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Motoring on

Carl-Peter Forster is a global CEO at a Tata company that is well-positioned to be a global auto giant.

Suman Layak | Print Edition: Jan 9, 2011

Rarely does an employee describe the employer's actions as incomprehensible. Carl-Peter Forster, 56, did just that when his employer, the ailing General Motors, on November 3, 2009, announced that it would retain ownership of the Vauxhall and Opel divisions, turning back on a decision to sell them to German company Magna. Forster, then the head of GM Europe, was out of the company the next day - for calling a spade by its name. Two months later, Forster joined Tata Motors as its Group CEO. The move ended a period of leadership uncertainty at Tata Motors which, after the acquisition of British car brand Jaguar Land Rover or JLR, has roughly 62 per cent of its business coming from overseas.

Forster, son of a German diplomat, was brought up in London, Bonn and Athens, had worked in South Africa, Germany, and Switzerland and was on the global board of General Motors. In his first stint in Asia, Forster spends a lot of time travelling between London and Mumbai, where he is based.

His nomination to the top post at Tata Motors created a stir in the UK as this makes him the man who can decide the future of JLR. One of the first calls by Tata Motors under Forster was to reverse the decision to close one of the Jaguar plants in the UK.

Forster is part of an emerging trend in the Tata Group of creating global companies with the help of CEOs with global experience. For instance, Karl-Ulrich Kohler is the CEO of Tata Steel Europe, formerly Corus, which the Tatas acquired four years ago. Another high-profile CEO who lived and worked out of India was Darryl Green. A former Vodafone Japan CEO, Green left the Tatas three years ago for employment services major Manpower. But expect to see more expats coming into the Tata fold. There could be one at the very top too, what with Ratan Tata not ruling out the possibility of an expat succeeding him.

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