The veil of secrecy surrounding the future of Tony Douglas, erstwhile heir to the throne at Laing O’Rourke, feels no closer to being lifted this week.
Douglas is the inspirational and brash Lancastrian Ray O’Rourke drafted in as his replacement a couple of summers ago after a stint running Heathrow airport.
When the 62-year-old O’Rourke decided the recession meant he was not ready to vacate the chief executive’s seat, it sparked an industry-wide game of “will Douglas stay?” that has reached fever pitch.
For now it appears a tentative deal has been struck that sees Douglas get his hands on some of the levers of power. The solidity of any deal is another matter.
If Douglas stays, as many believe he will for now (correct as at 10.46am on Monday 19 October…) it will raise questions about whether he will eventually replace O’Rourke after what will effectively be a sideways move, holding pattern, call it what you will.
Most people familiar with the apex of the Laing O'Rourke power structure agree if Douglas does go there is no obvious internal successor as things stand.
The person seen at Ray’s side most often in recent times has been group commercial director Anna Stewart but in the words of one person the other day: “Anna is Ray’s cheerleader rather than his heir. If Ray says he wants to grow the business to £7bn turnover she’ll be the first to bang her fist on the table and say ‘no, £10bn’.”
Either way, it must all make Douglas feel a bit like Prince Charles.
In fact, gaining an insight into the timing or likelihood of the handover between the Prince of Wales and his mother would probably prove easier.
The way the story has played out in the media is testament to the company’s culture of omerta. First Douglas was off, then he wasn’t, then he had two mystery job offers, then he was staying again. It can't be good if you're a client.
Ask most people what they think about Ray O’Rourke and they’ll tell you he’s a shrewd and visionary man who genuinely cares about apprentices, innovation and the future of the industry. So why is his company’s dealing with the media so… 1970’s?
The language of the Laing O’Rourke in-house press team would be perfectly at home in an episode of Life on Mars; it’s all about “marking cards” and “having bigger fish to fry” than answering questions.
You have to begrudgingly admire the company for its stubborn refusal to “play the game” but the aloofness has tended to prompt either obsequious or obsessive coverage in the press.
Those who know Ray O’Rourke say it partly stems from shyness, something Douglas doesn’t suffer from and may have been behind the thinking when he was appointed.
Either way, perhaps any deal will only be ephemeral. When two construction bosses were asked this week if any O’Rourke/Douglas pact would last, both rolled their eyes and shook their head wearily.
Douglas doesn’t hide his ambition. If another juicier job came along surely he’d jump ship pretty quickly after this snub?
Or then again maybe he’ll stay and take over. And then maybe, just maybe, the company will start talking about itself a whole lot more?
Don’t hold your breath.