Book: John Egan – Saving Jaguar

Book: Saving Jaguar by Sir John Egan

Review by Philip Porter

When John Egan arrived at Jaguar Cars in April 1980, newly appointed as Chief Executive, the company’s very survival was in grave doubt. In fact, the situation looked utterly hopeless.

Not only was the once-proud Jaguar company a part of the catastrophic British Leyland conglomerate but he was greeted at the gates by the workforce – on strike!

The odds against saving Jaguar were immense. Quality was appalling, the workforce bitter, the management disillusioned and any profits had been sucked out by BL to stem its mounting losses. The Labour Government had introduced the ‘closed shop’, giving the unions their despotic militant shop stewards immense power.

This book tells the story of how John Egan gradually overcame the odds and, piece by piece, rebuilt this great company, winning over the workforce, the overseas dealers and, most important of all, the customers. Working with Margaret Thatcher and her Government, Egan and his team of managers overcame every obstacle, every set-back, every challenge.

Again and again, it looked impossible. Yet using innovative techniques, intelligence, eloquence, openness, motor racing and much more, they saved this most charismatic company which has created some of the finest and most loved motor cars of all time.

It is an amazing story that will appeal equally to car enthusiasts, those in business and readers interested in social history.


Review by Paul Skilleter

This is the full, personal account by Sir John Egan of how he came to a failing Jaguar in 1980, and fought to raise quality and morale – with such success that Jaguar was privatised in 1984 and won Le Mans in 1988.

The story includes boardroom battles, dealing with the UK government, re-entering motor sport with Tom Walkinshaw, and the huge effort entailed in getting XJ40 into production.

Finally, Sir John tells from his own perspective how the Ford take-over happened, resulting in Jaguar being part of a major manufacture again – and his own departure from the scene. A fascinating glimpse into life at Jaguar during the XJ6/XJ-S and XJ40 eras.

The book includes many interesting observations on the people he worked with (and sometimes fought with – one of the most intriguing revelations is that shortly before privatisation, there was a boardroom plot to sack John Egan!), along with the problems making the cars of the period: XJ6, XJ-S, XJ40 etc.

Ultimately, perhaps, Egan created an aura of success that was perhaps over-egged, which enticed Ford into making an offer to buy the company that was too generous not to be put to the shareholders, who gave the proposal a mighty thumbs-up. So Sir John saw Jaguar become a small cog in a major organisation once more – but at least he had preserved Sir William Lyons’ inheritance so that there was a worthwhile entity to be bought. An essential read for anyone interested in Jaguar’s history and the company’s products of the 1980s.


Hard bound with jacket, 224 pages, mono and colour illustrations, 25 x 18cm


About the Author
Sir John Egan has enjoyed a long and highly distinguished business career. After studying petroleum engineering at Imperial College, he was employed by Shell in the Middle East. Following time at London Business School, he joined AC Delco, a General Motors company. He then moved to British Leyland where he helped to set up and ran Unipart, a uniquely successful operation within BL. Four years with Massey-Ferguson in Canada followed before Sir Michael Edwardes encouraged him back to Coventry to try and save Jaguar. Ten years later, he reluctantly sold the company to Ford but achieved a price of £1.6bn ($2.5bn). He was Chief Executive of British Airports Authority from 1990 until 1999 and headed up the construction industry task force, producing the Egan Report, Rethinking Construction, in 1998 and Accelerating Change in 2002. He served as President of the CBI from that date until 2004 when he became Chairman of Severn Trent. Among many other roles, he was Chairman of Inchcape plc, Chairman, and later President, of the London Tourist Board, President of the Institute of Management and is Chancellor of Coventry University.  He was knighted in 1986.

Available from Porter Press International and Paul Skilleter Books