MAKING THE NEWS — Gleeson’s interim chief executive waits to hear if he’s got the nod

Paul Wallwork, MJ Gleeson’s interim chief executive, is riding high. He has steered the contractor through its restructuring and reduced its debt from £100m to £15m in nine months.

But despite this performance, Wallwork may be forced to return to the financial director’s post if the hunt for the permanent chief executive ends with the appointment of an external candidate.

When Wallwork joined Gleeson as its financial director in January 2006 from Inchcape Automotive, a car products firm, he was a complete unknown in the construction industry. His remit was to sort out the troubled contractor’s finances.

Just seven months into the job Terry Massingham resigned from the chief executive’s post and he found himself pitchforked in as his replacement. He then carried out Massingham’s restructuring plan, including the sale of non-core businesses.

The plan seems to have worked. Last month Gleeson reported that its losses had been reduced from £17.8m to £3m and promised to return cash to its shareholders.

Wallwork, who is 44, must now wait to see if this has been enough to convince the nominations committee that he can have the top job permanently.

He confirmed that he has applied for the position of chief executive at Gleeson and a source close to the business says he would relish the chance to run a listed company.

I’ve done just about everything you will do as a chief executive

Paul Wallwork

The source describes him as personable and likeable, but also a tough negotiator, particularly when it comes to buying and selling: he is credited with getting a generous £36m for Gleeson’s engineering business.

On the other hand, Wallwork has little operational experience and is still a relative newcomer to construction, two factors that may work against him.

Wallwork certainly believes he can do the job. At the time of the results announcement last month he said he had done “just about everything you will do as a chief executive” and added, pointedly, that he was looking forward to getting down to the “day-to-day” running of the business.

He also demonstrated some of the political skills required in a chief executive by praising his team. “I’m intensely proud of the people at Gleeson,” he said.

All this might not be enough to secure the job. Gleeson was able to dig itself out of a hole last time because it had plenty of assets that could be sold to repair the balance sheet. The new, slimmed down company has much less margin for error, and that may persuade Gleeson’s nominations committee to look for a more experienced boss, or at least a better known quantity.

People close to Wallwork say that if he fails to get the chief executive’s job he would not immediately leave the firm, but would stay on to see out the remainder of the restructuring plan.

However, once the plan is in place, it is unlikely that he would be around to puzzle the committee for a second time.