WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2008-03 > 1206274783
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] LAING: John Maurice Laing 2008
Date: Sun, 23 Mar 2008 12:19:43 -0000
Sir Maurice Laing
Last Updated: 2:43am GMT 19/03/2008
Sir Maurice Laing, who died on February 22 aged 90, was chairman of John
Laing plc, the construction group that built the M1 motorway; he was also
the first president of the Confederation of British Industry.
Sir Maurice Laing: in middle age he became
a well-known off-shore racing yachtsman
The Laing family business traced its origins to 1848, when James Laing,
Maurice's great-grandfather, built his first house on a 30 plot of land in
Cumberland. It was Maurice's father John, a business autocrat and a devout
member of the Christian Brethren, who built the firm into a more substantial
enterprise, moving its headquarters from Carlisle to Mill Hill in north
London in 1922.
Maurice and his elder brother Kirby took over day-to-day running of the
business in the early 1950s, when the firm was playing a major role in the
rebuilding of Britain's much-damaged housing stock.
Maurice - a man of high integrity and quietly expressed but passionate, and
sometimes unconventional, beliefs - led the domestic side of the business,
while Kirby led its international expansion.
Laing was originally invited to bid only for the construction of one short
section of the proposed London to Yorkshire motorway that became the M1.
Instead the firm bid for, and won, the whole stretch from Slip End near
Luton (Junction 10), where the project was inaugurated in March 1958, to
Rugby (Junction 18).
It was the most ambitious highway project ever attempted in Britain, but
despite bad weather in the early stages the 5,000-strong workforce advanced
by an average of a mile every eight days. The road was completed on time at
the budgeted cost of 16.5 million, and was officially opened on November 2
Other notable Laing contracts of Maurice's era ranged from Coventry
cathedral to the Regent's Park mosque. Maurice was deputy chairman of the
group from 1966, and succeeded Kirby as chairman from 1976 to 1982.
He had begun to develop a public profile as far back as the early 1960s,
however, when he served on a number of trade missions and public committees,
and became president of the British Employers' Confederation.
In 1965 the BEC merged with the Federation of British Industries and the
National Association of British Manufacturers to form the CBI as a single
representative voice by which employers (initially there were 13,000 member
companies) could respond both to Harold Wilson's Labour government and to
the growing power of the TUC.
Chosen as the CBI's first president, Laing struck a sympathetic tone towards
shopfloor workers, urging his members to treat them as "human beings and not
just resources"; but in his presidential address he condemned the 1966
seamen's strike and other disputes, saying they made Britain seem "hell-bent
on industrial suicide".
John Maurice Laing was born at Carlisle on February 1 1918. He was educated
with his elder brother Kirby at St Lawrence College, Ramsgate, which he
disliked. His father having declared that he could afford to send only his
elder son to university, Maurice started work in 1935 as a costing clerk on
a building site.
Within two years he was managing small projects, and in 1939 he became a
director of the company and was put in charge of building barrage-balloon
stations for the RAF.
Fascinated from childhood by aeroplanes, he conceived an ambition to join
the RAF; but his father, with whom Maurice had a turbulent relationship, was
determined he should stay to take charge of building airfields - of which
the firm built 54 in the course of the war.
In 1941 Maurice was accepted into the RAF, but his father immediately
demanded that the Air Ministry should eject him. In the ferocious row that
followed Maurice declared he would rather go to prison if he was not allowed
to join the war effort. He eventually qualified as a pilot and was seconded
to the Glider Pilot Regiment for the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945.
As soon as the war ended, Maurice returned to work for his formidable
father, who remained president of the company until his death, aged 99, in
During Maurice's chairmanship of John Laing, its property interests were
demerged into a separate company, Laing Properties, which to his great
displeasure later fell to a hostile takeover bid from P&O. After Kirby's son
Sir Martin Laing took the helm of the construction business in the
mid-1980s, Maurice became its life president.
He was also a member of the court of the Bank of England from 1963 to 1980,
and a governor of both the Administrative Staff College and the National
Institute of Social and Economic Research.
As president of the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors in 1978, at
a time when he was much agitated by the potential threat of nationalisation
in his industry, he declared that Britain had become a "switched-off,
no-reward" society: "We do indeed have what the continentals call the
In middle age Laing took up sailing as a serious hobby and became a
well-known offshore racer, notably in his yacht Loujane, which regularly
beat Edward Heath's Morning Cloud in the 1970s; he was a frequent competitor
in the Fastnet race and sat on the committee of inquiry into the catastrophe
of the 1979 race in which 24 yachts and 15 lives were lost.
He was rear-commodore and trustee of the Royal Yacht Squadron, president of
the Royal Yachting Association, and admiral of both the Royal Ocean Racing
Club and the Island Sailing Club at Cowes.
Maurice Laing inherited from his father a belief in philanthropic duty. He
gave 1 million to the Cowes Town Waterfront Trust in 1993 to restore the
marina; the events centre there is named after him. Reflecting another of
his passions, he also funded a chair of complementary medicine at the
Peninsula Medical School in Exeter. Latterly his family trusts gave
extensive support to environmental and medical projects in the Third World.
A devout Christian, he was president of the London Bible College, as his
father had been.
Maurice Laing married Hilda Richards in 1940; they had a son.
|[W-OBITS] LAING: John Maurice Laing 2008 by "Peter McCrae" <>|