SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
By a special correspondent in London
At only 34 a man who entered the motor industry by accident has been given sole charge of Jaguar Cars, one of the big success stories of British industry. Next month Geoffrey Robinson takes over from ˜Lofty England, the man who succeeded Sir William Lyons, the legendary founder of Jaguar.
And there is no doubt that Mr Robinson, created managing director and chief executive by Lord Stokes, is one of the few men in the industry who could step into such venerated shoes without a qualm and command instant respect.
‘No. I am not overawed by the job. I had a much tougher one when I was financial controller of British Leyland but I personally couldn’t have a better opportunity,’ he says.
‘Jaguar has always been a highly individual operation.’ But that does not mean that the new broom will be making a clean sweep. Mr Robinson is backed by a man with 30 years service to Jaguar.
‘My right hand is Bob Knight a brilliantly outstanding engineer and he will be responsible for maintaining Jaguar’s unique engineering strength.’
After graduating from Cambridge with a first in modern languages, Mr Robinson won a scholarship to Yale, in the United States, to study economics. He also passed the civil service Russian course. Now he speaks both Russian and Italian fluently.
‘After I finished my education I worked for the Labour party then moved to the IRC (Industrial Reorganisation Committee ). Here I met the Leyland people and in 1968 when I was 30 I joined British Leyland as financial controller, a very, very tough job then.’
By this time Lord Stokes had already picked Mr Robinson as a man with a great future, but decided he needed to know more about the manufacturing side of the motor industry.
So he sent him as managing director of Leyland Innocenti in 1972 when British Leyland acquired control of the Italian company.
The first thing Mr Robinson did was to call all the workers and address them in fluent Italian. Says Mr Robinson, who has a beautiful Italian wife Marie Elena and a three year old daughter: ‘We gave the workers better conditions and worked for better industrial relations and got them. There is no secret about how you do it. You put in the effort, give them the right incentives and conditions and the results come automatically.’
He has already made changes that have been accepted well and is confident the future will be even better. ‘My priorities for the cars are: one – quality: two – production. I want to double production to cope with the two year order book we have. But of paramount importance is reliability. Jaguar must become the most reliable car in the world.’
What of the future and in particular the energy crisis and the switch to economy cars?
‘I am not worried. As far as I know, we haven’t had a single order cancelled. There is a widely rumoured replacement for the E-type on the way and the new coupe announced last motor show should start coming off the end of the line at the end of the month. Obviously we are designing for the future all the time and there is no reason to hold back expansion because of the present problems that face the country. I am determined to double production to 60,000 units a year.’
Geoffrey Robison has so far been a man of his word. I can’t see him not achieving his immediate aim and then, who knows, eventually the top job at British Leyland itself.