Ray O’Rourke has criticised the former leadership at Laing, the family contractor he bought for £1 in 2001, saying it had been top-heavy with management.

O’Rourke said that the merged company Laing O’Rourke had gone back to basics. He said: “Laing started by building houses in Scotland. It didn’t start with a chief executive and a limo.”

O’Rourke said the company now had a horizontal structure, rather than the management system he inherited, and operated without a board. He said: “Laing had an under-led, over-managed group of people. They had been rewarded with titles rather than remuneration. We have created a very flat structure. The engine room is not in the boardroom, it is in the projects.”

Salary rather than status was at the heart of his business philosophy, O’Rourke said, noting that the industry had failed to attract the brightest graduates because of poor pay.

O’Rourke said: “We bring a person out of university and pay them £7000. Yet they can join a bank on £35,000. It’s a joke.”

He declined to comment on rumours that he aimed to develop the business into a £5bn-plus turnover outfit, but said that the group was unlikely to be listed on the stock exchange.