Off The Cuff

Leaders in the world of business share their thoughts on the way we

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Mike Dale started out as a mechanic. "I wasn't very good at it, so was promoted to sales, hung around for 20 years and became president," of Jaguar Cars in 1989 - at the time a desperate relic.

The company reached the point where it was losing a million dollars a day, sales were falling, its cars had become known for their quirks, and by 1989 Jaguar was "bankrupt," Dale says.

Dale's passion brought the company back to profitability under the auspices of Ford Motor Company.

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He shared what it took to restore the company with the Monitor's Eric C. Evarts at a recent auto show in Boston.

The great curiosity about Jaguar, it seems to me, is why it survived at all.

"You could forgive the Ford Motor Company for thinking they had not got a great investment: They walk in the door. They find that there's no product plan. They find that our quality is far worse than they could have dreamt of. In three months, some of our cars were incurring as many faults as a Lexus did in five years. Those cars were not good cars. That's a British understatement.

"They found out that the only thing they could do with the [prewar] production line was to raze it to the ground.

"The sales were on their way from 50,000, an all time record, down to 22,000. The economy went south. There was a bit of an oil crisis in the Middle East. The luxury tax was doubled; our prices went up. And into the bargain, somebody declared a war.

"Customers hung onto Jaguar for no better reason than that they loved the car.

"When we built the XJ220 [supercar], a bunch of engineers, panel beaters, and mechanics were all happily coming into work on Sunday mornings building a car for which they had no money, no reason to believe anybody wanted, and everybody loved the moment they saw it.

"When British Leyland owned the company, we stole the [emblems] off the gates and hid them from the management on the basis that we'd outlive them.

"British engineers are absolutely the world's best at making sure that things that they don't wish to do have rational reasons.... When rumor got around that they wanted to put an American V-8 into our next Jaguar, the engineers made sure you couldn't get a vee of any kind into the engine bay.

"In the British automobile industry, we've generally happily shot ourselves in the foot every time we were going to be successful. It has never taken the competition to do that to us.

"Ford brought processes, they brought capital, they brought suppliers, they brought leadership. Jaguar brought passion.

"I think that Jaguar's challenge for the future is that we're beginning to be successful. For the first time, Jaguar will be the target instead of a lot of wishful thinking about the rest of the people who are the targets."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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