Prof Sir Ralf Speth is among the guest speakers at this year’s virtual VL Summit. In this interview, the British-German top executive of Jaguar Land Rover shares his thoughts about how businesses will be able to emerge and thrive beyond the Covid-19 crisis.
Eva Andersen, Copenhagen
Sir Ralf Speth greets me, and his elegant British-German accent is not to be mistaken. Our meeting takes place online through a video link, and for a brief moment, the friendly grey-haired gentleman appears on the screen and sends a nod my way. He prefers to be able to put a face to the person he is talking with, he says. Then he switches off the camera.
For the rest of the interview, we make do with an audio connection, in order not to burden the internet more than necessary. He explains this is a general policy at Jaguar Land Rover.
For more than a decade, 64-year-old Ralf Speth has been at the helm of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). Owned by the Indian Tata Motors, JLR is currently the biggest car producer in the UK. Under Speth’s leadership, JLR has seen growth year by year, with annual sales reaching well above 500,000 vehicles. While the company is steeped in tradition, it maintains a strong focus on R&D.
Just as with most other businesses, and in particular the car industry, the Covid-19 crisis has had a large impact on Jaguar Land Rover, according to Ralf Speth.
-We were heading into a financially stronger year, but due to the pandemic, our sales have been severely affected in the January to March quarter. Our sales in China are now starting to improve as the country gradually reopens, and as dealerships are also open again. Our factories in China have been back to work since the middle of February, he says.
Elsewhere in the world the company’s vehicle production lines will resume work imminently but employees are still at home due to the pandemic. The crisis has hit JLR after a couple of years of successful cost cutting exercises, a sector slowdown of the Chinese market, and a motor industry that is generally finding itself under pressure.
-We have had to react quickly to secure our employees and business in a time of global economic uncertainty. This includes reviewing all aspects of our business plans. We remain committed to our long-term strategy, but due to the pandemic we have had to postpone the planned launch of some new car models, says Sir Ralf.
The time after corona
While the British might have to prepare themselves for the situation to worsen before the virus gets under control and society can reopen again, companies can already now start to prepare themselves for the future after the corona pandemic, he says.
-Few business leaders had imagined that we would find ourselves in the current situation. The pandemic has rewritten the rules of daily life known by modern people.
-Our actions today define who we will be tomorrow. I am incredibly proud of the way that our employees have handled this situation and a completely new way of working.
Ralf Speth is currently paying close attention to the course of the pandemic in other European countries – among them Denmark, which took prompt action and implemented the necessary restrictions as the threat emerged.
-We can look towards Denmark and see the early indications of what will happen on the other side of the crisis. In the same way, our team in China has shown that there is a way to emerge from this stronger and more resilient. We will get through this like one big Jaguar Land Rover family, he says.
The long-term strategy still stands
Despite the delays, Jaguar Land Rover will continue to carry out its launch plans, he says.
-In the middle of the pandemic, we have still been able to announce the expansion of our new series of electric cars, by introducing our new 3-cylinder plug-in hybrid system, which joins our two bestselling models: Land Rover Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque.
-We remain committed to our strategy, and I am convinced that in the long term, we will learn something from this challenge and find even better ways to reach our ‘Destination Zero’ mission, striving for cars with zero emissions, zero accidents, and zero traffic congestion.
-As Albert Einstein said: In the midst of every crisis there is great opportunity.