Inspirational UK manufacturing leader dies

Professor Lord Bhattacharyya (9)

Professor Lord Bhattacharyya, Chairman of WMG at the University of Warwick, has passed away peacefully after a short illness.

Professor Lord Bhattacharyya was an engineer, educator and government advisor. In 1980 he became Professor of Manufacturing Systems at the University of Warwick and founded WMG, the Warwick Manufacturing Group In 2004 he was made a life peer and became a member of the House of Lords.

More than any other individual in a generation Professor Lord Bhattacharyya fought tooth and nail for British manufacturing, helped arrest its decline from 30% of GDP in the mid 20th century .

He was instrumental in many large scale inward investments in the United Kingdom, most recently the Tata acquisition of Corus and the resurgence of Jaguar Land Rover in 2008, where he succeeded in persuading Tata Motors to buy the business when private equity companies were circling and the total breakup of a once-great business threatened.

In 1980 Professor Lord Bhattacharyya founded the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), insisting that graduates with engineering skills alone were needed to help the UK manufacturing sector regain lost ground. WMG is now the largest single organisation dealing in the multi-disciplinary facets of manufacturing development with an annual programme of over £180 million. It has been a beacon of manufacturing, research and development and business education for over 35 years.

WMG has two objectives: to bridge the gap between academia and British industry, and encourage companies to think long, not short term, by investing in skills, research and development.

Kumar Bhattacharyya arrived in England from Dhaka, India in 1961. He had an engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharangpur, one of India’s top technological research hubs and secured a two-year apprenticeship with Lucas Industries, then one of the biggest engineering companies in the UK. The company quickly offered him the opportunity to do a Masters degree, at the time only undertaken by around 5% of graduates, and then a doctorate.

He gained his professorship at the University of Warwick, but instead of a comfortable career lecturing and writing erudite papers on engineering and manufacturing, he seized the sector by the throat, and spent his professional career driving change and improvement.

As his death was announced, tributes have come fast.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “I am deeply saddened by the death of Professor Lord Bhattacharyya. Kumar has been a heroic figure, helping establish in Britain a world-wide reputation for excellence and innovation in advanced manufacturing. Through the WMG, which he founded, and through his extraordinary energy and tenacity Kumar encouraged many firms to locate and expand in Britain. Hundreds of thousands of people in Britain owe their livelihoods to Kumar Bhattacharyya.

“It has been a personal privilege to be able to work so closely with Kumar, who helped inspire our modern Industrial Strategy, and to be his friend. Kumar will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him, and our thoughts are with his wife Bridie, their three daughters Anita, Tina and Malini and their family.”

Sir David Normington, Chair of Council and Pro-Chancellor of University of Warwick said: “Long before I joined the University of Warwick Council, I knew of Professor Lord Bhattacharyya as an adviser to successive Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State and a tireless advocate for UK manufacturing industry. Then, as Chair of Council I had the great good fortune to see close up his extraordinary commitment to University of Warwick, to Coventry and the West Midlands and to UK plc.

“He was a force of nature. He pushed at boundaries, he changed lives, he created jobs, and he set the standard for how universities should work with industry. Most of all, for so many of us, he was also a kind and generous friend. We shall miss him terribly but here at Warwick he will remain our inspiration for many years to come.

“We send our love and deep condolences to Bridie and his family.”

Warwick’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart Croft said: “Professor Lord Bhattacharyya served for four decades at Warwick founding and leading WMG. However his service goes far beyond this University.  The achievements of WMG, particularly his own wisdom, passion, and advocacy of the importance of manufacturing, technology, research teaching, and training  has helped guide regional, national and international leaders, business figures and policy makers. He has helped preserve and create jobs and transform companies, economies, and individual lives, above all in our region. We mourn the passing of a unique man but we also celebrate all that he has achieved and are thankful that those achievements will have a massive impact for years to come.”

Paul Bassi, a former Deputy Lieutenant of the West Midlands and High Sheriff of the County of West Midlands, said: “He was one of Birmingham and the West Midlands’ true ambassadors. A great businessman with unrivalled contacts and a pioneer in promoting academic and business links.”

It was Professor Lord Bhattacharyya’s wish that the University ask Professor David Mullins to become the Acting Head of WMG and he has accepted that role.

Professor Mullins said: “It has been a great honour and privilege to have worked so closely with Professor Lord Bhattacharyya for over 20 years. At this sad time, we are all focused on growing the amazing organisation for research, education and impact that he created for national and international benefit.”