Ray O’Rourke, 75 next January, has told the Financial Times that he is looking for someone to take over from him running the company and will then sell up.
“We will float the company in a few years’ time,” he told the newspaper . “By 2024 we will be in good shape.”
Irishman Ray O’Rourke started out as a site worker on the construction of the Victoria Line under London in the 1960s. With his younger brother Desmond he set up a contracting business in 1978. In 2001 he took over the failed John Laing Construction business for just £1, propelling the O’Rourkes to the top table of UK construction. Ray O’Rourke remains majority owner and is reputedly worth £380m, according to a Sunday newspaper 'rich list'.
He stepped aside as chief executive in 2013 after appointing Laing long-server Anna Stewart to the role. She stepped down in December 2015 due to an illness that took her life two years later. To date, she has been the only person that Ray O’Rourke has trusted with running his business.
In his FT interview, Ray O’Rourke said that the company might not do a listing in “the traditional way”. He said: “People are now saying the day of the big investment banker putting it together may have to be done differently. There’s a great opportunity to innovate around this.”
In the year to 31st March 2020, Laing O’Rourke made a pre-tax profit of £45.5m (2019: £32.7m) on revenue from continuing operations down 11% to £2,448.5m (2019: £2,753.4m). Four years earlier it has made a loss of nearly £220m.
Ray O’Rourke said that UK construction was hampered by rapid rotation of ministers in charge of construction and how long it took to get decisions made.
“Democracy is a very expensive pastime. If we get rid of some of the red tape then that would be very helpful,” he said. “I know China is totally different, but when you look at what they achieve in a short space of time, it takes us twice the time to get to the start point.”
He added: “I think if we had a more executive government and we were closer to the fire of industry then that would be helpful.”
A Laing O’Rourke spokesperson subsequently told the Construction Index that it had nothing to add to the FT report but confirmed that Ray O’Rourke had been quoted accurately.