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The Brit List 2023: UK’s top car industry execs named

The UK is not a global hub for car building, but Brits still have huge influence in the industry

The UK’s car-manufacturing industry is in a major state of flux, with concerns over the effects of Brexit on the supply chain, and horse-trading over battery gigafactories. But the country’s management, engineering and design skills are still clearly highly regarded within the global car industry – and that’s reflected in our annual rundown of the UK’s top 50 influences over the cars we buy and drive. 

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The revised order includes a chopped-and-changed top 10, new entries, and evidence that Chinese brands are turning to UK expertise. It’s also good to see two female UK execs within our top 10, although the higher echelons of the motor industry still badly need more diversity. The overall picture is positive, though, with lots of evidence that UK nous is still appreciated.

Scroll down to find 2023's top 10 Brit List members, along with the full list further below...

10. Cathy O’Callaghan

Vice President, Controller and Chief Financial Officer, Global Markets, Ford

Ford is undergoing unprecedented change - splitting itself into divisions that can focus on future electric powertrains, and the combustion-engined cars that can be sold in the meantime. 

Swansea-born Cathy O’Callaghan jumps into our top 10 this year because of the integral role she’s playing in the new structure. In a Ford webcast in the spring to walk investors through how the divisions would report the numbers, O’Callaghan led the presentation - a sign of how highly she’s rated, both by boss Jim Farley and also by Chief Financial Officer John Lawler. 

9. Adrian Mardell

Acting Chief Executive Officer, JLR

It’s tricky to place Adrian Mardell, who rises 15 places this year to jump into our top 10. When JLR revealed its new branding, new name, and new ‘brand pillar’ structure back in April, Mardell was presented as the company’s Chief Executive Officer, apparently cementing a position he’d held since the departure of Thierry Bolloré last autumn. Yet JLR has referred to him since as Acting CEO – so it’s unclear if the former Chief Financial Officer is just keeping the seat warm, or if he really is JLR owner Tata’s choice to lead the brands boldly into the future.

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Either way, it’s been a solid 12 months for Mardell himself, stepping up from CFO to take the helm of a company where he’s worked for more than three decades. JLR’s numbers are recovering well, the order books for key models like the Range Rover have rarely looked healthier, and Mardell is confident that the company can earn enough profits in the next couple of years to fund the necessary technical development of its electric future, while also paying down its debt burden.

8. Darren Palmer

Vice President of Global EV programs, Ford

We’re finally starting to see the fruits of Darren Palmer’s latest efforts at Ford, after the highly rated engineer disappeared into a skunkworks called ‘Project Edison’ designed to come up with an electric-only future. 

The F-150 Lightning has grabbed plenty of attention in the United States as a flagbearer for zero-emissions pick-ups (revealed, launched and delivered to customers while Tesla is still churning over its Cybertruck), while in Europe, the Explorer shows how Ford will adapt VW’s MEB platform. Palmer’s team still has plenty of work to do, but now that we’re seeing signs, they seem positive.

7. Julian Blissett

Executive Vice President, President of GM China, General Motors

Challenging times for Julian Blissett, the man managing General Motors’ brands and joint ventures in China. GM’s share of the world’s largest car market fell last year – down to just under 10 per cent, compared with 15 per cent in 2015. 

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Earnings from the region have plummeted, too, as GM sees customers turning towards the plethora of new local arrivals. Blissett’s task is to keep pushing ahead with new-model launches (more than 20 are scheduled for this year alone), while moving GM’s brands further towards electrification – and hope that does the trick.

6. Alison Jones 

Senior Vice President, Global Circular Economy, Stellantis

Stellantis has a good record of promoting British female talent – witness Linda Jackson’s continued success at Peugeot – and Alison Jones, formerly the group’s UK boss, has been given a new division that’s likely to be a major contributor to the balance sheet in years ahead. 

The Global Circular Economy division is targeted with achieving two billion Euros (£1.7bn) of annual revenues by 2030, based on remanufacturing, repairing, reusing and recycling. It’s good ethical business, but also a potentially profitable one – and Stellantis chief Carlos Tavares clearly trusts Jones to deliver the goods.

5. Gerry McGovern OBE

Chief Creative Officer, JLR

A slight slip down the top five for Professor Gerry McGovern OBE, but it’s almost as if we’re holding our breath (again), waiting for JLR’s Chief Creative Officer to deliver yet another landmark product for the company. 

We’ve had Defender, new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport in the past few years, but at some point in the next 12 months, McGovern is going to show the world the future of Jaguar as a pure-electric brand. McGovern’s not a man short of confidence, but you feel that successfully reinventing Sir William Lyons’s brand for the 21st century really would be his greatest triumph.

4. Michael Cole

President and Chief Executive Officer, Hyundai Motor Europe

West Ham securing a first major European trophy for 58 years might have been Michael Cole’s highlight of the past few months, but the former Kia exec is overseeing a tremendous period of success at Hyundai’s European division too. The Korean brand shifted almost 520,000 vehicles in the region last year, enough for a record market share of 4.6 per cent. 

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Cleverly designed products - many zero-emissions - have helped, but you need to back that up with good customer services and manage supply levels and delivery times. Cole has clearly put in place a team that can achieve that.

3. Wayne Griffiths

President, SEAT & Cupra

He may have made his name within the Volkswagen Group at Audi, but Wayne Griffiths is doing a good job of fighting the corner for the automotive giant’s Spanish brands, SEAT and, in particular, Cupra.

Griffiths, who’s a fluent German speaker but isn’t afraid to say “Hola” to an audience when calling for local government support in Spain, succeeded in landing one of the VW Group’s gigafactories for Valencia - and, in turn, the deal to make the more affordable EVs for Cupra, VW and Skoda at the Martorell plan in Barcelona, with production due to start in around 2026.

Cupra continues to make gains across Europe in the meantime, thanks to the mix of value and premium finish offered by the likes of the Formentor and Born. And Griffiths has developed a Teflon coating strong enough to deflect all questions about the future of the SEAT brand, which doesn’t appear to have any EVs in the pipeline at all.

2. Jim Rowan

President & Chief Executive Officer, Volvo Cars

His background is in tech, but Scot Jim Rowan has acclimatised remarkably quickly to life at Volvo since taking over from Hakan Samuelsson last year. Indeed, you might argue that the car industry is bending to meet the specialised knowledge of the former Dyson man, who is more comfortable than many a Chief Technical Officer when talking about battery chemistries and electric motors. 

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That know-how, gleaned not only from Dyson but also a spell as COO of Blackberry, is driving Volvo’s workforce, who are already motivated after flourishing under owner Geely. Rowan gave a ‘tech boss’ masterclass at the recent launch of the surprisingly affordable EX30, too, with a slick video that highlighted the car’s size and had the boss himself shrunk to miniature to make areas like the boot look as large as aircraft hangars.

Getting the EX30 and the flagship EX90 SUVs into the hands of customers will be Rowan’s challenge over the next 12 months – and thereafter, the company has plans to launch an all-new model every year until 2025. SUVs are likely to dominate the product plan, but Rowan admitted recently that the idea of an all-electric estate at least merits consideration.

1. Rory Harvey

Executive Vice President & President, North America, General Motors

It takes a pretty big promotion for someone to jump as many as six places in the Brit list, especially amid the high flyers of the top 10. But that’s precisely the case with Rory Harvey, who started a new role at the head of General Motors North America on 1 June.

Harvey joined Vauxhall back in 1989, with a degree in mechanical engineering from Coventry University. He started as a sales & marketing trainee, but within five years he’d assumed control of General Motors’ Masterfit service division across Europe. He’d flitter between the UK brand and the wider GM empire for much of the next two decades, but his most recent spell at home was as Chairman and Managing Director of Vauxhall

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He took up that position after a stint at Opel, when he managed two years of growth and more than half a million sales per year. GM bigwigs decided that they wanted Harvey to stay on board, even after PSA acquired the company’s European division, so Rory moved to the United States in 2018, as Vice President for Cadillac North America, looking after sales, service and marketing. He was then promoted to Global President for Cadillac in September 2020.

His new role is on another level again, as Executive Vice President Harvey leads GM’s sales, service and marketing across all of its automotive brands in the US - that’s GMC. Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, OnStar, GM Genuine Parts and AC Delco. Plus, the global bosses for Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac report to him (including Brit List Hall of Famer Duncan Aldred, still in charge at Buick and GMC).

The new position is absolutely key for GM’s future; the company is returning to Europe, but that’s a small project compared with the US division, which shifted 2.23 million vehicles (a year-on-year rise of 2.25 per cent) in 2022. WIth its Chinese operations under ever-increasing threat from the local brands, GM will no doubt be tasking Harvey with firming up its domestic prowess - while also nudging it towards the electrification that many American customers are loathe to accept.

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It’s a delicate balancing act, but Harvey has proven himself adept at walking a fine line during more than 15 years at the sharp end of some key markets.

The Brit List 2023: top 50

50

Wayne Bruce

Chief Communications and D&I Officer, Bentley Motors Ltd

49

Christian Horner

President & Chief Executive Officer, Red Bull Racing & Red Bull Technologies

48

Alan Johnston

Region Senior Vice President, Manufacturing & Supply Chain, Nissan

47

Avril Palmer-Baunack

Executive Chairman, Constellation Automotive Group

46

Mark Cameron

Global Managing Director, Defender/Discovery, JLR

45

Mike Johnstone

Vice President, Commercial, Group Lotus

44

Jon Williams

General Manager, Ford Blue

43

Duncan Tait

Chief Executive Officer, Inchcape

42

Mike Hawes

Chief Executive, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders

41

Matthew Weaver

Vice President, Nissan Design Europe, Nissan

40

Sue Slaughter

Director of Purchasing, Ford of Europe

39

Dave King

Senior Vice President of Engineering, Fisker

38

Simon Loasby

Head of Styling Group, Hyundai

37

Phil York

Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications, Peugeot

36

Alex Smith

Managing Director, Volkswagen Group UK

35

Steve Marsh

Director, Global Manufacturing Operations, JLR

34

Nigel Blenkinsop

Executive Director, Quality & Customer Satisfaction, JLR

33

Geraldine Ingham

Global Managing Director, Range Rover, JLR

32

Lisa Brankin

Managing Director, Ford of Britain

31

David Moss

Senior Vice President for Research & Development, Nissan Europe

30

Marek Reichman

Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer, Aston Martin

29

Peter Horbury

Senior Vice President, Executive Advisor, Design, Group Lotus

28

Ian Hoban

Chief Product Strategy & Delivery Officer, Bentley Motors Ltd

27

Matt Becker

Vehicle Engineering Director, JLR

26

Tim Slatter

Head of Vehicle Programs, Ford Plus, Ford

25

Max Warburton

Advisor to the Management Board, Mercedes-Benz Group

24

Lynn Calder

CEO, Ineos Automotive

23

David McClelland

Vice President, Strategy & Chairman, Ford Credit, Ford

22

Robin Page

Director of Design, Bentley Motors

21

Mark Adams

Vice President of Design, Vauxhall/Opel

20

Matt Windle

Managing Director, Lotus

19

Jim Ratcliffe

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Ineos Automotive

18

Peter Rawlinson

Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technical Officer, Lucid Motors

17

Paul Walsh

Executive Chairman, McLaren Group

16

Doug Lafferty

Chief Financial Officer, Aston Martin

15

Paul Willcox

Senior Vice President & Group Managing Director, Stellantis

14

Nick Collins

Executive Director, Vehicle Programmes, JLR

13

Matt Harrison

Chief Operating Officer, Toyota Motor Europe

12

Lyle Watters

Vice President & General Manager, Passenger Vehicles, China, Ford

11

Simon Humphries

Chief Branding Officer & Field General Manager, Design, Toyota

10

Cathy O'Callaghan

Vice President, Controller and Chief Financial Officer, Global Markets, Ford

9

Adrian Mardell

Acting Chief Executive Officer, JLR

8

Darren Palmer

Vice President of Global EV programs, Ford

7

Julian Blissett

Executive Vice President, President of GM China, General Motors

6

Alison Jones

Senior Vice President, Global Circular Economy, Stellantis

5

Gerry McGovern OBE

Chief Creative Officer, JLR

4

Michael Cole

President and Chief Executive Officer, Hyundai Motor Europe

3

Wayne Griffiths

President, SEAT & Cupra

2

Jim Rowan

President & Chief Executive Officer, Volvo Cars

1

Rory Harvey

Executive Vice President & President, North America, General Motors

The Auto Express Hall of Fame

2022 - Stuart Rowley

Last year’s winner retired from Ford in December. He’s looking forward to “the next chapter”.

2021 - Adrian Hallmark
Bentley boss Hallmark continues to set records, with big sales and even wider margins in 2022.

2020 - Steven Armstrong

Armstrong stepped back from Ford at the end of last year. He’s now said to be consulting for Aston Martin.

2019 - Richard Palmer 

The man who tied together the finances of FCA and PSA to make Stellantis is retiring in a few weeks.

2018 - Dunan Aldred

Former Vauxhall chief Aldred has global control of General Motors’ Buick and GMC Brands.

2017 - Linda Jackson

Still rated highly by Stellantis boss Carlos Tavares, our 2017 winner is still flying high at Peugeot.

2016 - Mike Manley

Since leaving Jeep and Stellantis in 2021, Manley has been CEO of huge US car retailer AutoNation.

2015 - Alan Batey

Former boss of GM North America has recently joined board of component packaging firm Advantek.

2014 - Stephen Odell

Ex-Ford exec is involved in wood firm Accsys, and is a council member of the Univeristy of Nottingham.

2013 - Ian Roberston

BMW’s sales and marketing boss retired from the German OEM in 2018.

2012 - Andy Palmer

Ex-Aston boss and Nissan Leaf pioneer has a number of positions, including one with battery firm InoBat.

Now read more about the best cars to own, as voted for by drivers like you...

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Editor-at-large

John started journalism reporting on motorsport – specifically rallying, which he had followed avidly since he was a boy. After a stint as editor of weekly motorsport bible Autosport, he moved across to testing road cars. He’s now been reviewing cars and writing news stories about them for almost 20 years.

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