By Clifford Webb
Mr George Turnbull, 45, one of the two deputy managing directors of British Leyland and head of its key Austin-Morris division, has also been appointed chairman of the truck and bus division. He now has direct responsibility for some three quarters of British Leyland’s manufacturing capacity and must be seen as the leading contender for the post of managing director of the corporation.
Announcing the appointment yesterday Lord Stokes, chairman and managing director, said: “Until now I have had direct responsibility for the truck and bus division myself but now that we are operating as one corporation and not a loose holding company controlling a collection of semi- independent subsidiary companies, we are pursuing a policy of delegating more and more management responsibility and additionally reducing the number of activities which report direct to the chief executive.”
Lord Stokes, who is 58, is believed to be under pressure to share his duties wvith a new chief executive. Two obvious candidates have emerged, Mr Turmbull and Mr John Barber, the ex-Ford man who is group director of finance and planning. Mr Barber’s standing was recently reinforced when he was appointed chairman of Levland Australia, chairman of Leyland Innocenti and given management responsibility for subsidiaries in Spain and South Africa.
Both men are group deputy managing directors. Mr Turnbull. an ex-apprentice at Standard (now Triumph), was spotted by Lord Stokes at an early age. He was appointed divisional manager of Standard in 1956 when he was only 30. Since then he has been carefully groomed for leadership. When British Leyland was formed by the merging of Leyland and the British Motor Corporation four years ago he was promoted from the comparatively minor position as head of Triumph to run the huge but ailing Austin-Morris division.
Many in the industry were openly critical of Lord Stokes’s choice. They insisted that the problems of a widely scattered BMC with an annual output of around 800,000 cars were very different from those of Triumph with only two production centres and an output of some 120,000 cars a year.
When Austin-Morris made a loss of £16m in 1969-70 it seemed that the critics were right. But in the last financial year Austin-Morris showed a turnround of some £25m to a profit of £9m. More recently there were persistent rumours that Mr Turnbull had been offered a senior post by the British Steel Corporation. It is believed that it was soon afterwards that he was approached to take on the additional responsibilities of the truck and bus division.
Mr Ron Ellis, the division’s managing director since the merger and an old colleague of Lord Stokes and Mr Turnbull, will continue as managing director.