Peace-monger takes the steering wheel at Samcor
THE instability in the motor industry, brought on by the devastating in price warthe entry- level car market, could be at an end, with Samcor, the initial instigators of the price cuts, declaring, "It's all over."
New managing director Lewis Booth, only a few weeks in office, says he hopes this period ''is behind us . . . but it was necessary to realign the market in terms of world prices and the changes in the local market."
Thrilled to be in SA after years of international experience, Booth defends the actions of his predecessor, Jim Miller, who shocked complacent manufacturers by slashing prices on Samcor's basic Ford and Mazda ranges.
The action sparked unprecedented price-slashing in the industry, caused a massive consumer switch to lower-priced cars and severely dented the used-car market.
According to Booth, Miller acted as the catalyst in the local industry for the realignment of prices. "The latest price reductions on the Mazda Astina and Etude allow Samcor to provide a 'transparent' price with no dealer marketing incentives thrown in. This price adjustment will hopefully be the last and will show the true price of our cars in the market place compared with those of our competitors."
Booth is the second "Ford" manager to head Samcor since the group reinvested in the local company at the end of 1994.
He began his career at British Leyland in 1970 as a product planner, progressing to the finance staff and then management accounting before joining Ford in 1978. For the next two years, he held several positions in Ford Europe, Ford Britain and Ford Germany in areas such as product development, finance, truck operations and manufacturing.
In 1990, he was appointed controller of sales operations for Ford Europe. Two years later, he moved to America as manager of the automotive components group analysis department.
Since then, he has served as assistant director of finance for car product development, programme planning manager for body and assembly operations and director of the manufacturing business office. In 1996, Booth was appointed programme operations manager for vehicle operations at various plants in the US.
During his spell in the US, he spent six months with the study team which developed the Ford 2 000 concept for the world market. "This was the most interesting and most enjoyable period in my life," he says.
Now in a new marketing environment, Booth intends to continue with his management style of delegating authority.
"I debate with people up front. They are then expected to deliver. I don't over-manage, but I am very disciplined. I expect them to do what they say and say what they do.
"I hate bureaucracy. My style is for a team-driven operation with no single opinion or solution. This determines how we deal with source companies, dealers and customers.
"I am very straightforward - I am what you see."
The Silverton plant near Pretoria is operating at marginally below its manpower level, but this has allowed management to offer adult education programmes to a larger number of employees.
"The plant is nevertheless producing to schedule and we are now enjoying a good run,'' he says.
''The Port Elizabeth plant recently celebrated the production of its 100 000th engine for export to Europe and the 50 000th Mazda engine for the local market."
As the new man on the job, Booth puts extra effort into the company's operations.
"I've never had a job at Ford that I did not enjoy. Perhaps my hobby is my job."
He can, for now, spend extra hours at the office without family opposition. His wife Catherine is still in the US and will arrive in October while his children, William (19) and Katy (18), soon begin university in the UK.