Mike Kimberley, who leaves Lotus this week as CEO, has spent most of the past 40 years as the iconic Norfolk-based sports car company’s leader and inspiration. Kimberley announced yesterday that he has finally accepted the advice of his doctors to seek long-term treatment for a persistent and increasingly serious back problem.
“It is a great shame that Mike’s health has forced his departure earlier than any of us would have liked,” says Dato’ Syed Zainal, boss of the Proton Group, Lotus’s owner, who flew in yesterday to reassure staff of Lotus’s secure future and appoint a core team of existing directors to run the company until a new chief executive is appointed.
Kimberley, who returned to Lotus as CEO in 2006 after a series of worldwide car-industry roles (including three years as chief of Lamborghini), delayed his departure from Lotus against medical advice while the company launched its new Evora mid-engined two-plus-two sports car.
He superintended what Proton chiefs describe as “a huge turnaround in the fortunes of this great company” leaving it in good condition despite the recession.
Elise and Exige sales continue reasonably strongly despite the recession, and Evora orders are running at the levels expected. Lotus has recently been hiring production staff and engineers to cope with post-recession expansion. Hired by the company’s founder, Colin Chapman, and appointed Lotus’s managing director by the “Old Man” himself, Kimberley believes his greatest achievement will always be seen as keeping Lotus going in the difficult days after Chapman’s death in 1982, though the company has been “close to the edge” on at least three other occasions.
After Chapman’s death, confidence Lotus — then a publicly listed company — hit rock-bottom following the twin disasters of its founder’s demise and a scandal over government funds provided for the development of the DeLorean sports car project in Northern Ireland, in which Lotus had taken a big role.
Kimberley continued to lead the company with increasing success until 1991, boosting its share price from 9p to £1.30, until it was acquired by General Motors. Kimberley fast-tracked into various GM jobs, participating in GM’s rapid and enduring expansion in South East Asia.
On his return to Lotus, first as a consultant, then as CEO in 2005, Kimberley decided to delay the major project of the time, work on a replacement of the Esprit supercar, and instead masterminded the Evora project which he felt would expand the company faster. Extremely favourable road tests, and the current level of Evora orders seem so far to have vindicated this brave decision.