Sir Michael Edwardes, a South African industrialist best-known for his work with troubleshooting at British Leyland, has died aged 88. He is survived by his second wife and three daughters.
Sir Michael Edwardes was responsible for the drastic restructuring of British Leyland in the late 70s and early 80s. He joined the motor manufacturing leviathan in 1977, during TR7 production at Speke in Liverpool and right in the middle of the worst of the troubles. He joined with the brief of turning the company around and he began by regaining power through breaking up the authority of union shop stewards by appealing to the large sections of the workforce who actually didn’t want to strike. He was knighted in 1979.
Sir Michael Edwardes’ tenure at the helm of British Leyland was characterised by his repeated threats to close the company and also the dismissal of union leader Derek Robinson, often referred to in the press at the time as “Red Robbo”. After Robinson had been dismissed and his own unions voted against industrial action, the strikes at British Leyland subsided and profitability of the company increased again.
After flying to Japan on Christmas Day of 1979, Edwardes brokered the deal with Honda which led to the Triumph Acclaim and well over a decade of co-operation and joint development with the Rover brand.
The move renewed interest in British Leyland to the point where it could be privatised, rather than be entirely propped up by government handouts. Edwardes always argued that BL shouldn’t be split up, as he felt that without the desirable brands of Land Rover, Rover, Jaguar and MG, the business would be considered unsaleable. This he achieved on the whole with the exception of Jaguar which went on to separate from BL.
Prior to British Leyland Edwardes’ began his career at Chloride batteries, mainly via the influence of his father Denys, who controlled an associated company. Initially a sales manager in South Africa and Rhodesia, he came to England to restructure Exide Batteries in 1969. He joined the Chloride board the same year, becoming CEO in 1972 and Chairman in 1974. After winning Guardian’s Young Businessman of The Year for 1975, the invitation came to solve the problems at British Leyland.