LEYLAND HITS TOP GEAR
By Kingsley Squire
BRITISH Leyland is up, up and away. That was the message yesterday from a buoyant Mr John Barber, newly appointed managing director and deputy chairman.He dispelled talk of a board room split and stressed: ‘We are one people with a board, that could not be more united than it is now.’
Mr Barber, who emerged as heir-apparent to Lord Stokes in last week’s management reshuffle, was speaking after a ‘summit’ conference of the corporations 150 top executives from all over the world.
The conference, held at a hotel just outside Coventry, was scheduled several weeks before Mr. Barber took over the responsibilities of Mr George Turnbull, who quit the managing director’s job last week after a major boardroom disagreement. Said one British Leyland executive yesterday: ‘George was a lone voice in the wilderness.’
Mr Barber, in his first interview since the reshuffle, would not comment on Mr Turnbull’s departure. ‘I am not interested in the past, only in the future,’ he said.
But the new No. 2 took, the opportunity of the conference to signpost the corporation’s way ahead to recapture lost ground in the battle for car sales, and forge ahead. Later he spoke of the challenge to Increase production targets and cut down on waiting time for new cars.
Said Mr Barber: ‘We have a tremendous programme of expansion involving vast capital expenditure and a lot of new models coming along to meet competition,one of the biggest ‘challenges which never ceases to face us.’
Just how seriously British Leyland takes the opposition was lined up both inside and outside the hotel, 30 foreign- made cars and trucks exhibited alongside its own latest production models from at homeand abroad. The foreign ‘motor show’ included the just-announced Opel Kadett car, the only one yet seen in Britain.
‘Enthusiasm for the product is what I like to see in our top management. These foreign products are on show here so that our men can see the size of the competition we face.’
He looked back: over the last five years which has seen British Leyland integrate eight separate companies into one giant Corporation of 200,000 employees. Added Mr Barber: ‘We have seen that phase successfully completed. We may have lost some ground. But we are now entering a completely new phase of continued expansion with more production being the No.1 target.’
He admitted that industrial relations remained a thorny question, a factor which has heaped vast-production losses on the company in the past.
But Mr Barber added: ‘We think our industrial relations record is better now. We have changed most of our payment systems. We have improved our communications with the shop floor. We are now suffering from fewer internal strikes than ever before.’