LORD TEBBIT, one of Margaret Thatcher’s lieutenants, once proposed a “cricket test” to see how well assimilation was going. Did immigrants cheer for England or their country of origin? Kumar Bhattacharyya would have failed Lord Tebbit’s test—he liked to say that “I support England in the Test matches, except when they are playing India.” But he was one of the great Englishmen of his generation.
Born in Bangalore to a wealthy Brahmin family that had made its money in tea and steel, the young Mr Bhattacharyya moved to Britain in 1961 to work for Lucas Industries and study engineering at Birmingham University. He quickly fell in love with the country, despite finding the food inedible and the weather intolerable. But he worried that the object of his affection was bent on self-destruction. Academics looked down on industry. Manufacturing companies were in a dismal state. The ruling class was reconciled to decline.
He devoted his life to tackling these problems—and was lucky to encounter an ambitious vice-chancellor at Warwick University, Jack Butterworth, who shared his analysis. Butterworth gave him “a table, a chair and a secretary” in the engineering department. “Battery Charger”, as he was known, did the rest, challenging the holier-than-thou approach of academia head on and forging close links with business.
The result was a powerhouse of research and training called the Warwick Manufacturing Group. It now has a staff of 650 carrying out cutting-edge research in everything from lean production to battery technology and allowing students to combine an academic education with working for local firms. The jewel in its crown, a 355,000-square-foot National Automotive Innovation Centre, is under construction.
Lord Bhattacharyya, as he became in 2004, also did more than anyone to persuade the Tata Group to buy Corus, an ailing steel giant, in 2007 and Jaguar Land Rover the year after. The second was a particular coup. Worried that Ford was planning to sell JLR to a private-equity company that would gut it, Lord Bhattacharyya invited his good friend Ratan Tata to see what was on offer. The Indian titan decided to invest more than £10bn ($13bn) in JLR, tripling its workforce.
Lord Bhattacharyya was the subject of one of the most poorly titled books in recent years, “Kumar Bhattacharyya: The Unsung Guru”. He was in fact the subject of many a song. The British government rewarded him with a knighthood and a peerage—he relished being called Professor Lord Bhattacharyya—and his fellow management theorists revered him. The Warwick Manufacturing Group means that he now has a permanent place in the landscape of his beloved Midlands.