Tony Douglas tipped to leave current post, as ‘significant’ job losses are planned for UK and Europe

Uncertainty grew this week over the future of Tony Douglas, the former Heathrow airport boss that Laing O’Rourke appointed chief operating officer in July 2007.

Despite being widely tipped to succeed chairman and chief executive Ray O’Rourke in the top job, there have been widespread reports he is poised to leave or move sideways to head up one or more divisions as part of a restructuring plan.

Several senior industry sources have said Douglas will head for the exit after becoming frustrated at not being given more responsibility, although others have said a plan to stay at the company could be on the cards if he accepts a new role.

One source familiar with the situation said: “Whatever way you look at it, Douglas has lost his power base. Anna Stewart [group commercial director] is the person you see at Ray’s side now.”

On Wednesday the company announced the appointment of former Carillion director Roger Robinson to chair European board meetings. It was unclear as Building went to press whether Douglas would report to him.

The company refused to comment on the speculation and Douglas was still on company duty this week, being sighted at the Conservative party conference in Manchester.

The news came in the same week that the company said it will make a “significant” number of redundancies at its UK and European business.

In an internal email sent to staff this week, chairman and chief executive Ray O’Rourke told his 11,756 European staff that job cuts would ensure the company has “a tight rein on controllable costs to compete effectively in winning work.” The move will not affect the Australian, Middle East and Asian operations The email said: “We propose that a large proportion of the roles falling away will be within the support functions and management layers across our business units and the corporate centre and as a result of projects coming to a natural end.”

Excerpts from Laing O'Rourke staff email

“Today’s announcement has been prompted by the fact that the construction sector lags the global economic cycle in coming out of recession – the industry’s most challenging period is still ahead and all companies will have to respond accordingly.”

“These proposals are a critical step in future-proofing our business, as contract pricing has become the most influential factor in many clients’ decision-making process.”

“By anticipating the tougher trading conditions over the next 12 months and taking decisive action now, I believe we will create a resilient set of businesses better equipped to ride out the current storm and emerge in a stronger position.”