Tony Douglas, Laing O’Rourke’s new chief operating officer, announces five-year plan to turn it into the most modern firm in British construction

Laing O’Rourke’s new chief operating officer has laid out a five-year plan for the contractor that he says will “surprise the hell” out of the industry.

Tony Douglas

Tony Douglas has just joined Laing O’Rourke from BAA, where he was chief executive of Heathrow. In his time there he oversaw the construction of Terminal 5, a project that was widely hailed as an example of state-of-the-art construction.

In first interview since switching jobs, Douglas said Laing O’Rourke would become a “super heavyweight” company that would surpass the standards achieved at T5.

With a candidness unusual in a senior Laing O’Rourke executive, Douglas said he would aim to form strategic alliances with clients that will enable the contractor to shape projects from their inception. He added that, as at T5, it would rely on advanced off-site manufacturing to improve project delivery.

He said: “This is a new proposition. Next year this will be happening and 80% of our business will be like it from 2012.

“What I’m doing is signalling in an overt way: keep your eye on Laing O’Rourke. We will surprise the hell out of everyone.”

Douglas was speaking as Laing O’Rourke revealed rapid growth for the year to 31 March. Pre-tax profit rose 30% to £44.5m and turnover increased by a third to £3.5bn. The company is aiming for a turnover of more than £5bn next year, which will make it the second largest contractor in the UK after Balfour Beatty.

Douglas dismissed the suggestion that the timing of his departure from BAA, where he had worked for nine years, was connected to the airport operator’s current difficulties.

He said: “Terminal 5 is 98% complete. The timing was right, I’ve moved on.”

He added that he “could have gone to at least three plc chief executive jobs” but chose the Laing O’Rourke job because it was the most exciting and because of his relationship with Ray O’Rourke, the company’s chairman and chief executive, with whom he worked on T5.

He said: “Ray and I have a very special relationship. We have some things in common and we are different too. Ray is a forthright person with massive energy and ambition. I have that level of energy and ambition to deliver. The differences are I’ve come from an established big company. Laing O’Rourke has gone through phenomenal change to become a big company.”

Douglas would not comment on whether he was being groomed to succeed O’Rourke: “Ray is not planning to retire tomorrow.”

He said he was not concerned by his lack of a construction background because he had transferrable skills. He said: “Leadership is key. That’s my job and I’ve done it in lots of other environments. I don’t see any challenge there.”

BAA said that the Competition Commission probe into its position in the UK airports industry, which could lead to a break-up, will not affect the appointment of contractors to its projects framework.