Mon | Jul 16, 2018

Renee Keane: Building Success in a Man’s World

Published:Sunday | April 8, 2018 | 12:00 AM
In her happy place! From as early as six years old, Renee Keane, knew she wanted a career in the construction industry.
Renee Keane, project manager at Sandals South Coast, with the Overwater Bungalows pictured behind her as the highlight of her career in construction.
Renee Keane, project manager at Sandals South Coast considers herself lucky to be blessed with a supportive work family. Here, an animated Keane shares a light moment with her team.
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While most little girls were playing with dolls, Renee Keane was fascinated with trucks and Legos - she wanted to build things.

"I've always wanted to be in construction," she told Outlook. "My passion for this field began at a very young age. When I was six years old, I told my parents that I wanted to build my own house and when I went to high school, I decided this is what I wanted to do as a career."

Keane was also inspired by her cousin who studied construction and still works in the field today.

After leaving high school, Keane went on to the Montego Bay Community College, where she studied construction technology before pursuing her bachelor's degree in construction engineering and management at the University of Technology.

The perfect fairy tale would have the passionate and qualified Keane seamlessly transitioning into her dream job with Sandals Resorts International - a job that would see her overseeing one of the company's largest and most innovative projects, the Over Water Bungalows at Sandals South Coast. Life is no fairy tale, however, and there were disappointments and obstacles along the way.

"It has not been an easy road. There were a lot of challenges because this is a male-dominated field and a lot of people didn't believe I could do it. Even though I had the qualifications, nobody wanted a female to manage their project. There were a lot of tears. I have to give God the glory," she said.

After working on projects, including the construction of the Half-Way Tree bus terminal and the new United States Embassy building, Keane's big break came when she joined West Indies Home Contractors Ltd - the first company that allowed her to manage a project. She worked as an engineer on the construction of Montego Bay's Whitter Village before working as an independent contractor on the Palmyra project. After Palmyra, Keane was unemployed for over a year, before an advertisement for an assistant project manager at Sandals Negril caught her eye. She quickly applied but it took a few follow up calls and some persistence before she was interviewed. As fate would have it, she got the job.

Keane spent almost four years at Sandals Negril - years which were instrumental in her personal and professional development. "My supervisor at the time was Dionne Richards and I learnt so much from her. Seeing her doing the job as a woman made me believe that I could also do it," she said.

In 2014, she was promoted to project manager at Sandals South Coast, formerly Sandals Whitehouse. With responsibility for all renovations and upgrades to the resort's infrastructure, Keane's duties include identifying projects, budgeting, planning for and overseeing implementation, and managing and monitoring the handover process. Keane oversees a team of 10.

Though she has managed many large-scale projects at the property, including the recent renovations of several villages and the addition of an over-water bar and chapel, the highlight of Keane's career has been overseeing the on-time and on-budget construction of the resort's 12 over-water bungalows. Her voice still ripe with excitement and pride, she said, "It was an experience! I am so glad I was a part of it. This concept is new to Jamaica and it was my first time being a part of construction on the water. It really pushed me and challenged me. It was new, different, and exciting and it's definitely been the highlight of my career in construction and with the Sandals family."

Keane described Sandals as "a driving force" in her life and is grateful to the company for all the opportunities she has been afforded. She is currently pursuing her master's degree in project management with the University of Liverpool, a pursuit made possible by a scholarship from the Sandals Corporate University. "Getting this scholarship was a blessing from God and from Sandals," she said. "I wanted to be a better project manager and that's why I wanted to do my master's. I don't know how I would have been able to do it without the scholarship."

The 36-year-old mother of one has big dreams and completing her graduate degree is just the beginning. "The vision of Sandals aligns perfectly with my vision for my life. This industry satisfies me as a person. There is so much more to do in this company and I want to make sure I'm a part of it. I want to use what I've learnt in my studies to make this company even better."

Balancing her demanding career and her role as a single mother is not without its challenges but Keane hails Sandals as an understanding employer. She said, "It's hard being a single mother but my directors saw that and made sure I was comfortable. When I was promoted they ensured I had somewhere comfortable to live and that everything worked for my son and I." Credit, she said, is also due to her supportive work family. "I have a fantastic team and any success I have is because of them. We have a healthy relationship and they are the greatest support system."

Sandals' director of projects and engineering, Richard Hamilton, spoke highly of Keane, saying, "We are proud of Renee and her continued success with us. Across the group, we have a number of dynamic women working in our department and project managers like Renee, Dionne Richard and Wendy Fae Rodriguez are an integral part of the team that continues to exceed expectations. It's a privilege working with them."

To young women afraid to challenge stereotypes and venture into non-traditional careers, Keane's advice is simple. "Whatever your passion is, just push forward," she said. "Speak up and speak loud. As women, we often have things to contribute but we don't speak up because we're sometimes outnumbered by men. We don't always have to shout; we can speak softly and still be heard."