In a global automotive landscape where marketing and sales executives often roll over their engineering counterparts, Ralf Speth, the 58-year-old head of Tata Motors-owned British marquee brands Jaguar and Land Rover (JLR) is an exception.
An engineer at heart, Speth is widely credited for achieving something that the best marketing brains in the industry would have struggled to ...spark a turnaround in two brands with huge equity but precious little else. With him in front and the Tata's powering him from behind, JLR transformed itself from a liability to a force to reckon with in a span of three years.
"The automobile industry is a team game and we are fortunate to have an outstanding team of designers and engineers," said Speth. "We devised our own way of restructuring the busnesses....a JLR way. With the trust of the Tatas who not only acquired us but invested in new technology and products, we got unfettered freedom. My only job was to pass it on down the line."
From a time when JLR was considering shutting down a factory one of its factories in West Midlands in England to one where it is now investing around `3,600 crore in a new engine factory in the same area, it has been a dramatic turnaround. Speth said the credit goes to the patriarch Ratan Tata.
"Without him JLR would not exist at all," he says. "In the days of recession, it was a bold move to invest in R&D and future products. It gave confidence to the rank and file of the companies. And I believed in the strength of these brands. Not even for a second did I believe that the investment wont pay dividends."
In the last three years, JLR has expanded capacities, ventured into new markets and more importantly launched new products — the spearhead of Speth's turnaround plan. Between 2002 and 2009, its sales fell almost 36% from 304,925 units to just 196,226 units. Since then, sales have more than doubled. Last year, consumers drove away with more JLR cars than ever before at 425,000 units.
With the success of Evoque SUV from Land Rover and the F type sportscar from Jaguar, the firm is gaining strength from one year to the other. Yet, Speth stays focussed and humble.
"We are a very small firm compared to our German rivals," he adds.