Geneva was the first chance to get an insight into JLR’s enthusiastic new CEO, Ralf Speth.
Speth is the most significant new boss at JLR in recent years, possibly since the legendary Wolfgang Reitzle ruled the roost at Whitley and Gaydon, and he’s the first injection of outside management expertise since Tata tookover in 2008.
He’ll run both Jaguar and Land Rover, having replaced David Smith, and will oversee the key decisions that Jag boss Mike O’Driscoll and LR boss Phil Popham will make in coming weeks, months and years.
When Speth’s name was announced, it resonated, but I couldn’t pin down why. Now I know.
Speth was the vehicle line-director for the X5 when BMW owned Rover Group and was involved in key engineering and design decisions when the Range Rover was being created. His name regularly cropped up in those days.
He was closely aligned with Wolfgang Reitzle and when Ford bought LR in July 2001, he transferred over. He also followed Reitzle out of LR to German gases company Linde.
Jag’s significant strategic switch to alloy body construction also went through while he was at the company.
Speth has attracted positive comments from JLR high-ups I spoke to at Geneva and has been doing the rounds of significant managers, including design chief Ian Callum, asking what they would do with the company.
I think the significant point here is that JLR is now run by an engineer with past experience of how the company works and knowledge of key strategic decisions taken before – a strong foundation for going forward.
“Now the company is run by someone who knows how cars go together rather than an accountant who knows what they cost,” one insider said to me, smiling as he did so.
Apparently Speth has already freed engineers to make their own decisions, speeding-up the JLR decision-making process
“He’s saying that we’re the experts and should get on and with making decisions without referring them upwards,” says another.
At Geneva he was spotted doing the rounds with senior designers and engineers, although there weren’t any formal interviews scheduled.
Together with new Tata Motors chief Carl-Peter Forster, the two have given themselves 100 days to listen, think and decide on the next steps forward for JLR.
I think 84 of those days are still to be counted off, which takes us to somewhere around May 27, so look out for some major news late in May or early June concerning the future of JLR.