Australian-born engineer and director of Land Rover programs in the UK, Murray Dietsch, said Ratan Tata visited JLR’s design studios four to five times a year to keep up to date with the latest work of Jaguar and Land Rover/Range Rover design directors Ian Callum and Gerry McGovern.
“He’s got a sharp eye for design detail,” Dietsch said of the 74-year-old chairman, who completed a degree in architecture and structural engineering at Cornell University in 1962.
“He spends a bit of time with Ian and Gerry when he’s in town. They’ll have a two-day review, and he’ll spend probably three, four, five hours with the design directors.”
Dietsch said Callum and McGovern respected Tata not simply for his leadership position within the company but the unique perspective he brought to the design process.
“He had a little bit to do with the most recent Range Rover.
“It’s not necessarily about little bits of design detail, but he’ll stand back and say, proportionately, I’d like that to be a little bit shorter there, or a little bit taller there, or the relationship between the glass and the body size needs to be changed or something, and he’ll provide some input that way.
“He might come back in three months and the design team will show him that’s what you saw last time and that’s what you’re seeing now. He’ll do the thumbs up and you’ve done the right thing, it’s moved in the right direction.”
“You’d kind of expect that he wouldn’t get down into that kind of detail. He’s a reasonably busy sort of guy, but I think it’s important that his opinion is noted.
“Ian and Gerry tend to take notice of him and respect him because he’s come with an industrial arts background and he’s got an eye for that kind of detail.
“There are few others they would probably listen to I would suspect in that kind of detail but with him they give him some time.”
Dietsch said Tata was a softly spoken leader, but said that when he spoke, people listened.
“He asks for something to happen, whether it’s for you to do something personally or for something to be changed, and what he’s really actually doing is telling you, ‘This is what’s going to happen’, but it’s done in a way that you go, ‘I’m going to go off and do that because I want to’.”
Dietsch says the two British companies would be forever grateful to Tata, whose automotive business Tata Motors purchased Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford for US$2.3 billion ($2.2 billion) at the height of the global financial crisis in 2008.
“It was really hard for all the auto industry but particularly difficult for us,” he recalls.
“Tata as a parent company couldn’t have been better for us. They stood by us in really, really difficult circumstances and we are where we are now because of them. We’re seeing success, and we get to pay them back now.”
Earlier this year, Tata Motors announced a plan to double its annual investment in the two brands to around £1.5 billion ($2.33 billion) as both brands continue to gain momentum around the world. JLR currently accounts for more than 90 per cent of Tata Motors’ total profits.
Ratan Tata will be succeeded as chairman by 44-year-old Cyrus Mistry from January, but will continue to have an influence across numerous divisions of the business, including design.