An accountant by training, Lord Simpson, 58, began his career in the gas industry. A long association with the motor industry began in 1969 when he joined British Leyland. He moved from finance into general management 11 years later, as managing director successively of BL subsidiaries Coventry Climax, Freight Rover, and Leyland Trucks. In 1987, he was appointed chief executive of Leyland Daf.
He returned to the Rover Group in 1988 as managing director and became chief executive and chairman. Within weeks of the sale of Rover to BMW he left to become chief executive of Lucas, the automotive and aerospace supplier, which had suffered from poor management. Simpson set about restructuring the company. But to give the company global scale it needed acquisitions or mergers.
Before the two years Simpson had set himself to turn Lucas around were up, the GEC job came along – as did the prospect of a merger between Lucas and US brakes and diesel maker Varity. The deal went through days before Simpson moved to GEC, though afterwards it became clear it was more of a takeover of the historic British company by the US firm, with its headquarters moved to the US and a clearout of Lucas management.
Simpson took the helm at GEC in 1996, after 34 years with Lord Weinstock in charge. Weinstock had created a classic industrial conglomerate of the 1970s and 1980s, a corporate model that in the 1990s was running out of steam. GEC was a
company rich in technology, with good people, well managed financially but unable to exploit new markets.
Turning this conglomerate of 160 companies into a focused high-tech company is perhaps Simpson’s biggest-ever challenge – but if the new Marconi succeeds it could prove to be his crowning achievement.
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