By Clifford Webb
Mr Derek Whittaker, British Leyland’s new car chief, has given Jaguar almost total independence despite the Ryder reports emphasis on the need for total integration of all the group’s car companies -Austin Morris, Rover Triumph and Jaguar. Mr Geoffrey Robinson, who was Jaguar’s managing director for about 18 months, recently resigned as a protest against the Ryder recommendations.
He said Jaguar’s independence was fundamental to the success of its role as the prestige flag carrier for the British motor industry. Jaguar workers held a series of demonstrations demanding Mr Robinson’s return. His office at Jaguar’s Coventry headquarters is now occupied by Mr Tony Thompson, British Leyland’s operations director for large cars. But Mr Thompson has also been appointed chairman of a so called Jaguar operating committee. This new management body – exclusive to Jaguar-effectively gives the company a board of directors reporting direct to Mr Whittaker and not, as in the case of other car companies, to Mr Richard Perry, managing director of power and transmissions and Mr lan Showan, managing director body and assembly.
Further evidence of Mr Whittaker’s determination to prevent the break-up of the successful Jaguar team is the appointment of Mr Bob Knight to head an engineering department which will be separately administered from the newly. formed British Leyland Cars central engineering and development department under Mr Spen King. Mr Knight, who will report direct to Mr Whittaker, has been at Jaguar since 1944. He was appointed chief engineer in 1963 and joined the board in 1969.
Commenting on the new Jaguar structure yesterday, Mr Whittaker said: “I am determined that Jaguar retains its pre-eminence and reputation for high quality and distinction. The retention of Jaguar engineering reporting directly to me, and the formation of the operating committee, will play a vital part in maintaining the Jaguar image and reputation.”
The new Jaguar chief, Mr Thompson, said: “Jaguar people right down to the shop floor, were very disappointed at the threat to their independence. Over the years they had built up a very tight team, with a successful formula. We want that to continue with as little interference as possible.”