Master of the Rolls

Posted on 30 Sep 2010 by The Manufacturer

Howard Wheeldon pays homage to outgoing Rolls-Royce CEO Sir John Rose.

I mean exactly what I said above – contemplating Rolls-Royce without John Rose is like imagining strawberries without cream. Such is the esteem in which Rose is held internally within the company, by so many international customers, by suppliers, by those within the defence and aerospace industry and by politicians as well.

To be fair it must be said that John Rose isn’t the easiest of men to get to know and it is surely right to say that he suffers fools very badly, particularly those analysts that had a nasty tendency to concentrate on short term performance as opposed to understanding that a business such as this required massive amounts of research and development combined with long term investment to grow. Shareholders though had a much better ride under Rose, partly due to the fact that much of the necessary R&D expense and the launch of those Risk Revenue Sharing Partnerships that few analysts liked was not blamed on him.

But despite finding the role of communicating with lesser mortals not necessarily to his liking or a priority from the time of his appointment, Rose drove and drove Rolls-Royce forward based on the excellent foundations laid down by predecessor Sir Ralph Robins. Robins, who had succeeded Sir Francis Tombs, had become Chairman of the company well before the Rose appointment as CEO. He retired from the company in 2003 but remained available to help out. Together Robins and Rose made an excellent combination, growing market share while at the same time laying the foundations for building the all important incremental based revenue that would be the ultimate success. The real strength and skill base of John Rose though was his ability to clean up the company in terms of manufacturing efficiency and margin enhancement, to expand manufacturing and support services based internationally and, most of all, to push forward the development of other none aerospace divisions of the company such as power including nuclear, marine and others.

None of this was easy and most was fraught with risk. Indeed, while it is fair to say that the deep and underlying respect that RR’s competitors had for Robins knew absolutely no bounds, Rose brought a very different kind of culture, stature and approach to the UK based company. Together in international markets the combination of Rose and Robbins worked wonders. One of their finest achievements, for example, was selling to airline customers that had never bought Rolls-Royce engines before and developing service based and other incremental revenue streams.

Rose has indeed been a very safe pair of hands. Though many will scratch their heads and wonder what it was that made Rose tick, the point is that he produced years of superb results. I wonder: can his successor – as an outsider – really do the same?

We wish him well.