Not being a whizz when it comes to business matters, it seems astonishing that the board of Morgan can chuck the grandson of the company’s founder out on his ear when he holds a 30 per cent personal stake in the business as well as being a beneficiary of a trust that owns a further 48 per cent. Were I Charles Morgan I would be both livid and extremely upset. And judging from comments made to date, he appears to be all of the above.
I’ve known Charles Morgan for as long as I’ve been doing this job and while I’ve not always liked some of his products as much as many of my colleagues, I’ve always liked the man. I remember his enthusiasm as he handed over the first car I ever borrowed from him almost as clearly as the car itself: a Plus Eight with the most insane Rover V8 under its slatted bonnet that I had until that time experienced.
More than that I admire the man’s guts. This is the man who decided that rather than not sell cars in the US, he’d complete the requisite airbag certification procedure at a cost of presumably millions to a tiny company. No other small British sports car company has been so bold. This is the man who took Morgan back to Le Mans and instead of railing at Sir John Harvey-Jones’ painfully honest deconstruction of his business skills, went and got himself an MBA instead. This is the man who has kept the business in the family through thick and thin to the point where today, pathetically, it is our largest indigenous car company.
He is also the man who was at the helm at the time the Three Wheeler was commissioned, a colossal success story on both sides of the Atlantic and far and away the best Morgan I’ve driven. Actually when I’ve talked to Charles about the car he has not spoken with his usual passion, perhaps because he feared its extreme media-friendliness obscured the view of Morgans with a more orthodox number of wheels.
But in any event he’s gone, at least for now because he plans to appeal the decision to remove him. He appears to have the support of his chums in the media (among whose number I must count myself) and, if their twitter account is to be believed, the 170 strong Morgan workforce who find themselves in the impossible position of desperately wanting Charles back while not wishing to fall into the disfavour of those who pay their wages and gave him the push in the first place.
I don’t know the intricacies of what went on and while there are on-going legals I expect no-one will. Clearly there has been an immense family spat for which, publically at least, Charles appears to have carried the can. I am therefore in no position to judge the rights and wrongs of it.
What I do know is that it is hard to see how the remaining members of the Morgan board could have handled the presentation of the crisis more ineptly. While Charles comes across as a man who’s only ever done his best for his family business, has been kicked out for his troubles and had his company car confiscated on the 10th anniversary of his father’s death, on the other side we have simply a statement signed by the ‘Board of Directors’ talking in faceless corporate speak about the ‘scale and complexity of an increasingly global business’ without for one moment offering the slightest explanation of their actions.
I expect they don’t want to get involved in a war of words with Charles as it would be a battle that, in public at least, they’d be likely to lose. Instead they appear to have elected to rise above it all. But if they thought that would provide access to the moral high ground, I think they have misjudged it. Charles is far too smart to start slinging mud in such circumstances and has focussed instead simply on earning a sympathy vote to which he may very well be entitled. ‘I inherited a company, not wealth – and unexpectedly leaving its employment will be a hardship for myself and my family’.
But the real question is what impact will this have on the Morgan business? You can point to all kinds of car companies that have continued from strength to strength when such a figurehead has, for one reason or another, departed the scene – Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bentley to name but three. And I can think of none that has nose-dived into oblivion as a result of the departure of such a distinct leader, with the possible exception of TVR and even in that case I believe Peter Wheeler off-loaded the company because he could see the writing on the wall did not make for comfortable reading. On this basis you’d say Morgan will be fine.
And maybe it will be. Thanks in no small part to Charles’s ideas and efforts, Morgan has a stronger product line up than it’s had for at least the last 25 years. But if the current board continues to present itself to the public as faceless, bloodless, ruthless and cruel, a vital link between car and customer will be lost. Whatever his faults, Charles is Morgan incarnate – as loud, full of enthusiasm, old school and British as the cars he has spent almost 30 years of his life creating. I know one Morgan owner who drove from Europe to Malvern not to tour the factory, but to meet Charles. I know another who before racing his Morgan at the Nürburgring this weekend took to Twitter to remind his followers he was racing not for Morgan, but for Charles.
One thing is certain: so far as the public’s perception is concerned, Morgan lost its heart last week. One way or another it had better find another. Soon.