Donald Stokes, Baron Stokes
Life and career
Stokes was born in Plymouth, and educated at Blundell's School in Tiverton, Devon. In 1930 he commenced an engineering apprenticeship with Leyland Motors, which included further education at the Harris Institute of Technology in Preston. During the Second World War, Stokes served with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, reaching the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Excepting the break for military service between 1939 and 1945, Stokes stayed with Leyland throughout his career, although he also served in the Territorial Army. In 1968 he was appointed chairman and managing director of British Leyland, a challenging role much in the public eye at the time.
In 1977 Michael Edwardes was appointed chief executive at British Leyland, but Stokes remained on the board till 1979.
Stokes was awarded with a knighthood in the 1965 Birthday Honours, having the honour conferred by The Queen on 11 November. He was created a Life Peer taking the title Baron Stokes, of Leyland in the County Palatine of Lancaster on 9 January 1969 and sat as a Crossbencher in the House of Lords. By the time he died he had become the second eldest member.
On 13 June 1972 Stokes was made a Commandre de l'Ordre de Leopold II in recognition of his services to the Belgian economy. The ceremony took place at Seneffe (between Brussels and Mons) where a new extension to the British Leyland plant was being inaugurated.
Lord Stokes died on 21 July 2008, aged 94.
British Leyland under Stokes
Stokes was essentially a salesman, and while he successfully led Leyland Motor Corporation in the period up to 1968, never really got to grips with the scale and politics of British Leyland, which now incorporated BMC, Rover, Jaguar and related commercial vehicle marques with nearly 40 factories and over 100 business units.
His efforts to bring in senior executives from competitors were only partially successful, and persistent infighting (such as the refusal of Triumph to accept the Rover V8 engine for the Stag convertible, and the discrimination against MG in allocating investment funding in favour of Triumph) whilst the inherent unprofitability of BMC sapped the competitive position of the new business. Meanwhile Leyland Motor Corporation's new engine policy of the late 1960s had failed, with the AEC V8 and the Rover Gas Turbine being dropped by 1973 and the Leyland 500 series fixed head engine confined to lower-powered, mainly bus applications before being dropped in 1979; the thirst of the Gas Turbine and the unreliability of the V8 and the 500-series cost sales and enabled Scania and Volvo to enter the UK market.
Both before and during his period of leadership, the British motor industry suffered from poor profitability, which went hand in hand with chronic under-investment in production technologies and facilities. In 1975, towards the end of Stokes' time at the helm of the company, a journalist compared the published number of employees and the published number of cars produced by various auto-makers, Toyota produced 36 cars per employee while Honda produced nearly 23: BLMC produced slightly more than 4 cars per employee in 1975 as against more than 7 for Ford's UK plants. Factors such as the variable extent of dependence on brought-in sub-assemblies made the comparison imperfect, but the continuing lack of profitability resulting from continuing failure to invest intelligently in up to date production processes was all too real. This was a part of the background to BL's famously awful industrial relations during the 1970s. Characteristic BL introductions included the Morris Marina and Austin Allegro inspired respectively by the more thoughtfully developed and charismatic Ford Cortina and Citroën GS competitor products.
- The London Gazette: . 12 June 1965.
- The London Gazette: . 16 November 1965.
- The London Gazette: . 10 January 1969.
- "Deeper into Europe". Autocar. 136 (nbr 3975): pages 2–3. 22 June 1972.
- "Lord Stokes: chairman of British Leyland". Times, The (London). 22 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-27.
- "Donald Stokes 1914–2008". Classic and Performance Car. 22 July 2008. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
- "Japanese dumping: is it a fallacy?". The Motor: page 51. 29 May 1976.
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