John Towers shocked the motor industry yesterday by resigning as chief executive of the Rover car group, prompting immediate speculation that he may be heading for the vacant top job at Lucas, the automotive and aerospace supplier.
Although Mr Towers, 48, had been vaguely linked to the chief executive’s post at Lucas, the announcement of his departure never the less came as a surprise. He will leave Rover and resign from the board in June and go on gardening leave for six months. He is on a salary of about pounds 320,000.
Rover, a subsidiary of Germany’s BMW, denied that there had been any dispute over strategy between Mr Towers and the the parent company. Bernd Pieschetstrieder, BMW chairman, paid tribute to him saying the two companies “deeply regret” Mr Tower’s departure and paying tribute to his contribution and dedication to Rover’s success.
However, observers detected growing signs of tension between Mr Towers and BMW. Earlier this month BMW announced that Rover had made a loss of pounds 148m last year just weeks after Rover had said it made a pounds 92m operating profit. The discrepancy was put down to German accounting rules.
One City analyst, commenting on BMW’s pounds 800m purchase of Rover two years ago, said: “When you smash two cultures together that are radically different you generally get smoke and then you get fire. It must have been difficult for any man at the top of Rover to subjugate himself to an alien culture, particularly a German one.”
Rover sources said, however, that if anything, Mr Towers had become bored and was looking for a new challenge. He is said to have been think about moving on for more than a year.
Mr Towers joined Rover in 1988 and became chief executive in 1994 after George Simpson left to become chief executive of Lucas. With Mr Simpson leaving this autumn to take over from Lord Weinstock at GEC, it would be a logical move for Mr Towers to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps. Mr Towers knows Lucas and its chairman Sir Brian Pearse well and is highly regarded in the motor industry. He sat on the board of Midland Bank when Sir Brian was chairman and Lucas is one of Rover’s biggest suppliers. Finance and strategy director Tony Rose will take over as acting chief executive.