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Tue November 30 2021

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O’Rourke reveals succession plan ahead of flotation

5 days Laing O'Rourke founder and majority shareholder Ray O'Rourke will step down as group chief executive in September 2022.

Seamus French will take as CEO of Laing O'Rourke in September 2022
Seamus French will take as CEO of Laing O'Rourke in September 2022

The next chief executive of Laing O’Rourke will be Seamus French, who recently handed in his notice as chief executive of Anglo American’s Bulk Commodities and Other Minerals division.

Ray O’Rourke’s son Cathal O’Rourke is also stepping down as managing director of the company’s Australia operations.

The withdrawal of the family from senior management paves the way for some kind of initial public offering, Ray O'Rourke’s chosen exit strategy.

He told the Irish Independent in a rare interview in 2017 that “I think it's unlikely that an IPO would happen while I'm still chief executive”.

In August this year he told the Financial Times that he was looking for someone to take over from him running the company and would then sell up. “We will float the company in a few years’ time,” he said.

Seamus French, 57, will join the Laing O’Rourke leadership team in January 2022, initially as managing director of the Europe Hub and CEO-designate, on a three-year contract.

Come September, when the financial results for the year to March 2022 are published, Seamus French will become group chief executive and Europe Hub managing director.

Ray O’Rourke, who turns 75 in January, will join his brother Des as a non-executive deputy chairman of the group.

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Seamus French has already spent 18 months as a non-executive director, getting to know the business. Anglo American announced earlier this month that he handed in his notice there.

Before joining Anglo American in 2007, Seamus French worked in a range of chemical and mining businesses, including as global vice president and a member of the executive committee at BHP Billiton.

Chairman Sir John Parker described him as “a world-class executive with rich engineering experience, a successful leadership and project track record, and deep knowledge of our operating markets”.

Ray O’Rourke turns 75 in January
Ray O’Rourke turns 75 in January

Seamus French said: “I am honoured that the board has given me the opportunity to lead the business. During my time on the board, I have been hugely impressed by Laing O’Rourke’s team, its technical and engineering expertise, the current portfolio of projects and strong order book. It has a compelling vision to transform construction and to build safely and sustainably, while always caring for its people.

“Ray, Des and the leadership team have set some very exciting ambitions for the next few years and I’m confident we have the people and experience to achieve those goals, while continuing to push the boundaries of what’s possible in this vital industry.”

Replacing Cathal O'Rourke as managing director of the Australia Hub will be Rebecca Hanley, an Australian national who is the current group director of strategy and transformation, and leader of Laing O’Rourke’s R&D operations. She also used to work for Anglo American. She will take over in April 2022.

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