Ray O'Rourke, chairman, O'Rourke
The determination of this subcontractor to enter the industry's big league culminated in his purchase of Laing Construction last year, and meant there could only be one winner of this Building-sponsored award
Ray O'Rourke set off a seismic shift in the industry's balance of power when the audacious subcontractor bought Laing, one of construction's most respected brands, for just £1 last October, writes Victoria Madine.

But it is just this kind of move that the industry has come to expect from the 55-year-old Irishman. From the outset, O'Rourke's strategy has been to look beyond the subcontractor's traditional, narrow role and offer a wider package of services to fulfil his vision of becoming an industry big-hitter. After setting up concrete specialist O'Rourke in 1977 with brother Des, he decided to sell flooring products and installation services as well as concrete. He moved further away from the usual subbie's role when working on Stanhope's Broadgate city office development in the mid-1980s. Fed up with contractors planning concrete jobs to fit in with their own agenda, O'Rourke decided to do more of the job in-house so he expanded, employing engineers, buyers, planners and surveyors. Not content, he further diversified in the 1990s, acquiring M&E, fit-out and curtain-walling expertise.

By 2001, O'Rourke's £220m-turnover business was already offering design-and-build contracting and, when Laing's losses hit the headlines, he was more than ready to swoop. Geoff Wright, director at developer Hammerson, says O'Rourke has always been determined to show the full potential of his business. "He's wanted to show that a subbie can do well and he prides himself on his success. He is very, very determined to succeed in everything he does."

He’s wanted to show that a subbie can do well and he prides himself on his success. He is very, very determined to succeed in everything he does

Geoff Wright, director, Hammerson

O'Rourke has kept a low public profile, letting his successes speak for themselves, and has proven himself to be at the forefront of the latest trends in the industry. Some attribute his success to a certain ruthlessness – along with good old-fashioned hard work. But Peter Rogers, director at developer Stanhope, says a strong vision is the defining trait of this engineer from County Mayo. "He's very focused; he knows what he wants, and won't compromise."

This approach will sound familiar to the Laing employees who watched O'Rourke pick through 63 contracts as he finalised the deal to acquire the contractor. The due diligence process lasted six months, sealing O'Rourke's reputation as the industry's toughest negotiator.