Archive : New team for BLMC’s car division

British Leyland – has had to stop, production of Allegro, Maxi, Marina, 18/22 and some Triumph models because no suspension units are available. Output on Mini models, which was restarted last week after Leyland shipped back to Birmingham stocks of suspension units which had previously been exported to an assembly plant in Milan, is expected to be halted again either today or tomorrow. This alone will mean the layoff of more than 5,000 workers in Birmingham and Castle Bromwich where the Mini bodies are made.

New team for BLMC’s car division
By Clifford Webb

Mr Derek Whittaker, British Leyland’s new car chief, yesterday announced a top team of 15, to assist him in the running of the combined Austin Morris, Jaguar, Rover, Triumph operation with its 120,000-strong labour force. Immediate reaction included the resignation of Mr Geoffrey Robinson, managing director of Jaguar, and hints that more resignations could follow. Last night Mr Robinson denied that his departure was connected with the announcement. He said it was a direct result of the decision to amalgamate Jaguar with other car companies. A Labour Party activist, he had for some time been tipped for a top job in a state controlled British Leyland. He played a key role in the establishment of the Government financed Meriden motorcycle co-operative.

Mr Robinson said “I was offered a job under Derek Whittaker and I declined. But my resignation has nothing to do with today’s announcement. It is simply that I disagree entirely wvith the Ryder recommendation that Jaguar should lntegrate with other car companies. I fought hard against this and now that I have lost I prefer to leave”.

The key appointments are those of Mr Bill Davis, manufacturing; Mr Spen King, engineering and development; Mr Keith Hopkins, sales and marketing; Mr Geoffrey Whalen, personnel, Mr Alan Sheppard, service and parts; Mr Dick Perry, power train and foundries, and Mr Ian Showan, body and assembly. A surprise appointment is that of Brigadier Charles Maple as quality director. He joined British Leyland only a few months ago as corporate standards manager, coming straight from 35 years’ army service and the top job in the quality assurance directorate for fighting vehicles. Mr Tony Thompson, director and general manager of Cowley operations, was last night appointed operations director for large cars and will act as chairman of the Jaguar operating committee.

Whither Robinson?

It is only a week since Derek Whittaker was appointed managing director of British Leyland’s new- combined car company and, as his colleagues promised the sparks are already flying.

Within hours of announcing the members of his top team one managing director had resigned and other resignations are expected. But setbacks of this kind will not deter Whittaker, a determined administrator who con- fesses to being “a little amused” when colleagues describe him as “rather a cold fish”.

The resignation of Geoffrey Robinson, the 36-year-old high- flying managing director of Jaguar, probably results as much from a clash of characters as, from pique at being passed oyer. Robinson is a fast speaking intellectual who seems undecided between a career in the motor industry and returning to his first love, Labour Party politics. A close friend of Tony Benn, he embarrassed Lord Stokes and other Leyland- top brass when it was learnt. that he was the organizing genius and chief negotiator of the Meriden motor cycle cooperative.

It is believed that he took on this work at Benn’s request. But Robinson has done an excellent job in breaking down the management’s resistance to outsiders which prevailed when he arrived at Jaguar 18 months ago. Although he bloodied a few noses in the process, he has given the Coventry company a much more stable commercial basis upon which to build when demand for executive cars returns. Yesterday, shaken shop stewards insisted he address them before the start of the day’s work. Where will he go now ? Last night he said he had already had a number of offers but refused to say whether they included political appointments. The betting is that he will be offered a post with the National Enterprise Board.

Some of the 15-strong Leyland car team clearly chose themselves. Bill Davis, 55, the new manufacturing director, was already in charge of corporate manufacturing and highly regarded throughout the industry.

Spen King, 49, the new engineering and development director, has been described as “an Alec Issigonis with his feet on the ground”. If Issigonis gave us the Mini, King was not far behind with Rover Jet One,the world’s first jet-powered car, the long- running Rover 2000 series, the remarkable four valves per cylinder Triumph Dolomite Sprint and the mid-engined Rover sports car which a hard- pressed British Leyland could not afford to put into production.

But noses will be put out of joint at the choice of Leyland’s former public relations chief, Keith Hopkins, as sales and marketing director. Hopkins was appointed managinrg director of the Austin-Morris. division only seven months ago after the break-up of the old Austin-Morris empire. His new company covered only sales and marketing but was a remarkable step up for a PR man.

Keith Adams

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