By David Young and Penny Symon
After what was probably the last meeting of the British Leyland board in its present form had ended at 6 pm yesterday, senior management at the London headquarters were called in to be told of proposed recommendations in the light of the Ryder report. The main one was that Mr Alexander Park, finance director, should become acting managing director.
The men at the centre of the shake-up had had their first official sight of the document outlining the future of their company and their own in the late afternoon. A taxi was sent to collect copies of the Ryder report from the Stationery Office in Holborn. Until then, Lord Stokes, chairman and chief executive, Mr John Barber, deputy chairman and managing director; and Mr Park, had been told only separately and confidentially of Sir Don Ryder’s view of how British Leyland should be run.
Lord Stokes met the Prime Minister and discussed the report one Wednesday, but was not allowed to take a copy away. In fact, two members of British Leyland’s junior management had copies before their chairman. They were given them by officials of the Department of Industry while they heard the statement on their company’s future being made in the Commons.
Throughout the afternoon board members discussed the situation among themselves in the topfloor executive suite of their Marylebone Road offices. Their speculations on the report were almost completely borne out. After the board meeting, the following statement was issued:
“The board of British Leyland, had its first sight of the contents of the Ryder report (abridged version only) later this afternoon and is studying it in detail. The Government’s willingness to support and strengthen the position of the corporation as a major vehicle producer and essential contributor to the national economy is welcomed. The detailed financial proposals announced by the Government will need to be carefully evaluated. After consultation with the corporation’s financial advisers, the board will make recommendations to shareholders.”
Mr Park, who takes over the main function of running British Leyland, joined the company as finance director in January, 1974. He had previously been with Rank Xerox, vhich he joined in 1968, as assistant director of finance, and controller and group director, planning information and control. Before that, he was finance director of the Cummins engineering company and director of planning and control of Monsanto Europe. Mr Park, aged 48, married with four sons, was educated at Constantine College, Middlesbrough, where he graduated in engineering. He served three years in the Royal Navy.
The map he effectively succeeds, Mr John Barber, is rare among finance men in big industry in that he has no formal financial qualifications. The war interrupted his study of economics. In 1939 he joined an infantry brigade and became its captain by the end of the war. Then he joined the Ministry of Supply, where he was appointed principal in the central finance department in 1955. His lack of financial qualification did not stand in his way when he joined Ford after seven years in the Civil Service. He became finance director within six years of joining the company and was responsible among other things for founding the highly successful Ford Motor Credit Company. In 1965 he joined AEI as finance director. Two years later he led the fight to get the best deal for AEI share- holders in the GEC takeover. He was appointed finance director and the man to plan the future of British Leyland by Sir Donald Stokes in 1967.
When Alex Park joined British Leyland as finance director, having been headhunted by John Barber-he could hardly have imagined that within 18 months he would be offered the job of running the company. Or could he? Park, who Sir Don Ryder’s team nominated as the man most suited to be chief executive of the new and almost certainly state controlled motor business, is an aggressive, hardheaded Northerner with a distinct mid Atlantic flavour.
It was not many weeks after joining the company in 1973 that he was able to talk like a man who had already been given a great deal of independence. And he was not afraid, too, of placing blame on the management of that time for some of the mistakes: Australia, for example, where within the space of two years, British Leyland’s ambitious plans to launch a new big car dissolved into a critical mess that involved a recent heavy write-off there and withdrawal from manufacturing. Park was closely involved in the management decision to call it a day in Australia for manufacturing, and it was typical of him. He is prepared to make hard decisions.
And one can expect plenty from him in the coming few months. Nevertheless, to the wider business community he is little known. Only now, at 48, is be to become a national figure. Before British Leyland he worked for two North American multi nationals, Monsanto and Cummins, and then in 1968 joined Rank Xerox, the fabulously successful copying machine business. In those companies, of course Park, a cost and works accountant, accepted anonymity along with most other senior executives.
Will we now see the new British Leyland become less of a personality machine than before?