Archive : Times on new BL chief

The Times on Derek Whittaker

Whittaker, tall, thin and bespectacled, is not a man who impresses at first meeting. He is quietly spoken and shuns the limelight. At management gatherings he was often to be found sitting alone in a corner. This led to some colleagues describing him as “rather a cold fish” in his early days with British Leyland. He joined the corporation from Ford’ in January, 1972, as assistant group controller. But it was not until he left London to become managing director of the Austin-Morris body and assembly division based on Cowley that he began to make his mark. Within a few months he was. involved in the now famous, ” Thornett affair”.

In move which was described’ at the time. as “the biggest labour relations gamble since Lord Nuffield’s days” Whittaker ‘withdrew company recognition. of Allan Thornett, one of the most militant shop stewards at Cowley. Throughout the strike that inevitably followed Whittaker not only kept his nerve but was a calming influence on his colleagues.

One of them said last night: “He is one of the most determined men I know. He takes a lot of time to make up his mind but when it is made up nothing will shift him.”

Keith Adams

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