Saving Jaguar by John Egan book review

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Saving Jaguar by John Egan book review by Will Dron for The Sunday Times Driving

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JOHN EGAN’S account of steering Jaguar through the 1980s reads like a cross between a business manual and a thriller. To make the detail of finance sheets and the inner workings of boardrooms not only accessible but also interesting is no easy task, but Egan manages it … and then some.

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Egan recalls how when he took over as chief executive, Jaguar, with its British Leyand-owned sister companies, was desperately struggling to keep its head above water. A combination of poor management, dreadful quality control, a disengaged workforce and trade union disputes was driving the company to ruin.

Factory workers were entitled to “a decent day’s pay for a decent day’s work”. But what constituted a decent day’s work, he reveals, was determined by local shop stewards, so most workers would down tools after far less than eight hours. Night-shift workers were taking bedding into the factory. Meanwhile, the machining was so poor that factory workers would often have to hammer pieces together.

Egan clearly and concisely paints a desperate picture, before laying out the nuts and bolts of his rescue plan: build sales, confidence and quality to the point of profitability. When Jaguar was taken over by Ford in 1990 (a move Egan tells us he fought to resist), it was valued at £1.6bn. “Ford could have bought the company for virtually nothing if they had done so when I arrived in 1980,” he remarks.

It is true that Egan makes little effort to stop himself coming across as a hero, but his tone throughout is frank and fair, and the account certainly doesn’t seem sugar-coated. He isn’t afraid to shoot from the hip when it comes to those he feels were less than helpful to Jaguar’s cause, but he is quick to dish out praise where he feels it is deserved.

Despite its corporate subject matter, Saving Jaguar avoids jargon and should engage the general reader as much as business types. Indeed, Egan’s tale of all the problems encountered and overcome is a serious page-turner, made all the more extraordinary because it’s true. The boardroom has never seemed so bracing.

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