Lord Trotman

Ford trainee who rose to be chairman

Alex Trotman's was a rags-to-riches story. His career with Ford took him, over 43 years, from the lowliest of white-collar jobs in Essex to the company's very pinnacle at its headquarters in Detroit.

Alexander James Trotman, businessman: born Isleworth, Middlesex 22 July 1933; staff, Ford Britain, Ford Motor Company 1955-67, director, Car Product Planning (Europe) 1967-69, staff, Car Product Planning and Sales Planning Depts (US) 1969-75, chief car planning manager 1975-79, vice-president, European Truck Operations 1979-83, president, Ford Asia-Pacific 1983-84, president, Ford of Europe 1984-88, executive vice-president, North American Automotive Operations 1989-93, president, Ford Automotive Group 1993, chairman and chief executive 1993-98; Kt 1996; director, ICI 1997-2003, chairman 2002-03; created 1999 Baron Trotman; twice married (four children); died 25 April 2005.

Alex Trotman's was a rags-to-riches story. His career with Ford took him, over 43 years, from the lowliest of white-collar jobs in Essex to the company's very pinnacle at its headquarters in Detroit.

Although he was born in Middlesex, Trotman's austere upbringing was in an Edinburgh tenement block, endowing him with a light Scottish accent for the rest of his life. His father worked as an upholsterer, and the young Alex's first job, when he was still at school, was as a butcher's boy. He was bright enough to win a scholarship to the Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh, but university was not an option.

His concern, from the day in 1955 when he began work as a 22-year-old management trainee in the purchasing department at Ford's huge Dagenham plant in east London, was the methodology by which the company's products were manufactured and sold at a profit. Such planning rigour was one of the Ford Motor Company's tenets from the outset, and Trotman (who had spent time in the RAF as a navigator) fitted its ethos well. He recalled later: "I thought, this is one big mountain I'm going to climb."

The details of the first component he had to chase never left him: "[It was] the radiators of the old Consul. It was E5PD2. When you could be fired, you're inclined to remember things like that." He was later part of the team that created the Ford Cortina, Britain's best-selling car throughout the 1970s.

Ford posted him to Detroit for the first time in 1969, and this was followed by spells working his way through the global ranks to become chairman of Ford of Europe in 1984. He was put in charge of all North American operations in 1989, and in 1993 he was appointed to the post of chairman and chief executive.

This was two years after Ford posted its biggest ever loss, £2.3bn, and Trotman set about improving things in the way he knew best: prudent organisation. His plan, entitled Ford 2000, was set in motion in 1995. One of its boldest moves was to change Ford's traditional role as a manufacturer of its own components to being an astute buyer of them from outside suppliers. Many of its disparate parts-making businesses were spun off into the entirely separate Visteon. Visteon, and its workforce, then had to compete for Ford contracts. Meanwhile, relentless cost pressure was applied to Ford's existing suppliers.

Trotman's other action was to centralise Ford's design and engineering activities. From now on, Europe would be responsible for developing small- and medium-size vehicles, and North America would concentrate on large cars together with light trucks and sport-utility vehicles (SUVs). This led to some bizarre situations, such as the replacement for the Transit, Britain's best-selling van, being entirely designed in North America, but it also saw the cost-saving measure of outwardly different models being built on identical "platforms".

Trotman shrewdly exploited the growth in sport-utility vehicles, large four-wheel drive cars based on low-tech pick-ups. "It's a good formula for the public and that's what we're providing", he said in 1997, although Ford was shortly to be rocked by a scandal involving the safety record of its Explorer SUV.

None the less, Trotman hauled the Detroit giant back to profitability, ultimately cutting £2.75bn in costs. In recognition of his rare distinction as a Briton who had made it to the top in the world motor industry, he was knighted in 1996, becoming a life peer three years later.

The blaze of glory surrounding his departure, however, was slightly dimmed by a disagreement over who should succeed him. In the end, William Clay Ford, great-grandson of the company's founder, prevailed upon the board to split Trotman's role so that he - Ford - became chairman and Jacques Nasser was appointed chief executive.

When the decision was announced in October 1998, Trotman - self-evidently, a firm believer in merit, and usually a formal, courteous man - was reported by Fortune magazine as saying sardonically to William Ford, "So, Prince William, now you have your monarchy." Trotman then stepped down, a year before his contract was due to end, and retired to Yorkshire the following December, well away from the metallic grind of the car industry where his reputation had been forged.

He was a director of ICI from 1997 until 2003, and served as its chairman in 2002-03.

Giles Chapman

News
i100
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Real Staffing - Leeds - £18k+

£18000 - £27000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sales - Trainee Recruitment Co...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Progressive Rec.

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Progressive Recruitment are cu...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices