Jeremy Hicks, managing director of Jaguar Land Rover, has seen huge growth since taking over at the helm of the West Midlands car manufacturer. Here he talks leadership, learning from challenges and the next stage of car connectivity
I was obsessed with cars from an early age. My dad was a car dealer so I was brought up around cars; if ever a round object was missing at home, there was a good chance I was using it as a steering wheel!
I had to work really hard at school to get anywhere and scrabbled around in the class to make sense of stuff. Then one day my economics teacher told me that intelligence is the ability to make connections. That lodged deep in the back of my head. I draw on that so often – it’s what I try to do, connect things together.
It’s really important to work in a business that is thriving and growing. Spotting growth has been a flavour of all my career choices. I could tell when a business was on the way up. More than once people have raised their eyebrows when I’ve taken a job but either through foresight or luck, I’ve managed to back winners.
I’m very careful when I’m recruiting. I like people who are inquisitive, engaging, determined and prepared to make tough calls.
I have always been a believer in that expression which says ‘and this too will pass…’ That has been a significant learning for me. Economic circumstances change and your business can alter overnight, but it passes.
A challenge is as tough as you want it to be. It depends on how you enter it. I’ve seen people who have literally frozen in the face of uncertainty but, when faced with a difficult situation, I set myself up to be calm and have a really clear plan. It’s that simple.
Black Monday was a great example. I was at Vauxhall when base rate went to 15 per cent. They had invested in about 65 dealerships, many of which were highly geared because they had high borrowing. Their debt repayments went through the roof through no fault of their own – just economic circumstance. That was tough. I was in my thirties, a director of these businesses and I had never experienced receiverships before. But we focused on finding buyers for the businesses – and we managed that.
Never shy away from the moment. Always be prepared to put yourself out there in front. That’s the mark of a strong leader. If there’s a creditor to be talked to, talk to them. If there are staff members that need to be talked to, do it. Don’t let anyone else do it. Weak leaders hide away but people respond really well to strong leaders who are prepared to take it on the chin.
Coming to JLR for me was a chance to join a brand with a great British heritage. We are owned by Tata but to all intents and purposes we are a British company and the chance to contribute to Britain was a big driver for me. My responsibility is to run the UK business for JLR but I feel very close to HQ.
My proudest moment? Right now. When I joined Jaguar Land Rover there were 30,000 of us here, now there are over 40,000 of us.
I am a great believer in relevant technology. I’m in the tablet camp – I do everything with it, it’s my primary connected piece. The ability to connect that technology with our cars is the next area to explore. We can move a journey from the phone to the car and back to the phone again. But to get, for example, a parking space at the station booked, train tickets sent to my device and a car to pick me up at the other end is the next stage and we’re not a million miles away from it.
I hadn’t prepared myself fully for the sense of responsibility that comes with the job. I’m very involved with Business in the Community – we won responsible business of the year back in 2013 and now I chair the Marketplace Leadership Team. Of course we understand that companies have to make a profit, but we also have to contribute to the world that we all live in and leave this place in a better situation than we found it.
I’m swimming the channel on 20 August. It’s in aid of Ben [the automotive charity] – I’m a trustee. Ben is there to support everyone in the motor industry in their moment of need and it’s very important to me. Training is going well so far.
I’m not very good at doing nothing. My favourite places are the Lake District and the Alps. You get a great sense of privilege in places like that and it’s something I continually enforce with my kids. Whenever we are on the first ski lift on a trip they say, ‘Dad, when’s the privilege conversation going to come? And I always say to them ‘About now.’
Jeremy Hicks CV
Education BA (Hons) in business studies from the University of Central Lancashire
1984-88 Sales and marketing director, Vauxhall Motors
2000-2003 Head of retail operations, and head of group services, Volkswagen Group UK
2005-2011 Director, Audi UK
2011 Managing director, Jaguar Land Rover UK
To support Jeremy Hicks’s channel swim go to justgiving.com/JLRchannelswim