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The big picture: SMMT chief’s industry legacy

Christopher Macgowan is to step down from the SMMT at the end of this year. Should we judge his nine-year tenure as chief executive as a success?

Macgowan had a tricky initiation. Just as he was getting his feet under the table, the Rip-off Britain campaign hit its full stride. The car industry was under intense attack by consumer groups and the media, which accused carmakers of treating the UK as a ‘treasure island’ by charging higher prices.

Macgowan, the public face of the UK manufacturing industry, regularly appeared on TV during this period, but his gentle mannerisms were no match for the aggressive interview style he faced.

Too often he was a rabbit caught in the headlights and the SMMT was rightly accused of not being pro-active enough in fighting its corner.

But Macgowan listened and in facing his next big media challenge – the anti-4x4 brigade and the related CO2-based con-gestion charging – he was far more effective at cutting through the green lobby spin.

He was also more pro-active in ensuring that the SMMT had a voice during the Block Exemption negotiations. Members were generally pleased with the results.

Macgowan came to the SMMT from the RMIF in a move that caused some tension between the two organisations. Some at the RMIF felt betrayed by the switch, heightened during meetings when they felt Macgowan was not showing sufficient understanding of the dealers’ needs, given his previous role.

The then RMIF chief executive Matthew Carrington publicly challenged the SMMT over its role in developing the motor industry Code of Practice. A war of words ensued – Macgowan won.

After a shaky start, Macgowan has become the industry’s elder statesman. He’s the man closest to Government influencers and he has played a leading role in getting the Code of Practice off the ground.

Although he would publicly reject the idea of leaving a legacy, this will be seen as his greatest success.

As to his replacement, he or she will have little time to get up to speed with industry issues before becoming immersed in the business of the Block Exemption 2010 renewal. This will be their first big challenge.

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