Jaguar and Land Rover’s Chief Executive Geoff Polites, who is credited with steering the storied British luxury brands through the ongoing sale process to India’s Tata Motors Ltd., has died. He was 60.
Polites died Sunday in his home country of Australia after battling serious illness for the past two years, Ford Motor Co. said. Additional details, including where in Australia he died, weren’t released.
Dearborn-based Ford credits Polites with leading the team that returned the overall Jaguar and Land Rover business back to profitability. Ford said Sunday it still anticipates completing the deal with Tata in the second quarter.
“Geoff ensured that Jaguar Land Rover was not distracted and continued to focus on the fundamentals of the business during the recent sale process, despite at the time also fighting his own personal health battle,” Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally said in a statement.
David Smith, Jaguar and Land Rover’s chief financial officer, will take over as the acting CEO at Jaguar and Land Rover until a successor is appointed.
Polites, who had a nearly 40-year career in the automotive industry, took over as CEO of Jaguar Land Rover in 2005. Before taking the job, Polites was vice president for marketing, sales and service for Ford of Europe.
“His passion for the car business was legend, but the resolve he showed since taking over as CEO of Jaguar Land Rover ... was something very special,” Lewis Booth, executive vice president of Ford’s European units, said in a statement.
Polites was born in Melbourne. He joined Ford Australia in 1970 as a product planner and completed training the U.S. and Europe before rejoining Ford Australia in 1975 as marketing and research manager.
He held several posts with Ford until 1988, when he resigned to work with the City Ford dealership in Sydney. In 1999 he sold his interests in City Ford and rejoined Ford Australia as its president.
Ford in March announced it was selling its Jaguar and Land Rover businesses to Tata in a deal that was expected to net the U.S. automaker $1.7 billion — roughly a third of the price it paid for the brands.
In March, Tata said it would pay $2.3 billion for the brands, but Ford will pay about $600 million into the Jaguar-Land Rover pension fund when the deal expanding Tata’s global reach closes.
Ford bought Jaguar for $2.5 billion in 1989 and Land Rover for $2.7 billion in 2000. But Ford pursued the sale to raise money to fund its turnaround plan and focus more attention on its main brands.