Obituary: Sir Leonard Crossland

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THAT FORD dominates the British car market is one of those industry givens - just as Railtrack owns the railway network and Typhoo keep the nation in teabags. As to why an American company should do this in a country once rich with its own car marques is down to determined characters like Leonard Crossland.

He never, perhaps, had the profile of his predecessor Sir Terence Beckett, creator of the iconic Ford Cortina, or even Sir Ian McAllister, Ford's present British head. Yet Crossland's shrewdness in purchasing, and lifelong indoctrination in the Ford corporate culture, helped make vehicles like the Ford Escort, Cortina, Fiesta, Mondeo and Transit Britain's favourites.

He was born in Yorkshire in 1914, and his first job, with Ford, was straight from Penistone Grammar School. He began in 1937 on the shop-floor at Ford's giant plant at Dagenham, Essex, taking home pounds 5 a week. The Second World War saw him in Dunkirk, and mentioned in despatches, but it was straight back to Ford afterwards and a job as a progress chaser in the buying department, helping funnel in the hundreds of parts the company needed.

By 1954 he was in charge of all buying for Ford's tractor-making operations, progressing to cars and lorries three years later. By 1966 he was director of manufacturing staff and services, in charge of buying manufacturing equipment. As a former colleague remembers: "He spent a lifetime grinding down suppliers."

However, no amount of clever planning could overcome the industrial strife that beset Ford in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Relations with the workforce reached a nadir in 1969, when a month-long strike cost pounds 40m, but there were dozens of other stoppages. Spiralling inflation, fuel crises and government insistence on company investment in deprived areas - all helped make British Fords more expensive to produce (when the lines were actually rolling) than Fords in Germany, where workers actually earned more.

Crossland was made assistant managing director of Ford in Britain in 1966, managing director and deputy chairman in 1967, and then chairman in 1968. He was in the thick of an exciting time: Ford knocked the British Motor Corporation, the country's last sizeable domestic car company, into second place in the sales charts to grab the market leadership it retains to this day; its GT40 racing car beat Ferrari at Le Mans; and it launched the sporty 1969 Capri - billed as "the car you always promised yourself".

On the other hand, there was rampant militancy in almost all the company's 20 British plants. Maybe Crossland's 20 per cent pay hike in 1972 wasn't the most sensitive move for the chairman of a company unable to fulfil export orders and falling into the red for the first time ever. But it didn't matter because he was heading later that year for retirement.

This wiry Yorkshireman spent many subsequent years devoted to country pursuits - he was a keen shot - on his large Essex farm, and enjoying fast driving (he was a British Racing Drivers' Club member) for pleasure rather than business. Finally, already suffering from Alzheimer's disease, he secretly married his second wife's nurse, Mary Head (36 years his junior), to the anxiety of other family members.

Giles Chapman

Leonard Crossland, motor industry executive: born 2 March 1914; Chairman, Ford Motor Co 1968-72; Kt 1969; married 1941 Rhona Griffin (two daughters), 1963 Joan Brewer (died 1996), 1997 Mary Head; died Great Wigborough, Essex 5 August 1999.

Comments