Belfast-born demolition group boss to receive university doctorate
A BELFAST man who left school at 15 with no qualifications and who has gone on to build one of Britain’s biggest demolition companies is to be given an honorary doctorate by Ulster University later this month.
The accolade will be handed out at a ceremony in St Anne’s Cathedral to Brendan Kerr (56), owner and chief executive of the Keltbray Group.
He joined Keltbray in 1989 and has held the CEO role since 2003, since when he has taken a £22 million turnover firm and developed it into a £450 million group offering engineering, construction, demolition, decommissioning, remediation, rail, environmental services and reinforced concrete structure solutions.
Today, Keltbray employs more than 1,500 people directly while supporting around 1,000 more through subcontracting.
Born in Belfast in 1965, Brendan attended St Aidan’s High School, leaving without any O-levels to train as a carpenter, achieving Advanced City & Guilds Diploma in carpentry and an HNC in building at Guildford Technology College.
He subsequently developed into one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the UK, who is managing a company with an advanced engineering skill set.
Through innovative diversification and acquisition strategies, Keltbray has excelled under Brendan’s leadership, even during the recession, and has continued to significantly increase turnover (up 25 per cent in 2015 and 36 per cent in 2016) to reach more than £560m in 2019 (though this fell back to £429m in 2020).
He is regarded as being instrumental in raising standards of the demolition and deconstruction sector and transforming its reputation from a ‘let’s knock things down’ mentality.
Keltbray is also known for taking sustainability seriously by maximising recycling opportunities, which regularly exceed 95 per cent, and preserving heritage through complex engineering schemes.
Among the most high profile and technically challenging ones are the basement excavations and construction at St Martin in the Fields, façade retention in Regent Street, demolition at The New Bodleian Library and Battersea Power Station, and working with archaeologists at Royal Opera House, Moorgate and Convoy Wharf.
Keltbray’s success has been built on a Brendan’s innovation, technical leadership and commitment to health and safety and consideration for quality and the environment.
Having left school to take up an apprenticeship in Belfast, he says he sees great benefit in getting people started in the industry early.
He has always been an avid supporter of apprenticeships and training, and has used Keltbray as a vehicle to demonstrate the benefits of this philosophy.
He says he also firmly believes in giving disadvantaged people opportunities through practical training and work. Last year, Keltbray provided opportunities for more than 350 long-term unemployed and former offenders; working with charities, such as Bounce Back and The Cardinal Hume Centre.