Jaguar Land Rover Goes Headhunting

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
jaguar land rover goes headhunting

Tata Motors has been hunting for a new CEO at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), and new reports claim the search is narrowing in scope. At the start of 2020, the company announced that Ralf Speth would step down as chief executive in September, and that the quest for his replacement had begun — though it technically began in 2019.

We’ve since learned he will stick around as non-executive vice-chairman of JLR and supervise the transition of leadership, with details now emerging about his likely successor. It’s a clever way of keeping him around as he ages into retirement at 65 years, as per the parent company’s corporate policy.

According to the Financial Times, Tata has narrowed it down to three candidates. Internally, JLR seems as though it would like to promote its engineering lead, Nick Rogers. But former Audi CEO Bram Schot and BMW development boss Klaus Fröhlich are also under consideration, in addition to Fred Schulze — Audi’s product line manager at the Ingolstadt plant.

Last year, Audi promoted Schot out of sales and marketing after Munich prosecutors detained former CEO Rupert Stadler in June 2018 for his assumed role in Volkswagen Group’s Diselgate fiasco. It wasn’t meant to be a long-term position; he was eventually replaced by BMW veteran Markus Duesmann instead of getting props for stepping up at a difficult time.

Fröhlich’s story and background is similar to Speth’s. BMW has a similarly strict retirement cutoff at age 60 and Klaus surpassed it.

While elevating Rogers internally is assumed to offer the smoothest sailing for JLR, economic conditions have left it in an unpleasant situation that may require a special touch. The Chinese market hasn’t worked out as hoped, European demand is way down, and the company’s growth has become a liability. Jaguar Land Rover had already sought ways to cutting costs, launching an aggressive restructuring plan months before COVID-19 began creating new problems for the auto industry. Whoever takes the reins will have to make some difficult decisions.

From FT:

Sir Ralf’s successor will also face tough choices over whether JLR, which makes 500,000 cars a year in an industry where sales are counted in the millions, can retain its operational independence under Indian owners Tata Motors.

One option is to find a larger partner to help bring down its technology investment costs, such as expanding an existing knowledge-sharing deal with BMW.

An informal search for a new chief executive has been running since last year, with early approaches made to possible candidates, while earlier this year Tata Motors brought in executive search group Egon Zehnder to run a formal process, according to three people.

In the past, that list included Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Mike Manley, though the exec was nowhere to be found in the Financial Times report. That doesn’t take him out of the running, however. Tata/JLR wouldn’t confirm or deny any of the above names as possible replacements for Speth and likely won’t until it’s ready to make an official announcement. Still, Manley has a pretty full plate at present, even if it would be fun to see a historically British company run by someone with the appropriate accent.

Tata is rumored to make its final decision on JLR’s new CEO as early as next week.

[Image: jax10289/Shutterstock]

Join the conversation
  • Mjz Mjz on Jul 07, 2020

    The first thing I would do as CEO is restore the stunning wood/leather interiors that were always a Jaguar design hallmark. You were willing to put up with the reliability issues because the interiors were so sumptuous! It set them apart from all other marques. The Jag interiors today could be KIA interiors. Very sad.

    • Davekaybsc Davekaybsc on Jul 08, 2020

      Very much this. The I-Pace seems to indicate that Jag has gotten the memo that their interiors suck. It's still not as good as the Audi eTron, but it's at least a start in the right direction. When a Volvo looks $20,000 more expensive on the inside than a Jag, something is deeply wrong.

  • Tstag Tstag on Jul 08, 2020

    My sense is that JLRs operational independence within the Tata group is not being questioned, largely because JLR are propping up Tata motors and has been for a long time now. 3/4 of Tata motors share price is driven by JLR. I also don’t sense that Tata will sell but they might sell a stake In JLR. Alternatively Tata has a history of buying other companies when times are tough.