If I had to start again... David Smith

The former Jaguar Land Rover CEO on his alternative career choices.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

I'm both a frustrated scientist and a frustrated artist. I don't particularly wish I'd done anything differently because I've actually really enjoyed it.

But I would like to have been someone like Matthew Boulton, who was dabbling in arts and science two hundred years ago. There aren't many people like that today.

I became chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover at a difficult time; my predecessor had died suddenly and we were then plunged into this terrible recession. Demand fell by 50% and it was a lot of work to get the business through a very difficult period, while at the same time transferring it from Ford's ownership to Tata. The physical transition is more or less complete, but the cultural transformation will take time. Tata runs its businesses as standalone units, where it's involved at strategic board level, but doesn't get deeply involved in their day-to-day running - very different from Ford.

It was sad for me that Ford decided to sell JLR, Aston Martin and Volvo because I liked these brands and I would have preferred to stay working with them under Ford's ownership. The decision to leave Ford was incredibly difficult for me - I'd been there for 25 years. The fact I couldn't continue my career in Ford and work in these businesses at the same time is definitely a regret.

I've had other tough decisions to make too. The day we announced the intention to close either Solihull or Castle Bromwich was difficult, not least because they are both plants I've known since my boyhood. So there's an emotional tie as well as a responsibility to the people who work there. But if you want the business to be sustainable and successful, you have to do these things. The question is how well you do them.

They always say that being chief executive is like being president of the USA: it's a very lonely job. And it's true, especially in this climate, that you end up working very long hours and not seeing your family enough. That's something I won't miss.

- David Smith was CEO of Jaguar Land Rover from 2008 to 2010.

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