Veteran to hand over reins to his son Cathal O’Rourke after five decades at the helm

Ray O’Rourke is stepping down as group chief executive of Laing O’Rourke and will hand over the reins of the firm he founded in 1977 to his son Cathal O’Rourke at the beginning of next month.

Ray o'rourke

Ray O’Rourke is stepping down as group chief executive after half a century at the helm

After five decades at the helm, Ray O’Rourke has finally confirmed the long-rumoured succession plan that will mean he and his brother Des O’Rourke continue to serve on the group board of the UK’s biggest private contractor as deputy chairs.

It comes a year after civil engineer Cathal O’Rourke flew back to the UK to become the firm’s chief operating officer, having spent nearly a decade in charge of its Australia business.

The group said in a statement published today that its board had unanimously approved the appointment of 47-year-old Cathal as the new group chief executive effective from 1 July, describing the move as a “key transitional milestone for Laing O’Rourke as the business moves from a founder-led organisation into the next generation of leadership”.

Ray O’Rourke, 77, said he was “delighted to be in a position to hand over the reins of CEO to my son and our group COO, Cathal O’Rourke”.

>> See also: Has Ray O’Rourke’s successor been under his nose all along?

“I am incredibly proud of our people and what we have achieved as a business,” he added.

“We have maintained a commitment to transform our industry, and our people are recognised for their ability to deliver complex engineering projects using advanced and sophisticated techniques across the globe. 


Cathal O’Rourke will take over as group chief executive on 1 July

“Cathal has enjoyed a successful career in our family business, spanning a quarter of a century and I have every confidence he will continue to lead our people well into the future, upholding the values and guiding principles that have been the foundation of our success.”

Cathal O’Rourke said he was “truly honoured to be trusted with the leadership of our business and our people”.

He added: “Together we can continue to drive forward on our mission to transform our sector into a more sustainable and productive industry, embracing new and innovative ways of doing things, whilst at the same time, providing our people with safe, challenging and rewarding careers.” 

Laing O’Rourke chair John Parker said the group was “fortunate to have such a well-qualified and talented successor to Ray in Cathal”.

“The board has every confidence in Cathal’s leadership qualities, accumulated experience, his commitment to modernising the industry and his alignment with Laing O’Rourke’s values of care, integrity, and courage,” Parker added.

“We salute the unique creativity of Ray’s leadership in building the group and its culture that we know today. We are fortunate that he will continue to serve providing ongoing guidance and mentorship.”

Ray O’Rourke founded the Dartford-based firm as a regional formwork and concrete specialist in 1977 as R. O’Rourke  & Son, taking on its current name after acquiring Laing Construction for £1 in 2001.

It has faced a rocky few years with a string of problem jobs and the cost of a dispute in Australia sending the group plummeting to pre-tax losses of £288m last year, its worst set of results since the merger with Laing.

The bulk of the losses are understood to have been caused by its fixed-price work for Yoo Capital on the £600m redevelopment of the Olympia exhibition venue, which has undergone dozens of design changes since the contract was signed in 2021.