Exclusive: We talked to Mike Dale on his last day as Jaguar's US boss
European Bureau Chief
The California Mille- a four day automotive romp from San Francisco to the Oregon border and back seemed like a perfect way to bow out for Jaguar's highly popular chief who will be 65 years old in a few days time. We caught up with him just before the start and managed to secure his very last interview as CEO of a company that really seems to have emerged from pretty deep mire.
Yes, he said, 20 years ago things were very tough indeed, it really was a matter of hanging in there. No, he did not particularly enjoy being the butt of all the Lucas related jokes but just had to take them on the chin hoping that things would get better one day. The turning point came when Bill Hayden, Ford Motor Company's tough production chief at the time called all the workers to a meeting. (This was shortly after Ford bought the British company.) He said that there were two alternatives- either everybody agreed to chuck in all the restrictive practices and work together or he was simply going to lock up and throw away the key. And he meant it!
(I don't think American readers will believe me when I talk about certain British working practices but trust me, 20 or so years ago the fitter waited for the electrician, the electrician was waiting for someone else, the production lines crawled along and management were going crazy.)
As Mike pointed out Jaguar have the same problem with the high value of the pound as Rover and Nissan and yet still managed to be profitable. (The cars do cost more of course which does help but Jaguar has to be competitive against BMW and Mercedes so they cannot charge just any old price.) Turning to the current situation in the United States the retiring (not really, he has hundreds of projects he will be working on) boss was just beaming. Sales are up, quality is up, morale is up and there are some great cars in the pipeline. The new small car- BMW 3 series size- will go on sale in 2001 and even though he would not be specific on the subject I did get the feeling that the F type is also all systems go!
Turning to the subject of Wolfgang Reitzle-probably THE most talked about automotive boss in the World today- Mr. Dale had nothing but praise: "I found him straight, hard-working and a car man through and through, at times when driving together we were just like a couple of schoolboys having fun." Talking of the Premier Group which incorporates Volvo, Lincoln-Mercury, Aston Martin and Jaguar and in all probability Land Rover- he seemed to think that whilst there might be showrooms such as the one Bobby Rahal is building at present where both Jaguar and Volvo will be on sale-the two will be completely separate with no overlap of staff.
As for the future: "Well, having started in the car industry in 1957 clearly I won't be able to give it up from one day to the next. I will be working on several projects for the company and what little spare time I'll have left will be devoted to my model aeroplanes."
All I can say is that it must be very gratifying to retire on such a high note having lived through the darkest days of British Leyland and fielding calls from irate customers all over America stranded with faulty electrics. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to be called "Large Car Plant" instead of Jaguar?! And yet, that is exactly how the girls on the switchboard answered telephone calls. Mike persevered, took it on the chin for years on end but now, having helped to turn this great company round he is retiring with his head high with the knowledge that it was a struggle well worth the sweat and tears because Jaguar USA has never been in a finer shape then it is today.