Until a replacement is found, Sir Lewis Robertson, the company doctor who has chaired Lilley since 1986, will share the running of the company with James Hann, who has joined the board as deputy chairman.
Mr Rankin was recruited by Sir Lewis in 1988 to lead Lilley on a path of rapid expansion. Lilley had only recently recovered from a pounds 50m loss suffered on US and other overseas contracts.
Mr Rankin narrowly failed to win the pounds 137m bid for Tilbury in 1989, but this left Lilley with a large and costly stake in its rival, eventually sold at a loss.
The recession pushed Lilley back into the red with a pounds 5m loss last year and last month it passed its interim dividend because of the 'hostile and uncertain climate'. The group's shares have fallen to 6 1/2 p from 60p in March 1991. They jumped 10p to 54p the day Mr Rankin's appointment was announced.
Sir Lewis said Mr Rankin, paid pounds 142,000 last year, would receive a fair payment in compensation for losing his job. Mr Rankin owns 70,000 shares in Lilley.
Sir Lewis said Cubiertas y Mzov and Entrecanales y Tavora, the Spanish shareholders who own 21.5 per cent of Lilley through a joint venture, were being supportive.
He said Lilley had a flow of work although margins were under pressure.Reuse content