When former Renault chief Carlos Tavares raised the thorny matter of promotion with his boss, Carlos Ghosn, in the middle of last year — and ended up looking for a new job — I wrote a bit of nonsense here about there being two UK car jobs such an accomplished leader could contemplate: running Lotus or succeeding Ulrich Bez as CEO of Aston Martin.
Both gigs, I reckoned, were smaller in scale than what Tavares had been doing before, but both needed top talent to do what needed doing. Gent that he is, Tavares replied, saying that in his opinion it wasn’t the size of a company that mattered, but the size and fascination of the challenge.
Of course, by then Tavares must already have been negotiating with Peugeot over his mission to succeed Philippe Varin in the top job but for a month or two I enjoyed the picture of Aston or Lotus being run by a charismatic, capable, engineering-literate bloke who races a 600bhp single-seater all over Europe for fun on weekends.
Lotus’s problem has recently been dramatically reduced in size. It remains a mysterious company, owned by Malaysian interests, but at least there’s a plausible, methodical Bath-educated engineer, Aslam Farikullah, at the helm, and he seems to have righted the ship more promptly than looked possible.
But Aston remains in limbo. Depending who you talk to, Ulrich Bez, who brought so many good things to Aston during his 13 years in charge, resigned either last July or at the end of last year. It is common knowledge that the company has been interviewing potential replacements for several months, and there’s a rumour (not denied by company sources) that the position has been offered to at least two people who have turned it down.
The problem, as I read it, is that there’s a disconnect between the two main shareholder’s groups, a Kuwaiti investment organisation called Investment Dar (understood to be the majority shareholder) and an Italian private equity firm, Investindustrial, which owns 37.5 per cent.
Rumours say that the Kuwaitis enjoy taking a hand in the cars Aston builds, whereas the Italians are pretty flinty-eyed about getting a return on their money. Prospective CEOs can’t be sure they’ll be allowed actually to run the company.
As things stand, Ulrich Bez remains a de facto Aston figurehead because he was recently appointed non-executive chairman, replacing Prodrive boss and continuing Aston Martin Racing chief, David Richards, who quietly resigned at the end of 2013.