John Towers, who led the Phoenix consortium bid to take over Rover Group last year, is a veteran of the car industry.
Mr Towers, 53, has once before been head of the company. He left Rover in 1996 after being sidelined by the BMW management and frustrated by the direction the company was taking. He disagreed with BMW’s attempt to move Rover upmarket by developing executive cars, believing that it should stick to its existing middle market segment.
And he was disappointed that BMW seemed less than keen to develop the MG sports car brand, which could have put it in competition with BMW’s own Z3 sports cars. Mr Towers also believed that BMW, although good at engineering, was poor at marketing the Rover.
Since taking over the firm last year he has begun an aggressive price cutting campaign – although that has been undermined by moves by his UK rivals to also cut prices of new cars following the government’s competition commission report.
Mr Towers’ most important contribution to the history of Rover was its collaboration with Honda. The Japanese car company supplied the engines for Rover and many of the designs for its cars in the 1980s, including the Rover 200, 400 and 600.
Under Mr Towers, Honda also began to influence the production system at Rover, in an attempt to replace the confrontational style of industrial relations with a more co-operative system based on Japanese practices. Productivity at the Longbridge plant shot up, and the company’s costs were reduced by the use of ‘just-in-time’ manufacturing practices.
During Mr Towers’ four years as managing director at Rover, the company went from a loss of £49m to a profit of £92m. In 1994 Mr Towers tried to arrange a management buyout of Rover, which was then owned by British Aerospace. Honda was to have taken a 40% share, but City fears about the future of Rover scuppered the deal, leaving the way open for BAe to dispose of the company to BMW.
Mr Towers has always worked in the engineering industry, having joined Rover in 1988 from the engine company Perkins. He has a degree in mechanical engineering. His swift progression at Rover began with a job as engineering director, from which he moved to manage Land Rover, which was then in the middle of a six-week strike.
His experience of the strike, where he ended up helping build Land Rovers on the shop floor, led him to the conviction that improving industrial relations at Rover was central to its future success. Under Mr Towers, the company operated a single status policy, with no separate canteen for executives, no executive parking spaces, and the same uniforms for all.
Mr Towers quickly rose to become product development director, then head of product supply, before becoming chief executive in 1991. His reputation as a nice guy did him little good, and some believe if he had been both ruthless and ambitious Rover would not have fallen into BMW’s hands.
After leaving Rover, Mr Towers ran a medium size engineering company, Concentric, in the West Midlands, keeping his roots in the motor industry.
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