Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Donald Gresham Stokes

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Donald Gresham Stokes (1914-2008), Baron Stokes, was an English industrialist who started his career in 1930 as an apprentice with Leyland Motors, and (with a break for military service between 1939 and 1945) enjoyed a successful career within that company until his appointment in 1968 as chairman and managing director of the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BL).

In 1977 Michael Edwardes was appointed Chief Executive at British Leyland, but Stokes remained on the board till 1979.

Stokes was made a Life Peer in 1969 and sat as a cross bencher in the House of Lords: by the time he died he had become the second eldest member.

1914 March 22nd. Born in Plymouth, and educated at Blundell's School in Tiverton, Devon.

In 1930 he commenced an engineering apprenticeship with Leyland Motors, which included further education at the Harris Institute of Technology in Preston. During the Second World War, Stokes served with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, reaching the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

Stokes was essentially a salesman, and while he successfully led Leyland-Triumph in the period up to 1968, never really got to grips with the scale and politics of British Leyland, which now incorporated British Motor Corporation (BMC), Rover, Jaguar and related commercial vehicle brands. His efforts to bring in senior executives from competitors were only partially successful, and persistent infighting (such as the refusal of Triumph to accept the Rover V8 engine for the Stag convertible, and the discrimination against MG in allocating investment funding in favour of Triumph) sapped the competitive position of the new business.

1961-62 President of the SMMT

2008 July 21st. Died, aged 94.

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