Laing O’Rourke appoints engineering heavyweight next chairman

UK contractor Laing O’Rourke has appointed Sir John Parker, currently chairman of mining group Anglo American and a visiting fellow at Oxford, as its next chairman.

Sir John, who turned 75 this month, said he would take up the position later this year. In the interim, he said, he would familiarise himself with key projects and clients.

Ray O’Rourke, the chief executive of Laing O’Rourke, commented in a press statement: "As former President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a visiting fellow at Oxford University, he takes a keen interest in the development of engineering technology and talent, a core value of our global business.

"I am excited to work closely with Sir John to make Laing O’Rourke the recognised leader for innovation and excellence in the construction industry."

Sir John said he would take up the position later this year after stepping down from the Chairman’s role at Anglo American plc.

He said: "A culture of engineering excellence is deeply embedded at Laing O’Rourke. I have a deep respect for the organisation that Ray and Des O’Rourke built from scratch over the past 40 years."

He joins Laing O’Rourke at a difficult point in the company’s history. Although it is widely acknowledged to be a pioneer in modern methods of construction, it made a loss of £246m ($315m) in the year to March 2016 as a result of problem contracts, including a £1.3bn hospital in Canada.

Sir John announced his departure from Anglo American in February. He had been in that role since early 2009, during which time the collapse in commodity prices associated with the slowdown in the Chinese economy led to a 46% fall in the company’s share price and the sale of many of its assets in what the Financial Times called a "shrink to survive" strategy.

In January 2013, he brought in current chief executive Mark Cutifani and was forced to defend Cutifani’s £3.4m ($4.4m) pay package for 2015, a year in which underlying operating profit fell 55% and the company suspended its dividend.

He first came to prominence in 1983, when he was chosen by the Thatcher government to privatise Harland and Wolff, the state-owned Northern Irish shipbuilder. Sir John, who was born in County Down, had joined the firm’s ship design team in 1964.

He has since been chairman and chief executive of engineer Babcock, chairman of energy company Lattice Group and chairman of the National Grid.

Last autumn, he led a review into diversity on UK boards that recommended that every FTSE 100 company appoint at least one director from an ethnic minority.

Image: Sir John Parker, a lifelong engineer (Mike Abrahams)

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