After nine months in the job, Aston Martin’s new CEO, Andy Palmer, is still making up for lost time. There was much joy and relief when the Stratford-born 52-year-old left a top Nissan post late last year to take charge at Gaydon, although, as every Aston watcher knew, the challenges were massive.
Aston had been leaderless for a year. Its range was overdue for renewal, its global markets needed reorganisation, its core technology was changing and the needs of its shareholders – Italian, Kuwaiti and German – needed corralling into a single set of objectives. Could one man do all that?
Palmer made a flying start. He charmed and calmed the troops at Gaydon. On gardening leave from Nissan, he had part-invented what soon became Aston’s ‘Second Century Plan’. (“I wasn’t working,” he says, “but I was thinking.”) He schmoozed suppliers and Aston owners, and all the while his inquisitive eye was looking into neglected corners and watching markets, even those where you count Aston sales on the fingers of one hand.
I watched all this, wondering what the new CEO was really like. He was dynamic, but could he keep it up? Would the new philosophy stick? A few months ago I asked if I could hang out with Palmer for a day, to see things from the sharp end. He liked the idea, which is why early one Wednesday last month I was sitting in the kitchen of his house in Northants, about 40 minutes’ drive from the office.
Palmer and his wife, Hitomi, are ready for breakfast when I arrive. Hitomi is a superb cook and we tuck into a delicious full English while Palmer outlines his morning: a catch-up with technical assistant Nikki Rimmington (not a PA, but a young high-flier shadowing the CEO), a warts-and-all Asia Pacific sales review, a meeting of Palmer’s new female advisory board to discuss buyer research from Shanghai, and a visit to the design studio.