M&M Jamaica Limited
Business View Caribbean interviews Richard Mullings, Deputy Managing Director of M&M Jamaica Ltd, for our focus on the Construction Industry in Jamaica
As a developing island nation, Jamaica faces difficulties in assuring a balanced supply of skilled manpower. Statistics show that in 2020, just over 68% of the country’s employees were active in the service sector, leaving the agricultural and industrial economies with proportionately less in the way of human resources – just 15.69 percent and 16.23 percent, respectively. Some labour skills just don’t meet the capacity requirements for local training institutions and, even when they do, Jamaica loses a relatively large number of skilled workers to emigration every year. Such is the plight of a small island country…
The Jamaican construction sector to which M&M Jamaica Ltd, one of the nation’s leading engineering contracting and management companies, belongs has been a fundamental cog in the domestic economic machine for centuries. Today, it has linkages to nearly all aspects of economic activity on the island, its slow-but-steady growth fed not only by tourism – the country’s largest foreign exchange earner – but by other sectors including housing, financial and business services, manufacturing, transportation, urban and regional planning, distribution, and government/public sector services. Because it has such strong implications for these key areas of national development, M&M Jamaica Ltd can scarcely be denied its significant and active role in the country’s process of nation-building.
A family-founded company, M&M Jamaica Ltd was formed in June 1993 by Donald Lloyd Mullings and his wife, Winnifred. “We started with a strong focus on civil engineering contracting,” says their son and Deputy Managing Director, Richard Mullings. “We did a lot of infrastructure and roads – farm roads and bridges. Over the years, we’ve grown and evolved into a general contractor, doing both civil work and building work, with a heavier focus on complex projects requiring some engineering expertise.” Both Richard and his father are registered Professional Engineers and members of the Jamaican Institution of Engineers.“My father is still very much involved in the business, although he’s spending less and less time nowadays,” Mullings confesses. “My mother is retired but consults when we request her time.”
Engineering is a patriotic profession in Jamaica, and the Mullings family contributes a generous portion of its time to philanthropic causes via organizations such as the Portmore HEART College of Construction Services, the Kiwanis Foundation of Jamaica, and the Vision2030 Committee for Development of the Jamaican Construction Industry. During his tenure as President of the Incorporated Masterbuilders Association of Jamaica, Donald Mullings also implemented professional and academic initiatives like the Employment and Exposure Programme (a paid summer internship and job training opportunity for students pursuing construction-related studies) and the Educational Assistance Programme (financial aid offered to students at various educational institutions).
“Our founder has always been very keen on social responsibility and giving back to the wider community,” says Mullings. “Our company benefits directly from the community; it’s the Government of Jamaica and the taxpayers that fund our capital projects, so we take it as a principle to always help the communities that we work in, and in general to give back to the country.”
One of the ways the civil engineering firm honors that contract is by way of the Chance Fund for Education and Entrepreneurship, which was established to finance the company’s numerous outreach programmes, like the M&M Mathematics Competition for high schools of St. Elizabeth.“That was my father’s brainchild,” says Mullings. “He wanted to promote mathematics education and improve mathematics results for the schools in his hometown. That branched out into more support, not just for technical students, but for a mixture of promising and deserving students at the tertiary level studying in various disciplines.”
Through its Chance Fund, M&M Jamaica Ltd boosted its outreach programme with nine new tertiary scholarships in 2019. The successful applicants were able to access up to $375,000 per year for four years to pursue their academic interests.“We also support these students with summer employment,” adds Mullings. “In the past four years, we’ve developed an internship programme that grants internship opportunities to our scholarship awardees as well as to students at the University of Technology and the University of the West Indies, offering preliminary training that prepares them for the working world.” It all harkens back to that principle of reciprocity the firm was founded upon.
“One of our biggest challenges as a company has to do with the complexities of skilled labour shortages in Jamaica,” says Mullings. “That and maintaining the momentum of the construction industry so that we, as a country, can retain our skilled labour. When the industry loses momentum, those individuals seek jobs elsewhere. You’ll notice a lot of Jamaicans are in Canada right now – truck drivers, equipment operators, engineers. But when we’re able to keep that momentum, it’s much easier to keep the skilled workers here. To develop them and invest in them over time.”
M&M Jamaica Ltd plans to prioritize training over the next five years and better equip its workforce for tomorrow. “We’ll continue to develop our pipeline of professionals – our staff, our human resources,” says Mullings. “We’ve always grown by bringing in younger, fresher faces and training them in our system. That’s something we’re eager to keep doing; to grow them professionally, and to involve them more in our company operations.”
Because the Government of Jamaica is the largest single client in the construction sector, most of the projects that M&M Jamaica Ltd bids on are publicly tendered ones. “Consultants do bring us private projects from time to time,” Mullings says. “We’re a developing island, so you could argue there’s always something required. Always something new. Recently, we’re doing a lot of revamping, a lot of replacement projects in the city. We’ve been through various administrations and public institutions and maintained positive relationships with all of the different parties.”
The firm operates mainly out of its head office in the capital city of Kingston, located on the southeastern coast of the island, and sometimes from on-site satellite offices. They have a core administrative and professional staff of about 50, and a larger technical staff (equipment operators, mechanics, construction technicians, etc.) of around 150.
“As a general contractor, we own much of our civil engineering construction equipment,” says Mullings. “We have our own excavators, which we can operate in-house, and then we rent in addition to that, as required by each project’s demands. We hire a large number of tradespeople according to the types of projects we accept. I’ve always thought we should conduct a study to see just how many people we employ on average in a given year over time.”
Some of the more sophisticated infrastructure projects that M&M Jamaica Ltd. has run include a $164-million contract for the construction of a two-storey building at the Tamarind Farm Adult Correctional Centre in Spanish Town, a $2.7 billion contract from the National Housing Trust to develop 834 houses and housing lots at Longville Park in Clarendon, and, most recently, a US$25 million contract to improve the water supply between Six Miles and Blake Road in Kingston. “That’s over 10 kilometers of pipeline to bring water into the heart of Kingston,” Mullings explains. “We worked on it from the tender stage and then reviewed it in the approval stage. It was just recently signed off on by the Cabinet and the Government to proceed. We’ve been preparing for it since last year.”
“It’s good for us to maintain momentum,” Mullings reiterates. “The coronavirus affected us as a country, as a company, and as individuals. It’s been psychologically impactful. But the stability we’ve been able to offer our employees with these contracts has been helpful.”
While the forecast for global construction growth in 2020 has been revised from 3.1 percent down to 0.5 percent, the COVID-19 crisis represents an unprecedented opportunity for M&M Jamaica Ltd to solve some of the industry’s historical challenges and prepare for a more digital future. “Do we have plans to go beyond Jamaica? That’s a question that’s often come up,” says Mullings. “And we’ve looked at projects overseas. I think as we evolve, as a general transition, we’ll investigate those opportunities further. We’re at a point where we’re looking at how to better incorporate technological systems like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). To reduce that friction in communications and transactions, and to set us up for the next 25 years.”
The truth of the matter is there’s just as important a role for M&M Jamaica Ltd right where it is, building for and with its community. “We’ve been consistent about upholding our social responsibility,” Mullings says.” “You can see the evolution of our company, and you can see us going forward into the future this way. Not just superficially, but by actually believing in community investment as the core of the company. Really, we’re homegrown professionals who aim to operate at the international world-class level.”
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AT A GLANCE
M&M Jamaica Ltd
What: A leading engineering contracting and management company
Where: Kingston, Jamaica
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