In the light of the trend towards joint ventures it is not without irony that one of the benchmarks of Rolls' remarkable recovery was the breaking of a joint venture agreement with GE four years ago. The deal was that Rolls would give the Americans a share in its RB211 adaptation for the Boeing 757, while GE would let Rolls in on developing a giant engine with a thrust of over 60,000lbs.
The venture had been set up by Lord Tombs's predecessor as chairman, Sir William Duncan, against a background of quiet in the industry. But by the late '80s the strategic importance of high-thrust engines was becoming clear. If Rolls was to stop being a poor relation to its American cousins then it had to be in the mega-thrust market in its own right. The final impetus to make the break, explains Stuart Miller, managing director of aerospace, came from customers. "They wanted another RB211, not a GE engine," he says.
The decision paid off. GE was left high and dry on the 757, leaving Rolls and Pratt to divide the spoils. The British took 50% of the market and 75% of all customers. At the same time Rolls further developed the RB211 series, without which it would not have the Trent today.