Speculation that a regional head at Laing O'Rourke is on the brink of leaving has been knocked on the head by the disclosure that he has in fact been away from his office on a study course
Steve Hollingshead, who is in charge of the London and South East division, is understood to have begun an eight-week management course at the London School of Economics at the end of last month.

This puts paid to speculation that Hollingshead, who formerly headed the O'Rourke concrete business, was poised to leave.

One insider said the sabbatical was part of a drive to give managers more advanced business training. Two other Laing O'Rourke executives are understood to have gone through similar residential courses last year.

The insider said: "There is a big push within the company now to develop managers, and I believe that this move is at the very senior level."

He added that Hollingshead was close to chief executive Ray O'Rourke and that speculation had been mounting that he was being groomed to succeed Andy White, the former chief operating officer who left abruptly last year after a five–month stint at the group.

It is normal employee development. It is not an issue, it’s a business thing

Laing O’Rourke spokesperson

A source close to the group said that the course would enable Hollingshead to make the move from concrete contracting to main contracting. The source said: "There is a big difference between the two. Main contracting is very difficult to control compared with concrete."

A Laing O'Rourke spokesperson confirmed that Hollingshead had been taken off day-to-day duties for a short time. He said: "It is normal employee development. It is not an issue, it's a business thing."

Ray O'Rourke has set the group the target of reaching a £5bn turnover by 2008, which would make it the UK's biggest contractor.

The firm doubled its turnover from £597m last year to nearly £1.3bn for the year to 31 March 2003.

n Laing O'Rourke's former group procurement director Gus Roche has rejoined rival Sir Robert McAlpine. Roche quit in the summer after joining the enlarged group late last year, and took up a similar role at McAlpine in August.