Aston Martin poaches superstar Bentley boss. Will Stroll let him lead?

Road Cars

March 22 saw three bombshell announcements from three of Britain's biggest car manufacturers: Bentley, Aston Martin and McLaren. Andrew Frankel guides us through the day

Adrian Hallmark

Adrian Hallmark takes on new challenge at Aston Martin


I’m always quite nervous when it comes writing about industry stories, largely because I think they are of far greater interest to nosey hacks like me who know some of the characters involved than the people who pay their wages, like you. And had just one completely unexpected chunk of news dropped last week, I might not be writing this now. In fact there were three; what’s more they all happened on exactly the same day.

Part of the reason for this is that two of them turned out to be connected, not that we knew it at 7.00am last Thursday (March 21st) when Bentley put out a release saying that its CEO of the last six years, Adrian Hallmark, had left the company and that a successor would be appointed in due course.

As ever, what’s not said is often as interesting as what is. One of the things that was not said was anything at all in the run up to this. Usually we hear a rumour, get a sniff, have an off-the-record conversation with someone who knows, so that when the news is announced, we can have our stories ready to go. This time? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Not a squeak.

Adrian Hallmark Bentley CEO

Adrian Hallmark resigns as Bentley CEO after six years


Then add in that comment about the successor being appointed ‘in due course’. It sounds fair enough, but if this was all part of some long established strategy succession planning would have taken place and Bentley’s new CEO would have been announced in the same release as the departure of the old. Yet as I write a few days later, Bentley still has no CEO. What can be read into this? Bentley no more saw this coming than the rest of us. And we wondered why that might be.

And we kept on wondering for a whole 30 minutes until another press release went out on the news feeds proudly announcing that Adrian Hallmark would be the next CEO of Aston Martin, replacing Amedeo Felisa and starting no later than October this year.

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This appears to have been something of a masterstroke from Aston: recruit probably the most successful automotive CEO in the country right now and hobble your closest competitor in the process. But why did Hallmark leave the comfort and cosiness of super-successful Bentley for the often intemperate, always unpredictable corporate environment of Aston Martin?

I’ve not spoken to him about it, but I’ve known him since he was Bentley’s marketing director and instrumental in taking the company back to Le Mans in the early years of this century so hope I have a fairly good understanding of what might have motivated him. And I think the answer actually lies in the question. He’d returned record sales and profits to Bentley and after six years at the helm, probably thought his work there was done. What’s more, at the age of 61 he probably thought he had enough time left to take on another big, Aston Martin-sized challenge. And Adrian loves a challenge.

But he is Aston’s fourth CEO in as many years, his predecessors all falling under reign of Executive Chairman and single largest shareholder Lawrence Stroll. Adrian is unafraid of and will have fought many boardroom battles before, but he is unlikely to have come across a character as strong or certain of his own opinions as Stroll. So the wisdom of Hallmark’s move remains unproven: if Stroll lets him do the job for which he had been hired, I predict only good things resulting. If not, Aston’s hunt for a CEO who’ll go the distance may not yet be over.

Lawrence Stroll on F1 grid with Aston Martin car and team

Lawrence Stroll has earned a reputation as a fierce competitor both on and off-track

Florent Gooden/DPPI

As for Bentley, the company is in a transition phase. Its existing product lines are old, the EVs upon which its future depends yet to arrive. Building the bridge between its past and future will require whoever replaces Hallmark to be a persuasive operator in the boardroom and a skilled salesperson in public. But the most important quality required is a profound understanding of the Bentley brand and what it means both to its existing customers and future prospects. It is not just another car company and cannot be treated as such. And of all Adrian Hallmark’s strengths, ultimately it was no more than his gut feeling for what a Bentley should be that has underpinned all the success Crewe has seen in recent years.

And the third announcement? It seems small beer by comparison, but it’s not. It is that Mumtalakat, the sovereign wealth fund of Bahrain, has bought out all other shareholders in the McLaren Group which owns both the Formula 1 team and road car business. And why should you care about that? Largely because with just one shareholder, you don’t need to get anyone else to agree before you can press ahead with major change. And McLaren Automotive CEO Michael Leiters – a former Ferrari Chief Technical Officer who was at Porsche before that – has made no secret of the need for McLaren to go into a strategic partnership with a large automotive OEM if its product plans – especially for a sporting SUV to rival the Ferrari Purosangue – are to be realised. With this deal, that possibility just moved a whole lot closer.