Home Money Obituary: Nick Reilly: Car industry legend who gave up £160,000 salary to save plant

Obituary: Nick Reilly: Car industry legend who gave up £160,000 salary to save plant

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Change of direction: Nick Reilly joined the motor industry after

The tributes have come following the death of legendary UK and global car industry boss and proud Welshman Nick Reilly, who fought a brave battle to keep Vauxhall car production in Britain, including giving up his £160,000 salary year.

The former Vauxhall and General Motors top executive joined the motor industry after “finding himself” and his chosen path following a prolonged period of hermit-like contemplation during a mountaintop hippie retreat.

He died on Friday 7 June after a long illness, aged 74, leaving behind his wife Susie, three grown children and six grandchildren.

Even in an industry full of characters, Nick Reilly was a far cry from the typical ‘car guy’: he was an eclectic, entertaining and likeable mix of Welsh, old Harrovian, Cambridge graduate and father of three, who was also a passionate of their national rugby team and enjoyed a good pint.

He was also highly respected, among motor industry executives, journalists and union leaders with whom he often held tense negotiations.

Change of direction: Nick Reilly joined the motor industry after “finding himself” and his chosen path following a prolonged period of hermit-like contemplation.

Born in Anglesey, North Wales, Reilly attended the prestigious Harrow School and studied economics and engineering at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, before pursuing a career as a stockbroker.

At the age of 24 he felt restless and dissatisfied. So he climbed a mountain in Llangollen, Denbighshire, and spent four winter months in a cabin “getting my life together”.

He recalled: ‘It was the best thing I ever did in my life. I decided that stock trading was not what I wanted to do with my life.

—The nearest house was six miles away. I went down every two weeks to play rugby and stock up on food.

‘I grew a beard and long hair. I read a lot of books. I probably did more academic work than at Cambridge.

He decided his future was in manufacturing.

Reilly began his career with the auto giant in 1975 at the former Detroit Diesel Allison Division, based in the United Kingdom.

He then began his steady rise through the ranks of GM in Belgium, the United States, Mexico and GM Europe headquarters in Zurich.

He was appointed chairman and chief executive of Vauxhall in 1996, becoming vice-chairman of GM the following year.

As chairman of Vauxhall in April 1998, Reilly gave up his basic salary of £160,000 for a year as a sign of his commitment to keeping the company in Britain. In a letter to 10,000 employees at Vauxhall’s two UK factories in Ellesmere Port, Merseyside, and Luton, Bedfordshire, he also announced that nine other company directors would have their salaries frozen for a year as a “personal commitment” to the future of the while talks were taking place aimed at securing a new package of wages and working practices.

Since 2002, the Welshman oversaw GM’s acquisition and restructuring of Korea’s Daewoo. He was president of GM Asia Pacific since July 2006.

After years living in Asia, he claimed with a twinkle in his eye that there were parts of downtown Seoul where off-duty GM workers and executives toast with ‘iechyd da’ (applause in Welsh) thanks to his socializing influence.

He retired in 2011 but maintained strong advisory links with the motor industry he loved and recently paid a visit, at his request, to the renovated Ellesmere Port factory in Cheshire which played such an important role in his career.

Proud Welshman: David Nicholas Reilly was born on December 17, 1949 in Anglesey

Proud Welshman: David Nicholas Reilly was born on December 17, 1949 in Anglesey

Ultimately, passenger car production ceased at Vauxhall’s Luton and Ellesmere Port, following decisions made in Detroit by Vauxhall’s previous owners, General Motors, but both factories remain alive and are thriving as commercial vehicle production centers and electric vans under new owners Stellantis, owner of Vauxhall. , Citroën, Peugeot and FIAT, Jeep and Alfa Romeo.

Reilly confessed that he had no desire to close factories or end automobile production, telling me: “Once in a lifetime is enough.”

A very proud Welshman, David Nicholas Reilly was born on December 17, 1949 in Trearddur Bay, Anglesey.

His grandfather built and ran The Beach Hotel in Trearddur Bay, where he and his mother were born and where he grew up after his parents took over.

He attended nearby Trearddur House preparatory school as a boarder and from there, received a scholarship to Harrow School, gaining a place at Cambridge University to study engineering, before switching after his first year to economics.

After working for a few years as a stockbroker in Manchester and Birmingham, he embarked on his now famous escapade to “find himself” on a remote, primitive farm in the mountains of North Wales, near Llangollen.

From there, he applied for a job as a financial analyst for Detroit Diesel Allison, which, at the time, had a factory in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, after which his career at American-owned General Motors took off.

He met his wife Susie, a teacher, while at the Wellingborough plant and, after a life of globe-trotting (and some extended stints in the UK), retired to Brixham, Devon in 2014, but moved to Pulborough, Sussex last year, to be closer. to his family.

The couple has three adult children (Tasha, George and Jessica) and six grandchildren.

Tributes have poured in

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers Traders (SMMT), of which Reilly was president, led the tributes.

He said: ‘Nick was one of the leading figures in the automotive industry, not just in the UK but globally, with the ability to run a wide range of businesses.

‘We were fortunate to have had him as president of the SMMT since 2001, a term that was unfortunately cut short when he was transferred to Korea.

“He was always incredibly insightful, able to turn complex problems into simple questions, something he did with patience and good humor.

‘More recently, however, he has been a guiding figure both as an advisor to the SMMT and as a trustee of the SMMT Charitable Trust Fund, committed to bringing young people into the industry he loved. He will be missed by many in the industry and our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

Bill Parfitt, former chairman of Vauxhall under previous owners General Motors, said: ‘Nick was a great industrialist, a great innovator and leader who pioneered the first online vehicle sales for Vauxhall Motors. He was instrumental in bringing many new models to Ellesmere Port and Luton.

Denis Chick, former PR for Vauxhall and GM Daewoo, said: “Nick never lost sight of the UK market and insisted we take media groups to Korea, hosted personally by him, to ensure the product was well understood. at home”.

‘Even after losing the battle to keep car manufacturing in Luton, his commitment to GM never wavered. Nick was a true gentleman, an astute businessman and, as a proud Welshman, a lifelong supporter of Welsh rugby whose passion never waned.

Another former Vauxhall PR, Tom Malcom, said: “Nick was a great car enthusiast and a very talented leader, both for the company and the industry.”

Dr Andy Palmer, a motor industry executive and former chief executive of Aston Martin, described him as “a giant of the car industry”.

Auto Express editor Paul Barker praised “a true automotive figurehead”.

The Automotive Writers Guild praised “a unique leader in the motoring industry whose genuine warmth and automotive leadership touched many lives.”

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