Martin Leach 1957-2016

Martin Leach has died from cancer, at the early age of 59. Leach was a racer at heart but enjoyed a distinguished career in the automobile world.
Born in Billericay, Essex, Leach was fascinated by cars from the age of five, when he was first given a pedal car. There was no money to race, but at the age of 11 he raised cash to buy a kart by running a car wash and after making a name for himself he turned professional at the age of 14, competing against the likes of Terry Fullerton, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. He enjoyed some success but his career was cut short by rheumatoid arthritis which left him bedridden for a period. He joined Ford UK as an apprentice in 1975, being sponsored at Hatfield Polytechnic by Ford and working at Dagenham during his college vacations. He graduated with a BSc in engineering in 1979 and worked his way up through Ford. As a high flyer in the company he was sent to study marketing at Duke University’s Fuqua business school and then management at INSEAD in 1990. This led to his appointment as Ford of Europe’s director of truck sales and marketing in 1992 and two years later he became the worldwide head of Ford trucks, enjoying great success. In 1996 he was appointed the director of research and development at Mazda, and developed new products as he moved up to become managing director of the firm. In 2000 he returned to Europe as vice president of product development at Ford Europe and two years later in 2002 he was appointed president of Ford Europe at the age of 45. He planned to launch 45 new products between 2002 and 2007, a programme that led to the development of the Fusion, and in this era he was involved with the Jaguar F1 team and even drove one of the cars in a test. In 2003, amid much politicking, he was ousted by Ford, which announced his resignation. He sued the company and won an injunction preventing Ford enforcing a non-compete clause and later reached a $2.1 million settlement with the firm. He moved to join the Ferrari-owned Maserati in 2004, but was fired almost immediately when Fiat decided to realign its brands and reassigned Maserati to the Alfa Romeo division. Leach then established Magma Holdings, an auto industry consultancy, and bid to buy MG Rover Group Ltd in league with China’s SAIC, but rival firm Nanjing Automobile won the bidding battle. In the same period he signed a deal to acquire the Super Aguri F1 team only to have his backers, Dubai Investment Capital, leave him in the lurch at the last minute.
Leach went on to join the van manufacturer LDV Ltd, which was owned by Russia’s GAZ Group, but the recession hit the firm hard and it closed in 2009 after which Martin returned to Magma, doing consultancy work until 2015 when he was appointed co-president of the Chinese-funded hypercar start-up NEXTEV, based in San Jose. In this role he oversaw the company’s Formula E team, which won the inaugural championship in 2015 with Nelson Piquet Jr driving.
A man of energy and passion for the sport, Leach was hoping for great things with NEXTEV when he was diagnosed with cancer.