The Auto Express Brit List, now in its fifth year, is one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the motor industry calendar, counting down the most influential British executives working in the global car industry today.
The UK has always punched above its weight in terms of the talented people coming from these shores who go on to work in senior positions within the car industry around the world. And as usual, our challenge was not only who to include where, but to decide who had to be left out. There is a host of incredible people bubbling just under our Top 50, jostling for inclusion in the coming years, who’ll be keen to join the nine new entries we have in this year’s Brit List.
As well as senior execs running the car companies, we’ve got designers, engineers, marketeers, financial experts, motorsport and manufacturing bosses on our list.
As in previous years, our judges have assessed each individual’s current position and company performance over the past 12 months and, as usual, previous winners, and members of the Auto Express Hall of Fame – Andy Palmer, now at Aston Martin, BMW’s Ian Robertson, Ford’s Steve Odell and GM’s Alan Batey – are all ineligible.
Scroll down for the top ten in detail, with the full list available on the next page.
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The new Bentayga can’t come quickly enough for Kevin Rose, as Bentley sales fell by eight per cent in 2015. But order books are bursting for the new SUV and Rose is targeting 20,000 sales a year by 2025. The Bentayga will account for a fair chunk of that, plus Bentley has a new Continental on the way, sharing components with VW Group stablemate Porsche. Beyond that, Rose and fellow bosses will have to decide between a baby sports car, based on the EXP 10 Speed 6 concept, and a smaller SUV.
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Another solid year for Mark Adams, who moved back from a role with Buick in the US to take control of Vauxhall and Opel products in late 2013. The highlight of the past 12 months has been the new Astra. Adams keeps toying with the idea of a small sports car – the tiny GT concept was well received at the March’s Geneva Motor Show. But his focus for now has to be on reinventing the Insignia and coming up with a proper full-sized SUV that can sell as an Opel and a Vauxhall in Europe.
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Jaguar Land Rover is enjoying strong sales and investing in products, manufacturing and dealers. Adrian Hallmark has been central to it all – but his has been a position of quiet influence more than public showboating. JLR is reaching the end of its ‘obvious’ product revamp, with the Jaguar F-Pace hitting dealers and the next Land Rover Discovery launching in the autumn. Hallmark and his team will need to carefully plan what happens next, including targets that protect JLR from any further dips in Chinese sales.
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Willcox has seen a stratospheric rise in the past few years. He joined Nissan GB in 1992 and worked his way up to senior vice president in charge of sales and marketing for Europe. Then, in 2014, rival Volkswagen poached him and put him in charge of its UK operations. After only three months in the role, Nissan tempted him back with a job that made him chairman and puts him in overall charge of Nissan Europe. Willcox reports to Trevor Mann, number five on our list.
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If there’s one person who stands for where Jaguar Land Rover is heading, it’s Nick Rogers. In spite of being in his fourth decade with the company (having started with British Leyland), he represents the new breed of talent that’s developing hi-tech, world-beating cars but with a clear understanding of the brands’ heritage. He shot to fame with the current Range Rover, but now has responsibility for all new Jaguar and Land Rover models.
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A true story of shop floor-to-boardroom success, Trevor Mann joined Nissan in 1985 to help set up the Sunderland factory. He oversaw the plant’s growth, helping it become the UK’s largest car factory. His contribution has even been recognised by the Queen: Mann was awarded a CBE for services to the north east. He continued to rise through the ranks and is now Chief Performance Officer – a senior global role putting him in charge of the overall performance of Nissan, Datsun and Infiniti.
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It’s been a stellar 12 months for Jag Design Director Ian Callum. The BMW 3 Series-rivalling XE is selling strongly, the refreshed XF has been well received and the F-Type sports car has been successfully ‘toughened up’ for hardcore SVR trim. More importantly, Callum has delivered Jaguar’s first SUV, the F-Pace, which has the potential to be the brand’s biggest seller thanks to its mix of fine handling and strong packaging – a real achievement. With the F-Pace, Callum might finally have given Jaguar a real volume seller.
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Aldred is a rising star at GM and, at 46, has plenty of time to work his way up to the top job at the company, which many observers think will one day be his. Following successful stints running Vauxhall in the UK, and then helping Opel’s sales recovery across Europe, Aldred was offered the plum role of running US establishment brand Buick, as well as GM’s truck (read pick-up and SUV) offshoot GMC.
Buick sold more than 1.2 million cars globally in 2015, with around 80 per cent of those in the crucial Chinese market. Aldred has built a reputation as a real innovator when it comes to sales and marketing, and has been using that to good effect in his current role in everything from the approach in showrooms and the finance packages offered to potential buyers to the popular ‘It’s a Buick’ ad campaigns run on US TV.
He has also been busy influencing Buick’s design teams, with results like the well received Avista coupé concept car revealed at this year’s Detroit Motor Show, proving that there is still potential for cars other than SUVs in Buick’s line-up. Aldred even revealed to us that he was trying to persuade GM Europe’s boss, Karl-Thomas Neumann, that Buick and Opel should work together to make a big coupe more feasible – further proof that Aldred’s influence within GM stretches far and wide
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Now two years into her role as Global CEO of Citroen, Linda Jackson’s vision for the iconic brand is coming to fruition with strong sales of existing models and a raft of new Citroens on the way.
And she takes a very hands-on approach as we saw for ourselves on a visit to a Citroen dealer in Beijing. “Two weeks ago I was in Germany, one week ago it was Spain and now it’s China,” Jackson told us, speaking with an enthusiasm and freshness that belied someone who’d just stepped off yet another plane. The former boss of Citroen UK, who started out with the Rover Group, spends plenty of time with dealers, getting feedback from the showroom floor.
“I do three to four dealer visits on a normal trip as well as meeting dealer councils, going to the local HQs and doing presentations to staff,” she said. “I’m looking for real product feedback and ideas.
“For example, a French dealer made some comments about our brochures, which has changed the way we do them.” Jackson also has feedback for the dealers she visits, and on this occasion was keen to see more colour in the showroom. She said this is “something we’re working hard at, especially with our motor show stands”, while also encouraging more engagement with accessories to “create more adventure”, as she put it.
There was also good news for the dealer principal, Madame Gao: Jackson revealed the full range of high-quality, innovative SUVs the Chinese market craves –developed under Jackson’s watchful eye – is coming.
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Our number one Brit for 2016 is a guy who has transformed one of America’s greatest brands, quadrupled sales in just six years and set his company on the road to a target of 1.9 million cars sold by 2018.
Mike Manley is the Bedfordshire boy who’s now running US powerhouse Jeep, and he’s doing it rather well. So well in fact, that Sergio Marchionne, boss of Jeep’s parent company FCA, has also put him charge of FCA in the Asia Pacific Region, given him another iconic American brand, RAM, to look after and put him on the FCA Group Executive Council.
But when Manley started out, he couldn’t have been further from the car business. His first job after completing an engineering degree was working for a company at Hammersmith Hospital in London, designing wall brackets but also making a great deal of tea, as he explains to us when we meet up with him at Jeep HQ in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
“After three months I was completely bored,” he says. But at least he was being occupied by what was going on at Wormwood Scrubs prison next door: “The prisoners were on the roof hurling tiles – very strange.”
The car industry soon came calling in the form of a graduate training programme for Swan National.
“I left the engineering job on the Friday and I started selling cars on the Monday. And I didn’t sell anything for three months!” he admits.
“The first car I sold was an RS Escort. I took in an Astra GTE and did the handover on a Friday night at the customer’s house so I kept the Astra for the weekend.”
That was a clear indication of the smart thinking that would see Manley in demand throughout his career, even when the chips were down.
He later invested in some Renault dealerships with colleagues just as the car market collapsed, before moving to a large Peugeot dealer then on to Lex Autosales as the company was trying to build its used car retail arm. But then Lex had a change of plan…
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“They wanted to get out of retail,” Manley explains. “They ended up selling the retail business to DaimlerChrysler which was looking to take more control of its used car businesses.
“I was seconded to Mercedes for three months to help integrate the businesses. Then halfway through, the MD, Joe Eberhardt [now President and CEO of JLR North America] asked if I wanted to stay and run their network. That’s how I moved on to the OEM side. To be honest, my retail roots have really helped a lot.”
Not long after, Eberhardt moved to the US and called Manley, asking him to work his magic as part of the then DaimlerChrysler team on the other side of the Atlantic.
“It was a three-year assignment that just extended and extended,” says Manley. “But before we knew it we were into selling Chrysler and I was part of the team pitching to the venture capitalist guys. Then we got into the negotiations with Fiat and came out in 2009.” Daimler was keen to keep hold of Manley and offered him a job in Europe, but he chose to stay with the newly formed company in Detroit and, as the Chrysler Group brands were separated, he was given the job as boss of Jeep.
Back then, Manley’s experience of Jeep was limited. “In 2009 I looked after international sales and product planning and we were multi-branded,” he says. “But being asked to run Jeep was a privilege and a real opportunity.
“We went into a period of looking at what Jeep really was. It’s one of those brands with a phenomenal history and that enabled us to develop the voice of Jeep.”
In 2009, Jeep sold a total of 320,000 cars worldwide – a far cry from the 1.23 million sales recorded in 2015. And Manley is proud of the work he and his team did to get the company back into the minds of buyers: “This place was unbelievable, working on products 24/7. We were working on brand and product, seven days a week.”
Although clearly a car fan who lives and breathes the spirit of Jeep, Manley tells us he’s especially passionate about brands – and it’s the strength of the Jeep brand that he says will help him achieve the near-two million sales target.
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“I’m often asked how we’re going to hit two million car sales and I always reply by saying we’re going to localise production in China,” he explains. “It’s a competitive market for sure, but our brand awareness in China is already incredible. I have over 250 shops selling Jeep merchandise in China – it’s a very, very high-end brand. I have JXP – a high line – but I also have ‘J is for Jeep’ which is for kids.
“Here in the US when the kids are learning to write the letter J, they use Jeep. One of my favourite books that I use in my presentation is this.” Manley strolls to his bookcase and gets out a children’s book called Sheep in a Jeep. “This is the actual book kids get,” he tells us. “What other brands connect with people at that age like that?”
Manley is quick to point out that strong product is vital and Jeep has plenty of that coming up. “At the end of this year, we’re going to launch the new C-SUV,” he says. “We have a new Wrangler and Grand Wagoneer coming, too, and I’ve got the pick-up truck.”
Manley seems just as excited by RAM, which he tells us is on a similar trajectory to Jeep. So much so, he’s lined up a selection of RAM pick-ups for us to look at and talk through with his team. We also get a chance to see Manley in action in a video call with his teams in India and China, discussing the localisation of the hugely successful Jeep Renegade.
It’s these teams that Manley is entrusting with more responsibility as his own job grows. “Each time Sergio [Marchionne] has asked me to take on something more, I look at my team and make sure they’re ready to take on more,” he tells us. “It’s the only way you can do it.”
But how important is his Britishness to him and how it works? “Being British is who I am, it’s very important,” he says. “As we take Jeep globally, you have to be very aware of the multi-cultural environment that we live in. You have to be able to understand and work with different cultures – some of that comes more naturally to Brits.”
One thing we always ask our Brit List winners is why they think the car business provides a great career for young people. And Manley seems just as enthusiastic about the opportunities as he is about the Jeep brand itself.
“As an industry we will give people significant exposure to one of the most complex businesses in the world – giving them skills that are hugely transferable,” he tells us. “And, of course, it’s a global industry.” That appeals to something that Manley has aplenty and which is core to the Jeep brand: a spirit of adventure. And the Manley adventure is one that’s going to run and run.
Click through to the next page for this year’s top 50, who they are and what they do...