For a while, it felt like construction’s night of the long knives

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In the space of 24 hours last week, two firms said their chief executives were leaving and a third, Kier, said its chief operating officer had already gone. For a while, it felt like construction’s night of the long knives.

The news that Interserve chief executive Debbie White is heading out after just over two years in post is not a huge surprise.

Announcing White’s departure at the end of this year, Interserve said she had privately told the business in March that she would like to leave. “The most demanding of my professional career,” White said of her time at a firm that has gone from a listed business to a private one – and one that went into and out of administration on the same day.

White was handed a hospital pass by her predecessor Adrian Ringrose and his calamitous decision to lead Interserve into energy-from-waste, which led to losses of more than £200m. They were bad when she joined and got steadily worse.

A break-up of the business seems to be on the cards, given White won’t be replaced and the firm’s three restructured divisions have all been given their own management teams.

The removal of Claudio Veritiero as Kier’s chief operating officer comes after analysts told Building that Andrew Davies was impressing the City with a clear-out of top brass from the Haydn Mursell era – and with the people he was bringing in.

More new arrivals are expected, but the immediate task for Davies remains getting a decent price for its housebuilding arm, Kier Living, to make inroads into that hulking debt pile.

Some will have been disappointed that there was no firmer news on how the sale was progressing. Kier’s shareholders, who have been flexing their muscles recently after voting down the pay packets of senior staff at last Friday’s AGM, will be hoping an announcement will be made this side of Christmas. Otherwise, jitters about delays to the sale could kick in.

The big shock last week was the news that Multiplex’s UK chief Ashley Muldoon has gone. The news broke last Thursday lunchtime that he was leaving the following day, after more than two decades at the contractor. Usually, these changes are trailed months in advance.

Muldoon had helped to rebuild the firm’s reputation after its chastening experience at Wembley stadium, turning it into a go-to London tower builder. Its roll-call of buildings is impressive and one client said: “He was a tough, focused guy. I liked him. [His replacement] has big shoes to fill.”

Muldoon’s departure caught many off-guard and speculation immediately started as to why. “Maybe they had some bad jobs,” the boss of a rival said. “If you get a few bad jobs, then sooner or later someone up above will give you a tap on the shoulder.”

Whatever the reason, there is one common denominator here: Interserve, Kier and Multiplex have all had bad jobs at some stage. How to avoid them? Well, if only there was a magic wand.

Dave Rogers, deputy editor, Building