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Jaguar leaping ahead under Tata ownership
Leap of faith: Tata has given Jaguar and Land Rover more autonomy than when they were owned by Ford.
After one year of Indian ownership, a Jaguar veteran says life is great under Tata
3 July 2009
KEVIN Stride may only be in middle-age, but he has spent his entire working life for Jaguar Cars and – one year down the track from Tata Motors’ takeover – he believes the company is thriving under Indian ownership.
Mr Stride decided he wanted to be a Jaguar engineer at only seven years of age and is now the chief engineer on the highly-acclaimed XF program, so nobody could be more committed to the Jaguar brand, and he believes everyone in the company is extremely positive about life under Tata.
“There’s a real buzz around the brand at the moment,” he told GoAuto at the recent XF upgrade launch in the Hunter Valley.
“Even in a difficult world, there’s a buzz because we’re feeling empowered, we’ve got the right product line-up to go and tackle the world and we’re gaining some confidence.
“If you went to people at different function levels in Jaguar Land Rover and asked what they thought of Tata, you’d get a big thumbs-up.
“It’s a good place to be at the moment. For individuals like myself, it’s changed for the better.
“We had a great relationship under Ford. People were cynical about that, but they were a very good company to work for.
Left: Tata chairman Ratan Tata opens India's first Jaguar dealership on Sunday.
“With Tata, it’s different, but different in a good way.
"We are held accountable very clearly as an independent company, whether in engineering or marketing or finance, we are held accountable for proper business performance, which in the old regime was a little filtered. It was very difficult to see cause and effect. We were not able to be as focused as we are now.
“Tata has a very healthy way of approaching all the businesses they own. They don’t centralise it, they don’t put layers of bureaucracy in it. They evaluate the business model; if they like it, they buy the company and demand that they deliver on the business plan. You can’t just meander off and fail.
“We have a lot more focus now. Everybody down to the guy working on the shop floor understands how important things like cashflow are. Before, we might have been talking about profits, but in the world as it is now cashflow is as important as profits and everything we do has to be very carefully thought-through.
“People are almost treating it like their home finances now; they feel accountable for it and that’s brilliant for the health of the company, where people all through the company understand it’s our company and the things we do make a difference.”
Having joined Jaguar as an engineering cadet in 1987 – only two years before the struggling outfit was bought by Ford – Mr Stride is used to working with the notorious Ford Motor Co bureaucracy with its layered management and copious paperwork and reports.
He likes the more agile way Jaguar Land Rover now works and agrees it is now more autonomous than under Ford.
“Yes, definitely. There are very few people from Tata who are in the Jaguar Land Rover structure. In fact, I can only think of two.
“We get visits from (Tata Motors’ managing director) Ravi Kant and (Tata Motors’ chairman) Ratan Tata probably once a month or every two months, and they review our business performance, as you would expect, but they’re not standing over us insisting that they veto every decision we make.
“(Under Ford), you had some pretty complex levels of decision-making. Having said that, we probably had more autonomy than people gave us credit for, but there was always the risk that the decision-making wasn’t local enough and you could get conflict, which could delay decisions or force decisions the wrong way.
“Cultural change is the hardest thing to do. It does take time. But we’ve been with Tata for a year, we are more agile already, people (within JLR) are questioning why we do things and if it adds value, and we are feeling more empowered to go and attack it. If it doesn’t make any sense and it adds another layer, let’s not do it any more.
“That’s refreshing. We’ve got a long way to go, but that’s exciting. We’re in a reasonable position, but we’ve got so much to improve that the health of the company is promising.”
Mr Stride said there was no pressure on the British office to switch more sourcing to India, but did not rule it out in the future as JLR already scoured the world for the best sources for components, services and tooling – something that was already a part of the business plan Tata bought into.
Not only is the company open to doing more business in the East; it welcomes the opportunity and believes it can actually learn a lot about business from the Indians.
“Since Tata have come in, we’ve now got an insight into how they deal with Indian sources and sources within the whole of South-East Asia,” Mr Stride told us.
“My perception is that they are extremely focused businessmen and extremely principled in what they do, which is great coaching for us as a company.
“We’ve gone and looked at how they operate as a company – how they source components, how they design them, how they manufacture them – and we’ve got quite a bit to learn from them on the business side.”
In return, Mr Stride said Jaguar is able to offer an insight into quality processes in the premium world.
“In terms of our engineering simulation and development, we’re pretty advanced for a company the size of Jaguar Land Rover. That’s something we’ll be able to provide benefit to the Tata Group in years to come.”
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