New director of operations appointed as family moves to buy up more of parent company.
Britain’s most secretive major contractor, Sir Robert McAlpine, is to appoint a new director of operations and is on the verge of buying up outside interests in parent company Newarthill.

Colin Weekley is to move from his role as head of the south-west region to become director of operations – roughly equivalent to managing director at a public company. He will take over in November from Vince Christie, who is retiring after more than 40 years with the contractor.

Christie has been director of operations for much of the 1990s.

The move will make Weekley one of the most powerful non-family directors at the firm, along with finance director Paddy Walker-Taylor.

Some industry sources expressed surprise that Weekley was appointed ahead of London and south-east regional manager Benny Kelly. However, others say the McAlpine family is keen for Kelly to continue to work closely with clients, rather than taking on the more administrative role of director of operations.

Weekley will now be working from London, and will be replaced in the south-west region’s Bristol office by Cliff Smith, who has been in a senior role on the McAlpine/Laing joint venture building the Millennium Dome.

Asked why Weekley had been chosen as his replacement rather than Kelly, Christie said: “He [Weekley] is the chap who is best qualified for the role. Benny Kelly is only best known among clients in the south-east. There are plenty of other McAlpine senior staff as well known as him around the UK – I was from Wales.” He said the market that Weekley would inherit was “normal, as it’s been for some time”. However, he added that, although it was reasonably healthy, “it will get no better than this … there’s no shortage of contractors around to stop margins running away”.

The McAlpine family is also taking steps to buy outside interests in Newarthill. These are a remnant of its time as a public company, up until the late 1980s.

A new company, Partnership Accumulation, has been set up to make an offer for the 4-6% of shares, held by 370 shareholders, that are outside family control.

Sir Robert McAlpine, which has a turnover of £400m, accounts for much of Newarthill’s business, although it has other assets, such as a helicopter business.