Ray O’Rourke has given a rare public insight into his rise from a “pony boy” working on London’s Victoria Line underground tunnel to heading the UK’s leading contractor.

He also reveals that he found taking on Laing in 2001 a daunting task at first. The Laing O’Rourke chairman speaks of his admiration for fellow contractors from Ireland including Clancy, Byrne Group and Pat Harrington.

A keen rugby man, he also talks of his delight at seeing Ireland win the Six Nations Championship and how sport has fostered relations between England and Ireland.

The programme for Enterprise Ireland, which is backed by the Irish Government and celebrates overseas business success, charts O’Rourke’s rise and his business thinking.

O’Rourke came to London in 1966 and started out pushing bogeys up to tunnellers to collect spoil for contractor J Murphy.

He worked for founder John Murphy for eight years before getting itchy feet. He set up in business after winning his first contract for a princely £2,500, running his business out of the laundry room at the end of his garage.

Since these humble origins the firm has grown from its traditional groundworks and concrete roots, buying Laing to help him build a top five UK contractor operating around the world.

O’Rourke talks of his drive to improve productivity using a trained and motivated workforce, often pioneering technological advances in construction.

His firm recently topped out the Cheesegrater, its first major high rise scheme in London, exploiting digital engineering (BIM) and off-site manufacturing.

He said: “My vision for the future is that we will  transition from trades to technicians and we will have a lot more woman working on the assembly and delivery of projects.

“Maybe that’s why we have a lady as our chief executive now.”

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