Leigh Smith, 39
Senior launch manager, Jaguar Land Rover
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
My first job was being named senior launch manager at Jaguar Land Rover in 2017. I was drawn to the industry because it is undergoing huge changes as we head toward autonomous, connected, electric and shared vehicles. These vehicles will require revolutionary changes and relentless challenges. I want to be part of the group of people who helped change an entire industry.
Born: Brighton, England
Languages: English, some Mandarin
Education: Master’s degree in engineering and manufacturing systems, Cranfield University, Bedford, England; bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, University of Brighton, Brighton, England
Your greatest achievement?
Professionally, it has been achieving a successful transition into a senior leadership role within the automotive industry from my former job as a manager in Atlas Copco’s vacuum technology business. My previous experience has become an advantage, giving me a perspective that many lifetime automotive professionals lack. It has also been very rewarding to contribute to the development of mentees within the automotive industry, helping them achieve their career aspirations. Creating new products of any kind is great. Helping people grow is even better.
What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
My biggest failure did not occur professionally, but it affected all aspects of my work and personal life. I had back surgery in 2014 because of the injuries I sustained from a mountain biking accident in 2011. During this difficult three-year period, I decided I needed something positive to focus on, so I doubled-down on professional learning and personal development. This experience developed my thought process regarding how to assess ambiguous situations, seeing the grey areas between black and white perspectives (diagnoses), to taking personal accountability for my decisions (to operate or not). It also helped me be more selective about what I worry about and it strengthened my personal resilience. At times today, I still have some issues, and when I do, I have to ensure I am disciplined in my habits to get back to normal.
2016-2017: Program manager, Ricardo, Shoreham-by-Sea, England
2015-2016: New product introduction manager, Atlas Copco, Burgess Hill, England/Lutin, Czech Republic
2012-2015: Manufacturing engineering head, Atlas Copco, Burgess Hill /Lutin
2011-2012: Senior manufacturing engineer, Atlas Copco, Shoreham-by-Sea, England/Cheonan, South Korea
2004-2011: Multiple roles including development and manufacturing engineer, Atlas Copco, Burgess Hill & Shoreham-by-Sea, England
What is your current challenge at work?
I am currently on assignment in Slovakia to oversee the launch of the new short-wheelbase version of the Land Rover Defender at our Nitra plant. This critical program will deliver the next evolution of an automotive icon and will increase revenue for our business.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
A former colleague told me, “If someone else has done something before, then it is easy for you to do it. It is only things that have never been done before that are hard, but they can be done, too.” I think this is really simple, but hugely empowering advice.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
Compared with my experiences from other industries, the automotive industry has a rather fixed way of doing things and is very process-driven. My advice would be to have a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo and only use these processes if they add value. Also, make sure you stay agile and open to entirely new ways of thinking so that you can thrive without these processes. And always have a relentless focus on learning and self-improvement.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
I am fascinated by how top executives develop the necessary leadership skills to successfully guide an entire organization through complex and uncertain times. I want to challenge myself to develop these skills and habits so that I can ultimately become a board-level leader. I feel I am coming toward the latter stages of my period in engineering and product development/launch roles. Therefore, I intend to move into an operations director role when the opportunity arises.
What do you do to relax?
I love hiking, cycling, going to the gym, and I try to improve my surfing anytime I’m near the sea. I also enjoy reading non-fiction books while sipping a good coffee. And during the NFL season, I watch as many games as possible, which is a challenge given the time difference.
What is your dream location to live?
I would like to live in a modern, diverse city while still being close to both the sea and the mountains. That’s because I grew up in the seaside town of Brighton. I would also like a place with better weather such as San Francisco or Rio de Janeiro.
What is your favorite driving song?
“Supersonic” by Oasis.
What was your favorite road trip and why?
It was driving from the Grand Canyon National Park to Scottsdale, Arizona, with a longtime friend in 2018. We were heading south to explore the city and to watch Arizona State University and Arizona Cardinals American football games. We spent the morning hiking in the Grand Canyon and the afternoon on an epic drive to Scottsdale via Flagstaff and Sedona. The scenery was breathtaking and the sweeping backcountry roads were very enjoyable to drive. Driving in the U.S. gives me a special feeling. I particularly love the road signs as they illustrate the sheer scale of the country. For instance, as we left Phoenix airport on Interstate 10 we saw a sign saying: Los Angeles - 400 miles. No need to look out for the exit just yet!
What was your first car?
A Toyota Celica T-Sport 190 VVT-i.
A Range Rover Sport Autobiography Dynamic edition.
If you were a car, which one would you be?
I would be a Jaguar F-Type.