Jaguar Land Rover CEO bows out after implementing a ground-up reinvention plan.
Earthquake events like a Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) chief quitting come as huge shocks at the moment they’re announced, but the departure of CEO Thierry Bolloré “for personal reasons” has reportedly not been a complete surprise to some members of the British motor industry’s inner circle. There have been rumours for several months that something like this might happen.
The lingering suggestion has been that Bolloré hasn’t been getting on very well with his big bosses at Tata, on a number of counts. His “professorial” style of management is understood not to have gone down well with the senior management teams tasked with putting his brave Reimagine plan (to reorganise JLR and revive Jaguar) into practice. Big decisions, say the rumours, have been too slow in coming.
There are also suggestions that the Bolloré plan isn’t playing well with major suppliers who must invest huge sums to make it work. Rival company bigwigs are polite about one another in public — and, after all, Bolloré has had big jobs in the motor industry and knows it well — but there have been times when Autocar reporters have noticed a degree eye-rolling from those in parallel jobs to Bolloré’s when the idea of re-founding Jaguar as a Bentley-rivalling EV brand has come up, let alone the part about having it ready to launch its first model in 2025.
But the biggest problem seems to be the group’s failure to take best financial advantage of the success of the Range Rover, its most distinguished product and highest earner. The launch of the latest iteration of the legendary flagship (and its high-earning Sport outrider) has not been well handled, globally speaking. Plans to launch a separate Range Rover division have so far failed to emerge. Worse, Land Rovers continue to languish near the bottom of world quality and reliability tables — a situation that depletes the company’s coffers even more than it harms its reputation.
It’s easy to imagine that the Covid hangover, the ongoing chip and component shortages, the impending global financial downturn and the growing anxiety of highly-invested dealers have made Bolloré’s job much harder than it was at the outset of his two-year tenure. It now seems quite likely that SS Reimagine has been holed below the water line. Worst of all, in the extensive JLR hierarchy there seems to be no natural successor to Bolloré, whose own recruitment took six months.
God speed, then, to Adrian Mardell, the JLR lifer and finance boss who has never previously been recognised as a car-guy or an industry leader, with his mission to pick up the pieces. Those who know call him a pragmatist and “a good bloke” but he probably isn’t the visionary leader this producer of charismatic vehicles needs to succeed. The next steps look daunting indeed.
So what now? When faced with difficulties in the recent past JLR has tended to hunker down and say as little as possible. Playing the dead bat has been Bollore’s style, and has become JLR’s style.
But it isn’t going to work this time. Over the coming days and weeks the earning power of Range Rover and the viability of Jaguar’s revival are going to become points of national discussion. This company, a British asset and flag-bearer, needs a fearless, convincing leader to give its huge and highly creative workforce confidence to face the future.
Failing this, a they’ll-have-to-sell view is bound to gain rapid traction around the country and across the media, with all the factory closure, production shrinkage, workforce reduction stories this will generate. What JLR says in the next day or two — and who says it — are issues that have never been more critical.