Geoff Polites, who died yesterday aged 60, will go down as one of the great British car industry bosses. He took over as CEO of Jaguar Land Rover in September 2005, when the Jaguar half of the business was at its lowest ebb. Sales of the lame duck X- and S-types were fast evaporating; Jaguar was consistently failing to hit its financial forecasts; morale was poor.
Under Polites, the JLR business returned to profit, a sale was successfully negotiated with Tata – a deal widely considered to be in the best interests of the company – and company morale has blossomed. Geoff Polites: turning around the JLR oil tanker
Polites not only oversaw a big increase in Land Rover’s profits – last year the 4x4 maker made over $1 billion – but also greatly cut the losses of Jaguar. It is widely expected that Jaguar, unprofitable for decades, will break even next year.
He also boosted profitability while winning popularity. He was a much-liked figure with senior managers, with employees, with trade unionists and with dealers. Jaguar was changing CEOs and MDs like Sir Alan Sugar sacks apprentices before Polites steadied the rocky ship.
Polites was a feisty and likeable Australian who worked his way up through Ford Australia – including running a big Sydney dealership – before becoming boss Down Under in 1999. He moved to Europe in 2004 to head Ford’s European sales operations, before taking up the Jaguar Land Rover post the following year. ‘Geoff was a fantastic businessman with real passion and focus, and a marvellous people person,’ Lewis Booth, head of Ford’s European operations, told CAR Online. Struggle with cancer
Polites was diagnosed with cancer two years ago yet continued to work tirelessly, never hiding his illness yet never seeking sympathy. When I last saw him, in early March 2008, he looked far better than he had a month earlier; friends also remarked that Polites had a new spring in his step.
He was relishing the challenge of heading JLR under Tata ownership. But his health degenerated last week and he flew back to his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, where he died alongside his wife and two sons.An interview with Geoff Polites, done shortly before he died, and in which he speaks frankly about his illness and his struggle to turn around Jaguar, appears in the June 2008 issue of CAR Magazine, on sale 30 April 2008
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'Geoff’s untimely passing robs his family and friends of a man who was a real inspiration to us all. His drive and determination, combined with his clear sense of vision for the business, played a huge role in turning round the business at Jaguar Land Rover and returning it to profitability. Geoff ensured that Jaguar Land Rover was not distracted and continued to focus on the fundamentals of the business during the recent sale process, despite at the time also fighting his own personal health battle. He was a trusted colleague and someone who was much respected not just by his peers but by all who had the privilege to work with him. Our sympathies are with his wife and family at this difficult time.'Alan Mulally, president and chief executive officer, Ford Motor Company
'For many of us at Ford and Jaguar Land Rover, we’ve lost not just a respected colleague but a great friend. Geoff was always someone to look up to throughout his almost 40-year career in the automotive industry. His passion for the car business was legend, but the resolve he showed since taking over as CEO of Jaguar Land Rover in 2005 was something very special. His leadership of the team that has put the Jaguar Land Rover business back into profitability has been exceptional. Geoff has given Jaguar Land Rover the solid foundation and established the strong management team it needs for a successful future. We will miss our friend very much.'Lewis Booth, executive vice president responsible for Ford Motor Company’s businesses in Europe
David Smith, Jaguar Land Rover’s chief financial officer, will take over as the acting chief executive officer at Jaguar Land Rover until a successor is appointed.