Forty years ago this month, Michael Edwardes officially became Chairman and Chief Executive of British Leyland. It was 9.25am when the new Chairman arrived in a chauffeur-driven car outside his new office at Nuffield House, 41 Piccadilly, Mayfair in London. Edwardes would be using the office of British Leyland’s Honorary President, Lord Stokes.
He had been expected to clock in at 8.30am. Waiting reporters asked him what he thought about being head of the Government-owned car firm, and he said: ‘It will be a formidable task. I hope to enjoy it.’
Edwardes also said that the vote by British Leyland car workers in favour of a new pay bargaining system was encouraging. ‘I think it’s good news. It shows a lot of people want to get things sorted out. If a few more people buy British and Leyland it would help.’
On the day Michael Edwardes took up his new post, Leyland Cars was hit by another stoppage
Michael Edwardes was also asked if he could bring about the recovery of British Leyland. He replied: ‘Yes, if I have to stand on my head to do it.’
Edwardes brought three staff members from Chloride: John McKay, Communications Director; Sheila Witts, his personal assistant and Margaret Evans, his secretary. By 2013, Michael Edwardes’ original British Leyland office was a Pret a Manger restaurant.
Strikes ahoy at British Leyland
On the day Michael Edwardes took up his new post, British Leyland was hit by another stoppage. Some 1500 workers at the Triumph Speke No.2 plant on Merseyside, which produced the TR7, walked out only a few hours after they had resumed work. They had been laid off for over three weeks by a strike since settled at Triumph, Coventry.
The trouble centred on management plans based on studies by industrial engineers to introduce new manning scales and work levels to improve productivity. Shop stewards claimed that the company had broken a local agreement by taking a unilateral decision to implement these new arrangements.
However, the company maintained that the decision to go ahead with the plans was taken only after national negotiating procedures had been followed when it became clear that no progress towards agreement could be made at plant level.