There may be two guests missing from US president Barack Obama's St Patrick's Day gathering at the White House this year. But for many Northern Ireland companies it will be business as usual as they harness the pulling power of the day to help promote their organisations.
Miami might not seem the most obvious destination for a traditional St Patrick’s Day party – warm sun instead of drizzly rain might prove something of a scene stealer – but not it appears for one Newry company.
Although average temperatures are expected to hit a high of 29 degrees today in Miami it is, according to the MJM Group, a specialist joinery business which operates across the commercial, marine and private sectors, the perfect backdrop for its particular annual St Patrick’s Day gathering.
It has been a major exhibitor at the Cruise Shipping Conference taking place in Miami today, which has attracted thousands of key industry players from across the globe for the last 18 years.
The fact the event normally falls on March 17 is just a happy coincidence that helps the MJM Group stand out from the crowd and gives it an excuse to give customers a taste of some “infamous Irish hospitality”.
Not that the Newry company likes to use gimmicks to distinguish itself. Instead, the family-owned business, which was started by Brian McConville 32 years ago, would rather its work speaks for itself.
The company prides itself on its craftsmanship – which starts and finishes with McConville himself.
He began his working life as a joiner. But even in his early days always wanted to have his own business rather than work for someone else because he wanted to “have a nice wife, nice house, nice family and nice car”. McConville’s habit of “working day and night” helped him achieve this ambition pretty quickly so he decided he was “fit for more” and the result today is that MJM is a global business with a turnover last year of £55 million and potentially £70 million this year.
Over the last three decades, it has developed a global reputation as an expert fit-out and refurbishment specialist for cruise liners, ferries and super yachts to luxury hotel groups such as the K Club.
McConville's motto while building his company into a multimillion-pound concern which has facilities in London, France and Poland was always to "stay low, fly low, don't blow".
“I come from a small humble farm in Rathfriland, it isn’t in our nature to blow. What I wanted to do was build a strong business and a strong brand in MJM,” McConville says.
His approach could not have been more different from one of his major competitors on the island – Mivan, a firm which liked to get its name out and tell everybody what it was doing.
But when Mivan collapsed last January with the loss of 250 jobs and owing millions of pounds to creditors, McConville quietly acquired Mivan’s assets from the administrator.
He has spent the last year rebuilding the company by focusing on its core business – specialist joinery – and creating new opportunities for the Antrim-based organisation.
McConville did not mothball the Mivan brand, despite its recent sorry history. Instead, he chose to give it a new lease of life and, in the process, has rehired more than 100 of its former employees.
“Mivan built a global brand and we can use that. We are rebuilding Mivan and I am very confident about its outlook – I expect we will continue to create more jobs.”
In the meantime, McConville has rewritten some of his own ambitions – he plans to grow the enlarged MJM Group to a £100 million-a -year business and could be on the verge of launching a completely new business venture – possibly something to do with construction and property.
But he is not quite ready to reveal his cards yet . “I like to build nice things,” he says cryptically. As his track record shows, McConville never does anything by halves.