On March 1, the Irish American Business Chamber & Network will be hosting the 2019 Ambassador’s Awards Luncheon at Philadelphia’s Union League. Among the honorees are Daniel J. Keating, III, executive vice president, Gilbane Building Co., and Sarah P. Keating, Esq., principal owner and chief executive officer of Keating Environmental Management. They will receive the Taoiseach Award.
We recently spoke with Daniel Keating. Here’s what he had to say.
Irish Philly: Did you and Sarah have any idea you were in the running?
Daniel Keating, III: Actually, we did not have any idea we were in the running, but we’re certainly honored.
Irish Philly: I imagine you’re pretty pleased about that.
DK: Well, you know, it’s a wonderful group of guys and gals, and they all get along and a nice company to be involved with.
Irish Philly: Could you talk to me about your career in the construction industry? And actually, I want to start with what appealed to you about it.
DK: Well, I’ve had a wonderful life. I’m a very lucky human being. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve had about 45 years in the construction and development business. My grandfather was an Irish plumber in Philadelphia, my father was a mechanical engineer, also a licensed plumber, and served his country. He was a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy, and ran a successful mechanical contracting business, and a general contracting business.
I’m one of four children, the oldest of four children, and I went to parochial high school, Cardinal O’Hara High School. I went to Villanova University, and I worked when I got out of school, through school and when I got out of school, for my dad until I was about 25 years old, when I went off on my own—and with his blessing, mostly his blessing, you know I think like every parent, particularly the Irish—but I had some different ideas and he let me embrace them and off I went. So I started as a small general contractor and built a wonderful business over the course of the years, with lots of ups and downs in my life and that covers a rainbow of topics right there, all of which have their own story.
In 2011, I sold my construction operation to a publicly traded firm, Tutor Perini, and started a consulting operation, which I sold to Gilbane—another old Irish family-owned business out of Providence, Rhode Island. So I still am active and have some development work and I help Gilbane out in my capacity with that, and we’ve built over a thousand projects in our marketplace. At one point or another, I was licensed in 30 states, with every type of client you could possibly think of, had some really good jobs, had some really tough jobs and managed to get through it.
I am a cancer survivor, had non-Hodgkin lymphoma—thank God for my wonderful wife, who was so instrumental in getting me to the right places at the right time for a cure. And then six months ago I went through open heart surgery and got through that okay, and still continue to be active in sports; I play squash. I’m very active in following my children—I have six children, my oldest is 43 and my youngest is a junior at Harvard University where she is a very accomplished lacrosse player as were all my kids.
Irish Philly: Yeah, lacrosse is big at Princeton.
DK: Yes, it is. Well, I had three that played for Duke. My son Connor graduated from Penn last year as a three-time All-American and was actually number one draft choice by the Denver Outlaws, and now works full time in the real estate business. And then my youngest one as I said, she a junior at Harvard, and every game is exciting and I can’t tell you who wins and who loses these things, but I’m at the end of the bench with all the games, because I can’t get enough of them. Now I’ve got five grandchildren and it’s very exciting so … I’m a lucky guy.
Irish Philly: Yeah, you really are a lucky guy. I want to go back to the beginning there. When you started out on your own, what kind of projects did you do? Because I’m thinking about some of the projects that you ultimately took on, and isn’t that quite a contrast?
DK: Well, it’s a business where you’re a goldfish—you rise to the size of your bowl—and I started off with a small little operation, a couple of people and we bid a few projects, mostly public work at that time—schools or hospital projects or infrastructure projects. When I say small, I mean in the million-, probably three-, four-million dollar work, which is a lot of money, but while it’s good work, it still falls into the smaller categories.
Our projects grew in size and depth and in complexity over the course of the years. When we finished up, we had built the Convention Center in Philadelphia, a good portion of the Philadelphia International Airport, large infrastructure projects, and we also did a fair amount and continue to do a fair amount of development work for our largest client with the United States Postal Service, which was a client that we took on in nationwide competition, where we were selected as a provider of services, and we had built courthouses and office buildings and other structures throughout the country.
Irish Philly: Sounds like a lot of moving parts.
DK: Took a lot of moving parts, and most importantly, it took a lot of really good people and I was very fortunate that I surrounded myself with really, really competent, qualified, honest people.
Irish Philly: Can you talk to me about charitable enterprises in which you’re involved?
DK: Well, my wife Sarah is a lawyer by background, so she’s worn many hats, and probably tin he longest stint she had, she worked as an attorney of the Civil and Criminal division of the Environmental Protection Agency, where she enjoyed a wonderful career and came through that and actually worked with us in a couple of the businesses we were running, including an environmental consulting firm, which she became CEO of. And together we support a number of the charities and whatnot that we like, but our largest by far is our support of cancer research, and I can tell you that had we been the beneficiary of the good work research does, and we will continue to the best of our ability to do that.
I was treated at the University of Pennsylvania, where I was treated by Dr. John Glick, who really is one of the preeminent lymphoma doctors in the world, and through my involvement with him and his treatment of me, I became deeply involved with the Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia. And I went on to chair the Abramson Cancer Center of Development, so I’ve had a long and interesting involvement with the University of Pennsylvanian and with Abramson and with cancer, so I would say far and away that’s where our interest and our dollars have gone.
Irish Philly: I had a lot of the same questions about your wife. She’s not taken on anything small.
DK: She’s a hard worker and, again, we like to count our lucky stars—great kids and thank God they’re healthy and they’re moving on with their lives, and we enjoy them, and we enjoy the things that we do. We’re at an age where we get to do that, hopefully, as I ride in my car up to New York to see my daughter.
Irish Philly: I would be curious to know how your wife’s career took the path that it did., There are so many different areas of law and I’m really curious about that.
DK: Well, my wife graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and she’s a nature lover, and she worked with bottlenose dolphins and whatnot as she was growing up, but her mother and father are scientists and givers. They are educators and she was brought up in an environment of giving back, and she went to law school, always loved the environmental side of life and worked in a major law firm for a period of time, Morgan Lewis and Bockius.
DK: The opportunity came to work in EPA Region 3, which is where we live, and she jumped on it and she got deeply involved with a host of cases and spent a good portion of her career there.
Irish Philly: Let’s talk about your Irish background. Have you been to Ireland?
DK: I think I’ve been there 25 times.
Irish Philly: Good for you—I’m jealous.
DK: Well, I’m mostly there for golf, but we’ve gone there for other reasons.
Just to add a note to that conversation, in Philadelphia for so many years, the two major builders were Irish builders by the name of McShane and McCloskey, and they were renowned builders and very active in politics. Matthew McCloskey was actually the Ambassador to Ireland, and he was Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy era and he and John McShane built the Rayburn building, the Pentagon—all kinds of interesting places—and were very active obviously in the Philadelphia market too, so the Irish and the construction business have a long history in this area and this region. And of course there are many others including my dad, who were part of that cult, and I have a younger brother Pierce, who’s also in the construction business and has done very well for himself.
Irish Philly: Thank you so much.
DK: Well, thanks, and have a great day and thanks for reaching out.