It’s a coincidence but it could hardly be more fitting that the announcement of Sir Ralf Speth’s retirement next September from his 10-year role as Jaguar Land Rover’s CEO should come on the dot of the UK’s departure from the EU.
Years before Brexit was a firm decision, Speth was a vocal critic of the idea, warning anyone who would listen – from voters to prime ministers – of the dire consequences likely to affect and diminish Britain’s motor industry if the intricate relationship between UK manufacturing, its European suppliers and its global customers were interrupted. In many important ways, Speth has been proved right: the UK industry has declined rapidly and that trajectory looks set to continue for several years yet, before it begins to reconfigure.
The fortunes of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) were clearly always at the front of Speth’s mind: during his tenure, the two-marque company became Britain’s largest and by far its most profitable car manufacturer. But a sudden shakeout in 2017, caused primarily by rapid public rejection of diesel engines and major difficulties in China, brought serious losses, plus the unforeseen need to sack 4500 employees and to trim costs by £2.5 billion. The action worked and JLR returned to profitability six months ago.