The Rootes brothers began their famous partnership after the end of the first World War. They built up a flourishing car sales business in Kent before opening premises at Long Acre, London. In 1926, never loath as always to seize an opportunity, they took over Devonshire House in Piccadilly as the headquarters of Rootes Ltd.
They had made their reputations as salesmen of drive and imagination and after a decade of selling cars they knew, probably better than any other men in England, just what the customer wanted. And they felt they were not getting it.
In 1928, the Rootes brothers were the largest distributors in England. At that juncture they crossed their biggest bridge and decided to begin manufacturing. The Rootes Group was formed by the acquisition of the Humber, Hillman and Commer companies.
These companies at this time were handicapped by out-dated plant and old-fashioned production methods. The task facing the brothers was that of turning failure into success - and they accepted the challenge.
Karrier Motors was acquired and so was Clement-Talbot Ltd. British Light Steel Pressings followed in 1937 and a year later the Sunbeam Motor Car Company Ltd., was taken into the Rootes Group and merged with Clement-Talbot Ltd. [Sunbeam-Talbot Ltd]
For these companies this was a new era. Instead of separate plants with resources insufficient to meet the demands of extending and changing markets, they were now part of a strong centralised organisation into which each dovetailed smoothly. By cutting costs and centralising control in a manner ahead of their time, William and Reginald Rootes had formed a group which was a powerful, almost self-contained giant.
The Rootes Group's contribution to the war effort began, not in 1939, but three years earlier. Rootes was the first company to enter the Government's Shadow Factory Scheme for the volume manufacture of aeroplanes and sero engines. By the time the sirens were sounding, Rootes factories were turning out aircraft as well as vehicles for the R.A.F. and other services.
When war finally came William and Reginald put their services at the disposal of the Government. William was appointed Chairman of the Shadow Industry Plan and he headed the Supply Council of the Ministry of Supply. Reginald saw to it that the assembly lines of the Rootes Group rolled out fodder for the war machines and he played a prominent part in the application of quantity production methods to aero-engine and aircraft construction. This earned him a knighthood.
But perhaps the work which caused William Rootes the greatest satisfaction during the war was the part he played after the terrible night of November 14/15, 1940, when the Germans dropped 35,000 incendiary bombs, 50 land mines and 1,400 high explosive bombs on the city of Coventry.
The task of leading a reconstruction committee to set Coventry on its feet again was given to William Rootes. In 1942, as a result of the raising of Coventry and other prodigious war work, William became Sir William Rootes, Knight Commander of the British Empire.
Peacetime assessments in 1945 revealed that the Rootes Group had made one out of every seven bombers produced in the United Kingdom during the war, 60 per cent of the armoured cars and 30 percent of the scout cars. It had also built 50,000 aeroplane engines, had repaired 28,000 others wrecked in crashes or in battle, had repaired more than 12,000 vehicles for the Army and the Royal Air Force and had assembled 20,000 other vehicles imported from allied countries.
At the beginning of the war, 17,000 employees were on the Rootes pay-roll. By the end, one in every hundred people in Great Britain employed as civilians in the war effort was working for, or on behalf of, the Group.
After the war it became obvious that Britain, more than ever before had to export to live. The motor industry took the lead and the Rootes Group, under the leadership of the much-travelled Sir William Rootes, began its own intensive export drive.
The Group, which in 1931 had been one of the first companies to establish a sales organisation in Latin America, became the first to set up a motor factory in Australia, then rapidly developing as one of Britain's most valuable markets. By the end of 1946 the plant was already producing cars and trucks for the Australian market.
The early post-war years saw not only the establishment of new factories abroad but also the setting up of new Rootes trading organisations in key overseas markets.
Among these was Rootes Motors Incorporated, an independent concessionaire company with headquarters in New York and with a distributing organisation covering all major American states to meet the increasing demand in the United States for British cars. In addition, Rootes Motors (Canada) Ltd., another concessionaire company, with headquarters in Toronto, was set up in the same year, 1947. Before 1948 the Group had its own company trading in Belgium and another concessionaire company was established in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Other companies, in other countries, followed.
Now the Rootes Group is maintaining factories with more than seven million square feet of floor space, it has 15 concessionaire companies and many assembly plants overseas. It exports to more than 160 countries - a figure which is increasing continually - compared with a pre-war total of 69.
When completed, the Group's new factories in Scotland will provide an extra 1,600,000 sq. ft. of floor space. [Rootes (Scotland) Ltd]
Sir William Rootes' long service to his country, particularly in the export field, was further recognised in January 1959 when he was created Baron Rootes of Ramsbury in the county of Wiltshire.
Despite its size and the scope of its activity, the Rootes Group is unique among British motor manufacturers in that it remains a family concern. Lord Rootes' son, the Hon. Geoffrey Rootes, is Deputy Chairman and Managing Director of the Rootes manufacturing companies, and the Hon. Brian Rootes, the second son of Lord Rootes, is now Managing Director of Rootes Ltd., the Group's merchandising company. Mr Timothy Rootes, the son of Sir Reginald, is Director in Charge of Sales and Service of the manufacturing companies, covering more than 1,000 dealers in the U.K. The second generation is following closely in the footsteps of the first and is prepared to carry on the family tradition of high quality manufacture and forceful trading. It is ready to add many more vital chapters to the colourful story of the Rootes group.
Alas, there were not to be 'many more chapters' in the story of the Rootes Group. For a brief history of the Rootes Group in the 1960's, see T.J.Higgins' Rootes site.
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