Archive : John Towers: Rover boss

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.

Honda collaboration

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.

Industrial relations

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.

Keith Adams


  1. Of all the Phoenix Four, I seem to have had most respect for John Towers. Anyone know what he’s up to now?

    • Feet up enjoying his retirement I would imagine – rumor has it he got quite a decent pension!

  2. I also had more respect for him over the other Phoenix partners. He had the closest affinity with Rover Group and most experience (?) How those 16 years since MG Rover folded have passed so quick.

  3. Fascinated to read that in 1994 John Towers had endeavoured to arrange a management buyout of Rover (then owned by British Aerospace, immediately before they sold it to BMW), with Honda taking a 40% share. I don’t recall that being public knowledge at the time.

    If only it had gone ahead, we’d likely still have the company with us today. At that time (before the BMW takeover scuppered it) the relationship with Honda was at its peak, and the Rover model line-up its best for years; and as Keith’s article reminds us, John Towers’ four years as Managing Director at Rover turned the company around from an annual loss of £49m to an annual profit of £92m (only for it then to fall back into massive loss-making again, following his departure under BMW).

    A truly epic tragedy that the buyout didn’t succeed. With others, John Towers tried and came so close to saving MG-Rover from 2000 to 2005, and we now learn that he’d got even closer the previous decade.

    I hope that more people take the opportunity to read Keith’s 2000 article, and that it helps restore John Towers’ unjustly tarnished reputation.

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