Covid-19 isn’t much of a respecter of tradition. It’s not particularly bothered that you’ve been meeting in person for donkey’s years. Faced with a new reality where conventional gatherings were no longer permitted, a first ever virtual Construction Employers Federation AGM met online to appoint John Tracey of Tracey Bros Ltd as CEF President and Martin O’Kane from Heron Bros Ltd as Vice-President. That John and Martin work for sibling- run businesses is not the only thing they have in common. Both men have given more than a quarter of a century’s service to their respective companies and have risen through the ranks to sit at the top table.
John Tracey’s career could have headed in a completely different direction, literally, had it not been for a conversation with his father 25-years ago. Starting his working life as an engineer at Murphy International, a subsidiary of the Murphy Group in London, he was soon promoted to Site Agent and gained experience across a diverse range of sectors, including piling, construction and term contracts. Looking for a new challenge and the chance of making his fortune in the oil pipe sector, he was destined for the United Arab Emirates – until dad intervened. That father-son talk persuaded John to return to his native Fermanagh and join the family firm. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse. Starting out as a Site Engineer, then Site Manager and Contracts Manager, now Managing Director, John has more than justified his father’s faith in him.
Tracey Bros Ltd was established nearly 70-years ago. Then primarily operating in construction, the Enniskillen company has grown and diversified, specialising in design and build solutions for construction, fit-out and restoration. The Tracey Bros portfolio includes SS Nomadic & Hamilton Dock, Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Lanyon Tower, Crumlin Road Gaol, and a diverse range of both public and private projects. Now firmly established as one of the leading construction companies on the island of Ireland, John and Tracey Bros put much of their success down to a strong management team, continual investment in the company and its staff, allied to strong commercial risk management techniques. Current projects include an iconic theatre (The Grand Opera House, Belfast), a showcase for sustainable construction (South West College, Erne Campus), and a new school catering for pupils with severe and profound learning difficulties in the Cavan and Monaghan area (Holy Family School, Cootehill).
Like John Tracey, Limavady man Martin O’Kane joined his current employer back in the mid-90s…1994 to be precise. The same year dance anthem Things Can Only Get Better by D:ream hit the top of the UK chart, fronted by Peter Cunnah from just up the road in Derry/Londonderry. A graduate in Quantity Surveying from the University of Ulster (augmented by a Diploma in Project Management at Queen’s University, Belfast), Martin had previously worked in London and Coleraine. At Heron Bros something clearly clicked and in 1999, just five- years after arriving, Martin was made a Director. Six years later he was appointed as Deputy Managing Director, and to keep things nice and tidy in 2011, another six years on, he became Deputy Group Managing Director with responsibility for the Group’s Construction Division and development of its property portfolio in the UK, Ireland, and Europe.
Currently living in Castlerock with his wife Brenda and two sons, Martin’s professional interests have extended to seats on several industry boards and councils. A past Treasurer and Chairman of the Association for Project Management (APM), he joined the CEF’s General Contractors Committee in 2009 (was made a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors RICS in 2015) and took up a position on the CEF Council in 2017. I think it’s fair to say that for the Construction Employers Federation’s new Vice-President, things most certainly got better.