Michael Edwardes, Laborious-Nosed Rescuer of British Automotive Big, Dies at 88
Michael Edwardes, a famously pugnacious industrial turnaround artist in Britain who rescued the Jaguar, Mini and Land Rover automotive manufacturers within the late 1970s whereas turning into a union scourge, died on Sept. 15 at his residence outdoors London. He was 88.
The trigger was issues of Parkinson’s illness, in response to Caroline Watkin, a household pal.
In some methods, Mr. Edwardes (pronounced the identical means as Edwards) was the Lee A. Iacocca of Britain. At roughly the identical time that Mr. Iacocca (who died in July) was saving Chrysler, partially by persuading the USA authorities to supply an inflation-adjusted $5 billion in mortgage ensures, Mr. Edwardes was making an attempt to jump-start British Leyland, a government-owned automobile large whose manufacturers included Austin, Morris, Mini, Jaguar, MG, Land Rover and Triumph.
Every man got here to personify company boldness, reputations they burnished by writing best-selling enterprise memoirs.
Mr. Edwardes, who spent the early a part of his profession fixing elements of Chloride, a battery producer, took over as British Leyland’s chairman in 1977. It was a last-gasp rescue effort: The British authorities had assumed management of the corporate in a 1975 bailout, and the corporate was virtually bankrupt once more. Turnaround plans had gone nowhere, a results of near-constant employee walkouts, shoddy craftsmanship, disaffected managers and a convoluted company construction. Japanese and German rivals have been gobbling up market share.
“It was a farce — nobody knew what the prices have been,” Mr. Edwardes informed The New York Instances in 2008, recalling how, when he arrived on the firm, no person appeared to know whether or not particular person manufacturers have been worthwhile.
The labor issues that characterised Britain’s postwar years have been notably extreme at British Leyland: Its staff have been represented by 364 bargaining models, most of which bargained on totally different schedules. In 1978, British Leyland counted 584 walkouts of an hour or extra.
However store stewards met their match in Mr. Edwardes, who lower British Leyland’s work pressure by practically 50 p.c over 5 years by closing 19 of 55 services. On the identical time, he drove up productiveness by investing in know-how. The variety of vehicles constructed per employee at one main physique plant was fewer than eight in 1980. The whole rose to almost 17 in 1981.
Mr. Edwardes, who was born in South Africa, gained union concessions (a contract promising a 3.eight p.c pay elevate, as an example, at a time when inflation in Britain was 12 p.c) by defying the traditional method of conducting negotiations. He repeatedly went over stewards’ heads and appealed on to staff, generally turning up on manufacturing unit meeting strains.
“One benefit of being a colonial is that I’m not weighed down by all that class nonsense,” Mr. Edwardes stated in 1985, referring to the divisions in British society. “I discover it fairly simple to stroll on a manufacturing unit ground and talk with folks.”
Militant union bosses hated him for circumventing them — they nicknamed him “the poison dwarf,” a reference to his 5-foot-Three stature — however many staff got here to respect his method.
Mr. Edwardes additionally slashed and burned by means of British Leyland’s govt ranks, firing 20 p.c of the highest 300 executives and reassigning about 50 p.c of these remaining to new jobs.
That shuffling, which Mr. Edwardes recounted in his memoir, “Again from the Brink” (1983), was knowledgeable by one other of his uncommon enterprise practices: psychological testing for managers. He believed such assessments might determine reliable staff. However the technique was startling to others. “Such management freakery was anathema,” John Fryer, a former labor editor at The Sunday Instances, wrote in a current column.
Mr. Edwardes left British Leyland in 1982. He was credited with serving to British enterprise leaders regain their self-confidence, notably those that had come to really feel powerless within the face of organized labor. And British Leyland had been saved.
However the firm remained unprofitable, and the British authorities — by then being led by Margaret Thatcher — had grown pissed off. Mr. Edwardes had pushed Mrs. Thatcher for cash to develop new fashions; when she steered that he promote elements of the corporate to boost funds, he balked.
By the point British Leyland obtained its final authorities bailout, in 1988, it had gone by means of some $20 billion of inflation-adjusted taxpayer cash over twenty years and develop into a painful lesson on the restricted effectiveness of bailouts. The corporate advanced into MG Rover, which was acquired by BMW, then spun off earlier than ultimately going bankrupt in 2005. Jaguar and Rover at the moment are owned by Tata Group, a conglomerate based mostly in India. BMW nonetheless owns Mini.
Michael Owen Edwardes was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on Oct. 11, 1930, to Denys and Audrey (Copeland) Edwardes. His father labored at a small automotive firm.
Mr. Edwardes studied legislation at Rhodes College in close by Grahamstown. In 1951, by means of a household connection, he acquired a job at Chloride. In 1958, he married Mary Finlay, the daughter of a South African transport govt. That they had three daughters earlier than divorcing in 1988, when he married his assistant, Sheila Witts.
Mr. Edwardes is survived by his spouse; his daughters Susan Edwardes, Judy Cummins and Penni Brink; 5 grandchildren; and a sister, Jill.
As he climbed the rungs at Chloride over the subsequent 26 years, finally serving as chairman, Mr. Edwardes turned identified for parachuting into troubled divisions and discovering options with the identical fervor he displayed on the squash courts. One such success got here whereas working Chloride’s central African operations from what’s now Zimbabwe.
Throughout his last years at Chloride, Mr. Edwardes, then dwelling in London, was appointed to the Nationwide Enterprise Board, a authorities physique set as much as revitalize British trade. British Leyland was one of many board’s most troublesome initiatives, and the turnaround that Mr. Edwardes orchestrated there earned him knighthood in 1979.
His work at British Leyland made him well-known in Britain, and he went on to guide one smaller-scale turnaround (or sale) after one other — Mercury Communications, Worldwide Computer systems Restricted, the Dunlop tire firm. He favored fast, dramatic strikes; on his first day at Dunlop, he ousted 11 of the corporate’s 13 board members, one thing The Instances of London deemed “administration by hara-kiri.”
Mr. Edwardes was named within the late 1980s to guide Minorco, a part of the Oppenheimer-DeBeers gold and diamond syndicate. There he devised a hostile bid for Consolidated Gold Fields, a serious mining firm. However Consolidated Gold punched again exhausting, and Minorco was compelled to stroll away when a United States choose refused to permit the takeover to proceed on antitrust grounds.
Somewhat than recalling that defeat in bitter phrases, Mr. Edwardes appeared to understand Consolidated Gold’s mettle.
“I relish a great problem and a little bit of a combat if that’s what it takes,” he informed the commerce journal Administration In the present day in 1996. “You could possibly say I’m a little bit of a scrapper.”