What a legacy he bequeathes – more than 3,000 new jobs for the UK automotives sector, and many of them in the North East, the region that set him on the road to success.
Trevor Mann, of course, being a down to earth, practical engineer by background - modest too, friends say – wouldn’t have dreamt of suggesting on his recent departure that he was responsible for Nissan’s amazing take-off in face of economic recession.
Until recently, as senior vice-president of manufacturing, supply chain management, production engineering and purchasing for Europe in Nissan International, he could even be thought of in many homes as being one of the family.
Whenever news of Nissan Sunderland, Europe’s most efficient car producer, popped up on television screens it was often his familiar face, beneath that familiar shiny pate, telling the story – usually good news too.
Now he’s in Japan, having just celebrated his 51st birthday taking up a top job at Nissan Motor Company’s headquarters in Yokohama.
Obviously a global group like Nissan, representing a £3.5bn investment made and announced in the UK, is driven by corporate decisions.
But as the region for which he has done so much bids him Sayonara, it will also feel that Mann, who worked his way up the Sunderland organisation from its start-up, did so much towards instilling confidence about potentials here that Nissan’s global hierarchy felt comfortable giving the North East the opportunity to manufacture three new models over the next two years.
As James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, told BQ: “Trevor has successfully steered Nissan Manufacturing UK through some of its greatest challenges to become the leading automotive producer it is today.
“He can take much of the credit for the success of the Nissan Qashqai which led to the plant’s strong performance during the toughest of recessions.
Recent announcements on the Leaf, the Invitation and now the new hatchback all to be produced here in our region, give ample evidence of his achievements.” With more than 6.4m units produced to date – it will be even more as you read this - Nissan has been the UK’s largest car manufacturer for the last 14 years, as well as the North East’s largest single site employer.
And, Mann reminds us, it continues to go from strength to strength.
The Sunderland plant provides 20% of all the UK’s new car production, making at present the Qashqai, Qashqai+2, Juke and Note.
This year also it begins production of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles such as the 100% electric Nissan Leaf, due to be made there from next year.
Now, the Leaf project was announced some time ago, as was the battery making that will also supply Nissan’s partner Renault.
And coinciding almost with Trevor Mann’s departure from the North East manufacturing floor, Nissan has announced two more models to come out, as well as the Leaf over the next two years.
A compact car based on a concept model – named the Invitation – will be in production from next year, and a year later a new medium-size model.
These two new models will result in more than 3,000 new jobs in the UK automotive sector within the next two years – 625 at Nissan and the remainder among suppliers, many of whom operate in the North East also.
Once recruitment for both models is complete, the workforce at Sunderland will be a record 6,225 and production lines will run 24/7.
Three years ago Nissan was paying workers off, which suggests that investment – both private and state - is a powerful antidote to recession.
The Government’s trade-in support to encourage new purchases has played its part, and it’s also sound logic to run production lines round the clock.
But Trevor Mann meanwhile has shown by example that the North East produces outstanding engineers, still, and we also have educational institutions capable of preparing them for stellar journeys.
Born at Leigh in Lancashire, Mann after early education at Durham Johnson Grammar School attended both Durham and Gateshead Technical Colleges.
He became in 1980 a management trainee with BBH Coil & Transformer Ltd, a subsidiary of the Yorkshire group Farnell Electronics.
He worked in light manufacturing and electronic services for five years before joining Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK) Ltd as it prepared for production start-up at Sunderland in 1985.
Thus began a career that in 26 years has taken him from team leader in production’s trim and final assembly department to a key lookout position at the top of Nissan’s global tree.
“It’s been a privilege being involved in Nissan’s growth and success over 26 years, and to have played my part in the company’s European expansion,” he says.
His qualities and competence have been recognised beyond the industry.
He was named Wearside and Durham Business Executive of the Year in 2008.
Then, as a mark of his services to the business community in the region, he received in 2010 an honorary doctorate in science from Sunderland University, followed in 2011 by an honorary doctorate in technology from Northumbria University.
This year he was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list for his services to business.
Now at headquarters in Yokohama, Trevor Mann is senior vice-president for global supply chain management, retaining also his place on the operating committee for Africa, India and the Middle East.
No less than 80% of the vehicles produced while he has been there have gone to 97 markets.
Nissan is Britain’s biggest car exporter, working wonders for the UK’s balance of payments.
The British automotive sector’s average export earnings of more than £25bn a year now give the country more than 10% of its total overseas earnings.
Changed times from that sad period in the 1970s and 1980s when British motor manufacturing became a laughing stock abroad. Sunderland has been a catalyst in this.
By 2010 it was the first UK car plant ever to turn out more than 400,000 vehicles in a year, and it has now built 12 models to date: Bluebird 1986-1990, Primera 1990-1996, Micra 1992-2002, Primera 1996-2001, Almera 2000-2006, Primera 2001-2007, Micra 2002-2010, Micra C+C 2005-2010, Qashqai 2006-present, Note 2006-present, Qashqai+2 2008-present, Juke 2010-present.
Mann’s role of deputy managing director, overseeing operations, was crucial when the Sunderland plant first proved it could produce three new models in less than two years.
Between 2005 and 2007 it rolled out the Micra C+C, the Note and then the multiaward winning 4x4 hatchback Qashqai from March 2007. One month later Mann was promoted to the level of senior vice-president.
He has said of the Qashqai: “The market proves if you have got a good car at a competitive price, you can grow." Building vehicles like the Leaf and the Qashqai, and opening the battery making plant – Nissan’s first such venture outside Japan - are by no means automatically assigned to Nissan’s Sunderland workforce.
They have to be fought for claw and fang, other Nissan centres in various countries being in contention too.
Here’s where Trevor Mann has particularly excelled, getting best endeavours out of suppliers as well as Nissan employees, and convincing decision makers at the very top that the North East of England’s abilities to deliver investment value are unquestionable.
Nissan’s latest injection of £127m in the factory – also boosted by an £8.2m pledge from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund – will now help support an annual production of more than half a million models of the new hatchback which, like the “Invitation”, will be named closer to its sales launch.
And besides its pole-positioned promotion of zero-emission motoring, coming through the launch of the Leaf, Nissan is exemplary in its recycling, now achieving 90% plus.
This, all in all, is some organisation, and with some remarkable individuals driving it; not only Mann himself, but Colin Dodge previously whom Mann succeeded in 2007, and Sir Ian Gibson before that who has gone on to take his talents into the media and retail sectors.
Dodge became senior vice-president, general overseas markets, China operations and global information systems, serving also on the Nissan executive committee.
Good news on the training front, too, with an international skills academy for sustainable manufacturing and innovation being opened at Gateshead, underpinned by the Nissan performance model and providing 1,000 places where future generations of technicians can learn and perhaps even aspire as Mann has done.
Mann, a father of three, is naturally pleased he found a position within such a global company, and gratified to be where he is today.
“This, I owe largely to Nissan’s philosophy of nurturing from within, a practice we continue to promote,” he reflects, which might be a helpful hint to people wondering if their future might indeed lie in manufacturing.
Mann in fact puts the entire Sunderland operation’s success down to “an enormous team effort”, and made a point before departing to thank the whole workforce for sustained and continued support, and the suppliers and many regional bodies for their part too.
James Ramsbotham highlights the fact that Trevor Mann while at Sunderland was also responsible for Russia and Europe in his latest role.
“This enabled him to demonstrate his strategic ability, which he’ll take to his new role in Japan. We wish him every success,“ he adds.
Mann, besides looking forward to his new challenge in Japan as chairman of Africa, Middle East, and India regions, says he looks forward to watching Sunderland ’s plant break even more records.