Ray O'Rourke consolidates power as Laing O'Rourke heads overseas

26 March 2010

Laing O’Rourke finance director Iain Ferguson quit last week and commercial head Anna Stewart has stepped into his shoes, Building reported.

Construction News also highlighted that it is the second high profile board-level departure at the UK’s largest privately-owned contractor in recent months, after former chief operating officer Tony Douglas left in November.

Douglas had been lined up to take over the chief executive’s job, but left the firm amid speculation that chairman and chief executive Ray O’Rourke had refused to relinquish control over the group’s day-to-day running during the downturn.

Ferguson, who left the £4 bn-turnover firm after four years, will not be replaced and Stewart has taken over his duties.

A Laing O’Rourke spokesperson confirmed the changes, saying Ferguson had moved to his “next career challenge”,  having left the firm in a “strong position”.

One construction boss told Building that Stewart’s appointment was an example of O’Rourke surrounding himself with a circle of close advisers. He said: “Anna is a very sharp operator and Ray clearly trusts her implicitly.”

In a separate move, Building reported that the firm may enter new global markets to offset the effects of the UK downturn, with Brazil and Canada at the top of its list.

The former is an emerging economic powerhouse, and O’Rourke is understood to be interested in the latter because of its strong PFI market, its similar legal system to Britain and the fact that John Laing already operates there. Laing O’Rourke has reportedly begun lining up top UK managers to spearhead the push.

In October, several weeks before Douglas’s departure, the firm announced the appointment of former Carillion director Roger Robinson to oversee a company restructurimg and chair European board meetings. It is understood that more restructuring could follow Stewart’s move.

Although the firm boosted turnover and profit last year, it also announced “significant” redundancies at its UK and European business.

In an email at the time, Ray O’Rourke told 11,756 staff that job cuts would ensure the firm had “a tight rein on controllable costs to compete effectively in winning work”.

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