News of senior management revamp draws line under Tony Douglas’ lengthy negotiations to stay on

Laing O’Rourke is to restructure its senior management to give founder Ray O’Rourke hands-on control following the departure of chief operating officer Tony Douglas.

The company confirmed on Monday that Douglas is to leave the firm. His exit follows a prolonged period of uncertainty in which talks over his future saw a tentative deal struck between Douglas and Ray O’Rourke, the company’s chief executive and chairman, that could have seen him stay. However, Douglas has now decided to leave after it became clear that O’Rourke was to take direct control of the business.

The company, which alread announced plans for a broader restructure, declined to say how the firm would move forward after Douglas’ departure, but Building understands a senior management restructure will be completed in the coming weeks, with no replacement being sought for Douglas.

It is thought the departure was on amicable terms, following a series of discussions after O’Rourke refused to hand over control to Douglas on 1 August, as agreed before his move from BAA. He joined the company from his position as chief executive of Heathrow Airport in July 2007.

Douglas is thought to be in discussion with a number of firms about moving to a senior role but as Building went to press it was impossible to substantiate rumours that he was being lined up to take over from John Dodds at Kier or to lead GIP, which recently bought Gatwick airport from BAA.

In a statement, Laing O’Rourke said that the global economic crisis led the company’s shareholders to rethink the timetable on changing the group’s leadership.

It said: “It was felt appropriate for Ray to continue to focus on retaining cash and personally engaging with stakeholders.”

Douglas in quotes

August 07 “Keep your eye on Laing O’Rourke. We will surprise the hell out of everyone”
August 07 “Ray is a forthright person with massive energy and ambition. I have that level of energy and ambition to deliver”
May 08 “We will re-establish what the industry has lost. What it wants is big project directors”
May 08 “We are redesigning the organisation so there are fewer people in the stands and more on the pitch.”

Gimme five: how far did Douglas get?

When Tony Douglas joined Laing O’Rourke in August 2007, he promised to modernise the contractor through a five-year plan that would “surprise the hell” out of the industry, writes Olivia Boyd.

Industry figures were this week debating to what extent the former chief operating officer of Laing O’Rourke delivered on his pledges. One ambition was to form strategic relationships with clients and become a “total solutions provider”. But sources said other senior staff had prevented Douglas from transforming the company into a more client-focused organisation.

Other sources said Douglas was not cut out to be a traditional construction chief executive and would be better suited to running a project management firm.