Business Person of the Month

September 2009: Hugh O’Donnell, CEO, Kentz

By Business & Finance
01 October 2009
Hugh O'Donnell

Under O’Donnell’s management, the engineering and construction firm realised a 10% increase in profits during the economic crisis.


Irish engineering and construction firm Kentz has announced a 10% increase in profits for the first half of this year in a devastating economic climate. Chief Executive Hugh O’Donnell has been with the company since 1991 and has been its CEO since 2000. For the first half of this year, the firm achieved profits of $18.5mn, while revenues remained the same at $328.8mn. In 2008, O’Donnell led Kentz through a milestone in its history when it was listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange, raising £63.7mn (€72.4m).

International group

Kentz began as an electrical contractor based in Clonmel, Co Tipperary but has grown to be an international giant – with operations in 23 countries and 10,500 employees. Kentz currently has two contracts from oil multinational Chevron worth $526m, one of them on the world’s biggest natural gas projects off the coast of Australia. O’Donnell is pushing the company on to bid for more contracts associated with the project.

Rise to the top

After working for South African mining giant Anglo-American for four years, he joined MF Kent in that country in 1991 and has remained with the company through its various incarnations. O’Donnell joined Kentz as a project engineer in 1991, working mainly in South Africa setting up mechanical and maintenance operations. After becoming managing director of Kentz Southern Africa, O’Donnell was appointed group chief executive in 2000. Kentz’s three main business lines are: specialist engineering, procurement and construction (EPC); construction; and technical support services.

Last month Kentz announced that it had won a $150m (€102.5m) contract from Chevron to provide telecommunications infrastructure for the oil giant’s controversial gas Gorgon project on Barrow Island, off north-west Australia. It’s one of the largest gas projects in the world. One of the partners in the Gorgon project, Royal Dutch Shell, has announced that it has approved funding for its share of the $37bn project.


The recent success of Kentz is in stark contrast to the rest of the construction and engineering business. However, Kentz went through its own tough times in the mid-1990s. In January 1994, an examiner was appointed to the company and it had to be rescued by investment from a group of Malaysian businesspeople, who currently retain 90% ownership of the business.

Personal history

O’Donnell was born in Limerick in 1966 and graduated as a mechanical engineer in 1987. After emigrating to South Africa, O’Donnell first worked for Kentz in 1991. He quickly rose through the ranks and following successful management of projects in Africa and Asia, he was appointed head of the company’s African operations in 1997. In 2000, at the age of just 35 he was appointed managing director of the entire group.

O’Donnell undertook a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical Engineering) degree at the University of Limerick, Ireland from 1984 to 1987 and a Masters Course in Administration (Business) from Surrey
University in the UK from 1997 to 1999 and a Doctorate in Management with the University of Southern Cross, Australia between 1999 and 2002.

He is a professional engineer registered with the board of engineers in South Africa.


  • Kentz has achieved profits of $18.5m for the first half of 2009 and has contracts worth $526mn with oil multinational Chevron
  • Hugh O’Donnell has been chief executive of the company since 2000 and headed it when it was listed on the London Stock Exchange

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Business & Finance, in association with MERC Partners, has been awarding excellence in business through the ‘Business Person of the Month’ award over the last number of years. These awards seek to recognise noteworthy achievements in business leadership, and particularly those that make a telling contribution to the wider business community in Ireland.