New arrival joins from £500m marine services firm

Wates has appointed an engineer from outside the industry to replace David Allen as its new chief executive.

Allen left Wates left last summer after four years in the role, amid a reported disagreement over the future direction of the business. He has since become the new finance chief at Mace.

Wates has now named 56-year-old Eoghan O’Lionaird as its new boss with the Irishman joining on 20 February. He will sit on the group board.


Eoghan O’Lionaird starts as Wates boss later this month

He was previously chief executive at listed marine services company James Fisher and Sons which was set up in the 1840s.

In its last set of results, the firm, which is based at Barrow in Cumbria and works in the offshore oil, shipping and defence sectors, posted a revenue of £494m but made a pre-tax loss of £29m.

O’Lionaird joined the firm in September 2019 but has been on gardening leave since last September. His CV also includes nearly 12 years at electronics firm Philips and five years at software service firm Spectris.

Wates chairman Sir James Wates said: “Eoghan is a globally accomplished, motivational leader with an impressive track record in industry and we’re very pleased to be welcoming him to Wates. We’re excited to appoint Eoghan to lead us into the next stage of our history.”

Wates said interim CEO Philip Wainwright, who took over after Allen left last July, will return to his previous role of chief financial officer.

O’Lionaird said: “What marks Wates out from the competition is how it has rallied its people around a purpose greater than profit alone. This is clear from its commitment to making the built environment more sustainable.”

Two years ago, O’Lionaird, who was paid a basic salary of £530,000 in 2021, told James Fisher’s in-house newsletter: “I was born and brought up in County Cork in Ireland, one of 12 children, all Gaelic speakers. Now I live in Surrey with my wife, two children (a daughter aged 16 and a son aged 10) and our recently acquired dog. We love theatre and opera and I enjoy nothing more than cooking a big Sunday roast and sitting down together for an extended chat.”

The appointment continues Wates’ recent tradition of bringing in chief executives from outside the industry.

Andrew Davies was brought in at the start of 2014 from defence business BAE Systems and stayed for four years before joining Kier. Davies replaced Paul Dreschler who was there for eight years after joining from chemicals firm ICI.

In its last set of results, Wates’ turnover jumped 12% in 2021 to £1.63bn on pre-tax profit up to £35.9m from just £839,000 in 2020.

Allen first joined Wates in 2016 as chief financial officer, after seven years as Crossrail finance director. He was previously finance director for the European construction business at Laing O’Rourke.