The EY Entrepreneur of the Year gala awards take place in Dublin on November 21. This year, six Northern Ireland-based entrepreneurs are listed among the 24 finalists. In the last of our profiles on the finalists, we chat to mac-group founder Paul McKenna

ARMAGH-born Paul McKenna founded mac-group in 2002 with a mission to construct, restore and re-purpose buildings, to exceed the expectations of clients, consultants and staff, and to question and improve upon all that has gone before.

Since then he has built his company from one employee to the ninth largest main contractor in Ireland with more than 200 employees across the UK and Ireland, multiple award wins and over £185 million turnover.

Mac-group has grown from a niche interior fit out contractor to a multinational construction partner – an organisation that offers traditional construction, volumetric modular, design and build – alongside an award-winning specialisation in commercial interiors.

With offices in Birmingham, Dublin, London, Manchester and Newry, the company has taken a steady approach to growth, not afraid to turn down opportunities that did not serve the commercial goals of the business, and always delivering a service that surpasses what is expected.

Mac-group teams build relationships with clients and professional teams based on mutual trust and flexibility – they are dynamic construction people.

With 132 new hires in the last year the team continues to grow, resulting in three brand new hubs in Dublin, Birmingham and Manchester.

The largest main contractor in Ireland, mac-group won fit out contractor of the year two years in a row, ranked 58th fastest growing company in the Sunday Times, 487th on the FT list and entered a volumetric modular JV that is in onsite in Manhattan building the tallest modular hotel in the world.

What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?

After 15 years working for other large multi-national construction companies and after being let down by them with unfulfilled promises, I decided “you know what, I can do this better”. I started with a clear purpose and the drive and ambition to match.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

There have been numerous industry awards, numerous stunning buildings completed but, creating a business that is renowned for its people, quality, delivery, style and brand gives me huge kudos, our staff are proud to be mac ambassadors, proud to wear our branded clothes and drive our uniquely branded vehicles. Working with mac becomes a way of life, a culture not a job.

What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?

Simple, when the worst recession in history hit our industry hit in 2007-10 we didn’t lay people off, (the only Irish construction company that didn’t) we cut our margins and overheads and followed our clients into Europe, we worked for Intel in Munich, Facebook in Hamburg, HP in Prague Abbvie in Holland and then built local networks in those cities to weather the storm. We actually grew through the recession and became leaner, fitter and stronger so were in great shape when the markets picked up. Our key staff appreciated our efforts and remain loyal to this day.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We provide Construction, Modular and Fit out services from our hubs in Birmingham, Manchester and London, which currently contributes to half our annual turnover. We work for Facebook and Intel in Germany, Abbvie in Holland, HP in Prague and further afield at the request of existing repeat international clients. Our Modular offering will bring us further afield and our JV with Skystone currently sees us involved in projects in New York, San Francisco and San Diego.

How will your market look in three years and where would you like your business to be?

Innovation, culture and technology will shape our marketplace, our business and our competitive edge. Clients of today operate using tomorrow’s technology, we innovate daily, we seek ways of working smarter not longer.

What are the big disruptive forces in your industry?

The availability of skilled labour, the availability of credit for both commercial and residential buildings; climate change because we must continually seek ways to be more sustainable and there is a greater requirement for HVAC services; the economy because it dictates flows of skilled workers and confidence in the property market; the fluctuations in cost of materials like steel; the sharing economy and its influence on real estate and the explosion in serviced offices (like WeWork) and private hospitality (like AirBnb); global urbanisation because it dictates a requirement for high density communities with good infrastructure; online culture because more data centres and logistics hubs are needed.