John Egan

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John Egan

“It seems to me that we need a national crusade on attention to detail!”

Jaguar’s Chairman talks to MOTOR SPORT about the past two years of whirlwind change.

PARKED, without a hint of shame. in John Egan’s reserved bay outside the Brown’s Lane plant was a Merced.-Benz 450SEL. It was a bit like the reaction one might have had in 1940 to the sight of the battleship Bismark steaming Mtn Scapa Flow in broad daylight: the German saloon exuded an insolent air of satisfaction over its success in penetrating such an honoured bastion of the British Motor Industry. But why? “I’m having a few weeks driving that car because I want to keep reminding myself of what we’ve got to beat. I don’t think it rides as well as our Seri. 3 X J — and it certainly hasn’t got such nice steering. What do you think, John Egan, Jaguar Cars’ bustling, energetic, 42-year-old Chairman hardly waited for my response before launching on about the Mercedes. “I think it’s being pretty honest to thulk that this is the sort of standard we are aiming at Mind you, there’s no point in our setting out to build a car like that Mercedes now, is there? With our new designs we’ve got to be aiming at what we reckon Mercedes-Benz is going to be producing in three or four years’ time)” To the uninitiated, this seems a daunting target, but Egan clearly doesn’t believe in half MUSLIMS. It was in April 1980 that he returned from a skiing holiday to take over the Chairmanship of the then-ailing Jaguar organisation, winding up a four-year spell Massey Ferguson’s Corporate Parts Manager to do s., When he arrived at Brown’s Lane he was faced with a wall of pickets at the entrance. “What a start,” he recalls with a wistful grin, “BL on strike, morale as low as it’s ever been . . . and the prospect of spending niy first weekend with the company talking the shop stewards roundr There were times during those early months with Jaguar that John Egan hardly dared dwell on the magnitude of the problems facing BL’s most respected specialist car manufacturer. It had taken some persuading on the part of Sir Michael Edward., who Egan had known for some time, before he took on the task of trying to turn round the Jaguar organisation’s fortunes. In the ten Years up to 1980. the marques reputation had crumbled. Quality control was, to describe it charitably, very suspect and the big V12 saloons had earned themselves such a worrying reputation wi unreliable, gas-guzzling dinosaurs that the company’s whole future was hanging in the balance. “I used to read in the financial press that Jaguar was losing so many minions a month,” said Egan reflectively, “and then I’d go home thinking it myself ‘thank heavens they don’t know hum bad it really is’. It was that much of a problem. I was left in no doubt whatsoever just how Precarious the marques future was. Really, if We’d gone on in the way we had been I think there was every liklihood of Jaguar being shut down.” Sensibly, John Egan didn’t try to marshal Jaguar’s forces to tackle every outstanding Problem the moment he arrived in Coventry: that Would have been too formidable. Instead, he isolated the most important problems and got the management team to work on those first. “I always had the notion that the XJ Series 3 w. a

World-class car,” he explains, “but its major shortcomings involved its quality and reliability.” Reasoning that the one thing almost guaranteed to dissuade a customer from repeating an order for a Jaguar product was poor quality control, this was the area dealt with first. And before any solid progress could really be made. Egan felt it was crucial to communicate with the work force, firstly to keep them informed of the management’s plans and secondly to make them feel part of an organisation which was really “going places”. From that point of view he became immediately impressed with the attitude of the Jaguar workers: they’d always felt proud of their connection with the company, all that was required was the motivation to make significant improvements.

This communication with the company employees was achieved by means of producing video programmes two or three times a year to be screened in front of groups of between 200 and 300 workers at a sitting. “It became clear that they seemed determined to produce a good car at the end of the day,” says Egan, “and we backed up this fresh communication with the work force by carrying out exhaustive market research amongst 100 Jaguar owners, 100 BMW owners and 100 Merced.-Beno owners in order to find out where we really stood in the market place. We then went through the wan:only claims statistics and basically decided on 150 recurring problems which wc would set out to tackle immediately.” It just had to work. for Egan fully realised that Jaguar’s survival depended not on irshort-term set of solutions for the product, but on an intensive, in-depth commitment to quality and reliability. “An absolute and pervasive obsession with the ideal of ‘right first time’ had to b.:ome a way of life for us all.” To aid the quest for improved quality and worker participation, Egan introduced the “quality circle” concept which had been used to such good effect in many areas of Japanese industry. These involve shop stewards, supervisors, hourly paid production workers and management all being represented in localised “trouble shooting” groups tot which there are

now more than fifty in total) throughout the three Jaguar plants at Brown’s Lane, Radford and Castle Bromwich. Their purpose is to pinpoint and quickly find solutions to minor problems in any particular area within their sphere of operation. It was an ambitious programme to impose on the company. but Egan felt it was the only realistic way.

“We had to assume a loyalty and affection on the part of the workers,” he says, “and a willingness to get ‘stuck in’. The only other alternative was for us to go out of business. Changes in management were required and we also got a fair measure of support from the trade unions, which was crucial. although we had to take a pretty hard line and begin disciplining workers who consistently produced slack, bad work.”

Of course, Egan’s problems within the Jaguar organisation were only part of the story. Heavy reliance on outside suppliers means that any motor manufacturer’s products are only as good as the components that are put into them. Egan admits that he received quite an encouraging response from some quarters, but there were others who caused Jaguar seemingly endless frustration. He’s diplomatic enough not to mention them by name, but it is abundantly clear that the company’s revised approach to business certainly came as a major mit to those who were not exactly used to the idea of carrying a strict financial penalty for the failure of their own products. “I spent a disproportionate amount of my time, time which should have been spent on Jaguar affairs, sorting out the problems of some of the individual suppliers,” he recalls with a shrug. “There was one particular supplier whose rate of component failure, even after we’d checked them through, was absurdly high. I went and saw the dusty atmosphere in which these components were being made and told him that, if he wanted to keep Jaguar business, he would have to totally revise his methods of working. And I gave him a date by which time these revisions should be completed: they grumbled at the time, hut, do you know, they not only changed the way in which they did the job, but they also thund that by making that change, they could produce the stuff more profitably! Lack of attention to detail was the most all-consuming problem: It seems to be that we need a national crusade on attention to detail in all aspects of British industry,”

This determination to keep up the level of Jaguar quality has reaped dramatic benefits for the company. While Egan’s management team “held its breath” throughout 1980 as they implemented all their changes within the company, they also took the gamble that they would succeed by authorising considerable capital expenditure on new models for later in the decade. “It took quite a degree of faith to authorise the long-term expenditure of tens of millions of pounds at a time when we were not yet fully certain that the company would turn the corner,” Egan recalls with an almost-audible sigh of relief.

However, 1981 was the year in which Jaguar’s fortunes began to turn round. The dramatic improvements in quality, allied to the introduction of HE versions of both XIS and XJ12 models incorporating the highly efficient Michael May developed “Fireball” combustion chamber layout, rejuvenated the Jaguar image in the eyes of the press and prestige customers. There was a tremendous reduction of component failures to an average of one in 200 and a careful, consistent programme of monitoring customer complaints meant that Jaguar could keep right up to date with the everyday problems experienced by owners and, hopefully, rectify them at source before they reached epidemic proportions. “Now each month we complete detailed inquiries as to how 150 customer cars have performed,” explains the Jaguar Chairman as he sifts through a huge dossier on his desk, “and the end product is a detailed break-down of how many individual faults have cropped up or recurred. It might be a minor cosmetic problem or a wind noise level problem. Nothing is too small for unto ignore. At our current levels of production it means that, in some months, as many as 25 per cent of our new car buyers are canvassed for their opinions. . . .” Once the quality control problem had been tackled successfully, it was then Egan’s business to turn his attention to the much vexed question of productivity. “Sr 1980 we had about 10,500 people making 14,000 cars a year,” he says sadly, “and that, in effect, was little more than one car per year per employee. It didn’t take much consideration to see that such a ratio was hardly economical.” The result of the ensuing staff cuts meant a 30 per cent reduction in work force: but by the end of 1982 the fresh, lean Jaguar concern will have produced 70 per cent more cars. “We’ll have gone from those 10,500 people building 14,000 cars to 7,200 people building between 22 and 23,000 cars by the end of this year. And they will be better cars, as well. One of the areas of really dramatic improvement has been the XJS. That’s exemplified by the way in which our sales have improved in the USA, a very important market, traditionally, for Jaguar. In 1980 we were moving just about 1,000 X1CS coupes in the USA: this year we will top 3,500. The message has clearly got through that Jaguar’s quality is improving and the product is much more attractive.” If the USA is a traditional market, then Germany is the jewel in the European luxury car crown that Egan has his eyes firmly focussed onus the next area of export market expansion. “At present about 65 per cent of all luxury cars sold in Europe are sold in Germany,” says Egan, “and Jaguar has made substantial inroads there

recently. If we’re setting ourself out to beat the Mercedes-Benz standard, then I firmly believe that we should get a stronghold in the, home

market. Interestingly it seems that we’ve carved ourself a niche in that market which hasn’t been achieved at the expense of Mercedes or BMW — were adding to the overall total of luxury cars sold there!”

As Jaguar reasserts its one individual identity beneath the BL umbrella, possibly with a “privatised” future, there is an unashamedly optimistic, even expansionist, view of the next few years within the walls of the Brown’s Lane plant. And, happily, this optimism includes John Egan’s firm view that some sort of motorsporting involvement is almost obligatory. “I take an outward view of this,” says Egan. “It should be part of our basic philosophy that Jaguar is involved, somehow, in motorsport. The performance aspect remains essential to our image. Looking back on the 1960s. 1 think Donald Stokes was absolutely dotty not to allow Jaguar to race the XJ13. Sense a decision which! could never understand. If . are interested in cars, then we should be involved in racing. “Our finks with Tom Walkinshaw and his XJS, plus our relationship with Bob Tullius and Group 44 in the USA, have been admittedly low-key, but they’ve generated an enormous amount of interest and I’m certain that there is considerably more potential to be derived from chew.! can’t say that Jaguar is in a position to fund a major racing programme internally because, quite fraMtly, it isn’t and it’s not the company’s first priority. But

I’ve been over to see the interest generated by Tullius’s XJR5 coupe in the USA and it was considerable.” Egan shied away from confirming that the XJR5 might cross the Atlantic next year to compete at Le Mans, but, on the other hand, he thdn’t specifically deny it either. “We’ll just see how the whole thing develops. It’s got potential, but there’s no point in rushing things. It’s an essentially low-key approach,” he insists.

It’s a pretty open secret that there are some stunning new developments in the Jaguar pipeline at present, developments which will have much more of a long-term impact than the recently annotmced revisions to the popular XJ saloon range. “At no time in Jaguar’s history has it faced a two-year period like the one we’re lust embarking on,” says Egan with a twinkle in his eye.

With major decisions on investment now taken, new models and revised model “cocktails” obviously in the pipeline, John Egan doesn’t seem the sort of person who’s likely to sit back and rest on the company’s newly-reclaimed laurels. Perhaps he won’t be happy until the Mercedes-Benz directors are all driving Jaguar, thinking to themselves “Hmm, this is the standard we’ve got to aim at . . .” That would obviously please John Egan enormously, but until that happy day arrives, his philosophy cache best summed up by his parting comment toss: “Anybody who doesn’t put the task of build. the best possible product to carry the Jaguar name first and foremost in his mind, shouldn’t be working here. . . .” — A.H.

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