankfully as Frank recollects Mercury was in a good position going into the downturn with major projects for strong clients such as Spencer Dock, The National Conference Centre, Aviva Stadium, T2,
Enniskillen Hospital, 3 Data Centres in the UK. And so with the storm weathered Mercury has gone on to greater success in Ireland, the UK and across Central Europe with projects in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Austria.
Some more scenes from the ICE Awards 2018 presentation
Now, as Executive Director, Frank finds that his role in Mercury has taken on a new dynamic. The changes in the business over the past 12 months or so, moving from regional to sector focus, to Frank’s mind, are changes for the better. The thrust of Frank’s new role is to mentor the new management teams. To allow them to benefit from his knowledge & experience. He also see’s his role as passing on his legacy of business and client relationships.
Speaking of the Matthews legacy it lives on in Mercury in more ways than one with his daughter, Bronagh, fulfilling the role of Senior Training Officer as part of the Group HR team.
Though he still enjoys his work as much as ever his workload is quite as heavy as it once was Frank’s not quite as busy these days and finds himself merely working a 40 hour week!
That said this isn’t quite the end of an era, not by a long shot, or to quote the man himself “I’ve no plans to retire anytime soon”
Keep on keeping the faith, Frank!