Lyons, Sayer, Lawson, Callum… And Then?

Few car manufacturers are as closely associated with their styling director as Jaguar is.

Ian Callum himself, Photo (c)
Ian Callum himself, Photo (c)

Ian Callum, the current incumbent, is acting as both the premier brand ambassador, as well as in his main capacity of aesthetic pontiff. But even the prominent Scot will have to hand over reigns eventually. The question is: to whom? Car designers have turned into their respective brand’s figureheads over the past decade or so. Gone are the days of tie-wearing boffins who tinkering away their days in draughty studios, hardly ever to see the light of day, not to mention the limelight. Today, for better or worse, designers have become the speakers of their employers.

And few voices in the industry have been as reverberating as Ian Callum’s. Not because he has acted as some kind of enfant terrible or trailblazing maverick (that was, depending on one’s point of view, Chris Bangle), but because he’s been the one constant at Jaguar over this tumultuous past decade-and-a-half. While managers have come and gone, the confident Scot kept on purring his ‘purity of line’ mantra to anyone who would listen. Coupled with his personal background (namely a letter he wrote to Jaguar as a teenager, enquiring as to his chances of becoming a Jaguar stylist), Callum has gained the unofficial status of Keeper of the Jaguar Grail.

Yet even that very special position will not prevent him from having to step down at some point in the next few years. And, hopefully, this time around, the procedure will not be quite as rushed as had been the habit at Jaguar in the past.

So who would be the candidates to fit into Callum’s oversized (metaphorically speaking) shoes?

The frontrunner is probably Wayne Burgess, currently Studio Director, who not only had a hand in a great many current Jaguar models (just don’t mention the X-type), but has also been shoved into a kind of semi-spokesman role recently. Not entirely unlike a younger Gerry McGovern, Burgess – what with his dyed-blonde hair, rough Northern accent and Rock ’n Roll attitude – projects a slightly idiosyncratic image of himself, which would have been at odds with the pipes-and-slippers Jaguar of yore, but should not pose a problem in this day and age.

Unlike Ian Callum, Burgess has no significant designs attributed to himself personally, but is nonetheless respected in the community, as showcased by Ulrich Bez’s desire to poach him to Aston Martin as head of styling (a post that was taken over by Henrik Fisker after Burgess had declined the offer).

Another, less likely internal candidate would appear to be Adam Hatton, Exterior Design Director. The shapes of both the X250 XF and X351 XJ are attributed to him, which, in the case of the latter, might actually be held against him by some.

Which might give Matthew Beaven, Chief Exterior Designer – Advanced Design, more of a fighting chance, for he is associated with the styling of the widely applauded F-type and C-X75 sports cars instead. The fact that he is keeping more of a low public profile than the aforementioned, for the time being at least, does make him appear to be more of a left field choice, as it appears likely that preparations for Callum’s succession are already underway in some form.

Outside of the Jaguar realm, there are no obvious candidates suggesting themselves.

Rolls-Royce’s styling boss, Giles Taylor, could be considered an option, but, then again, he was instrumental in the creative process behind the controversial X351 and is, arguably, currently occupying a post that is not all that unattractive itself. Yet at the same time it could be argued that his post at Rolls-Royce is actually an ideal training ground for a similar position at JLR, and that he chose to leave Jaguar as a statement of competitive spirit in the first place. The consequences of a return of his to JLR to the styling department’s morale can, of course, only be guessed (which is not due to Taylor’s resembling an amalgamation of David Cameron and Mark Gatiss, it must be said), as do the circumstances behind his leaving JLR.

Despite being very respected in this line of business, GM’s Mark Adams would only act as a thought experiment in this context. Opel/Vauxhall might not enjoy the same stylistic reputation as Jaguar does in some quarters, but his current position is actually the bigger, and – probably – better paid job anyway.

Just as unlikely would be a return of Henrik Fisker into the former Premier Automotive Group fold. Having severely damaged his reputation not just with his electric car fiasco, but, more gravely in this context, with having lawsuits filed against him by both Tesla and his former employer, Aston Martin, he appears unlikely to become employed by any major manufacturer in the foreseeable future. His ongoing personal feud with no less than Ian Callum regarding authorship of Aston’s DB9 and V8 Vantage models alone should ensure that Fisker will not find a home with Tata any time soon.

Another shot in the dark – entirely due to personal preference – would be yet another currently freelance designer: Marek Djordjevic. As the man who penned the still fabulous Rolls-Royce Phantom, Djordjevic does not need to prove that he both ‘gets’ Britishness and knows how to extract a modernist spin from it. The very thought of having a similar mindset and skills applied to Jaguar values and design cues as he has done at Rolls-Royce appears extremely appealing, at least in theory.

With all these names and reasons for and against them mentioned, all that actually remains to be done is to wait and see who Ralph Speth et al eventually decide upon. If only a bit of speculation wasn’t such an awful lot of fun, that is!

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

8 thoughts on “Lyons, Sayer, Lawson, Callum… And Then?”

  1. Thanks Kris for that. Is it really fifteen years since Callum took over. That is a remarkably long time in any job. It is a tough office: to guard Jaguar’s prestige and make the firm earn money at the same time. Much as I like parts of the Midlands, it is a place many designers might think twice about going to for long. That’s why there might never be a continental contender who will stay long there.

    1. That’s harsh. You make it sound like all design studios are only in exotic, sunny locales instead of industrial suburbs in places like southwest Germany or Michigan or central Japan. There are so many specialist car designers being churned out of design schools that there would be no shortage of interest in leading Jaguar design even if it meant living closer to Coventry than London.

    2. An industrial suburb outside Cologne, Stuttgart, Paris, Milan etc is better than one outside Coventry. The weather is better and streetlife more interesting. The people of Cov are lovely but the area is not so charming. I am not being ironic about Midlanders: I really do think highly of them. They’re utterly decent people. Their civic leaders don’t serve them well.

    3. Fair enough. Although the thing I found about the UK when I was living over there is that the travelling distances are short and there’s plenty of interesting stuff to see and do if you weren’t born there. If you have an abiding love of Jaguar then being in the general vicinity of where it all began (even if that means a short drive from Whitley to the SVO garage at Brown’s Lane, which you could do in an F-type coupe if you wanted) would hold some appeal. I think I could balance saying I was design director at Jaguar against the poor weather, post-war architecture and whatever trepidation I had about extended exposure to British food, pessimism and 320d M-Sports in resale grey metallic on the motorway.

  2. Thanks Kris for this thought-provoking article. My first thought was whether there is a mandatory retirement age in the UK? My next thought was whether Julian Thomson is still running the advanced design studio at Jaguar?

    1. I think he’s still there, but he’s awful quiet these days. For me, he’s the obvious choice. You have to wonder if Callum is constantly having to evade booby traps and all manner of falling anvils from his minions chomping at the bit to take the top job? Mind you, be careful what you wish for – tough gig…

    2. I seem to recall Callum saying he wanted to oversee the next major Jaguar styling transition before departing. One assumes that will manifest itself in the next XJ, so we’re probably looking at the end of the decade at least. That’s a lot of anvils to dodge.

      Another thing, although he’s never been directly associated with any particular car, it’s perhaps a little unfair to omit Doug Thorpe. He did lead the design team from Lyons’ departure until about 1982 or so.

    3. Thomson would admittedly be the most obvious choice, but I don’t do obvious!

      Actually, I omitted him due to his age (in the 55 range), which isn’t considerably younger than Callum’s. Given the industry’s current penchant for young styling bosses, I decided to disregard Thomson, which is not a reflection of the esteem I hold him in at all.

      Another contended for this (as of now) imaginary contest would be former Pininfarina head of design, Lowie Vermeersch, another currently freelance stylist who’s highly regarded within the industry. Y’know, just for the sheer hell of it.

      Eoin: Yes, I simply forgot about poor old Doug Thorpe. Thanks for setting the record straight!

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