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Home / News and Insights / Insights / Auto-biography: In conversation with Rong Su

Auto - biography

In the fifth interview of the series, Toby Richards-Carpenter speaks with Rong Su, Scrum Master in Special Vehicles Operations at Jaguar Land Rover. Rong’s role is to help and guide her team to work within the Agile Framework in delivering special vehicle programmes that make the best even more exclusive to customers. Rong’s story of how she travelled as a young student from China to work for Rover almost 3 decades ago to thriving at today’s JLR, is a truly fascinating and inspirational tale – let’s hear it in her own words…

1. How did you get into what you do?

Going back 27 years, I was a graduate, young, and naïve. There was a lack of freedom of speech in China, where I came from. I was hearing a lot of horror stories from the propaganda about the West and how people were living in hell under capitalism, and this triggered my curiosity. Back then, I had no fear. Being a very factual person, I really wanted to witness capitalism in my own eyes, so I could make my own judgement of it.

It’s not that I didn’t believe in communism – in a way I still do – even though I don’t think the human race will evolve to be completely selfless for a very long time. But equally, I was dubious about what I was hearing about capitalism, and that was the main drive for me to look for an opportunity to come here.

I studied English as my second language at the university, and since my graduation, I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing professionals from Rover on a joint venture project. In 1995, I obtained a six-month student placement in Rover Body & Pressings in Swindon – which was part of BMW, as was Jaguar Land Rover. I came self-funded. During those six months, I was assigned to various areas of the business. I learned a lot and loved every moment of it! I was particularly impressed by how health and safety was at the heart of the operations, which some Chinese companies were still lacking at the time.

About a week before I was due to return to China, I was called into HR manager Ruth Wilkins’s office, where I was greeted by all the people I had worked with during my placement. What happened next, I will never forget: Ruth handed me an award – the Rover Group Silver Award. She said, ‘As commended by all the areas you have worked for, I’m giving you this Silver Award for your outstanding personal development. This is the first ever Silver Award that we have given to any individual within the entire company.’ I was in floods of tears. To this day, I still have that award – something to treasure and be proud of.

The following day, I was offered a job. I was told that Rover was looking to attract more women into engineering and that I fit the bill perfectly. I felt so grateful, yet I didn’t accept the job offer straight away. Back then, many young people in China were desperately seeking ways to find work in Europe, for a better life and more freedom. But this was not my plan. I had other plans. I asked if I could think about it. They said, ‘yes, could you let us know within 4 weeks’. So, I went back to China, thought it through, and thought to myself, ‘why not embrace the change’. I accepted the job offer and returned to the UK in 1996. I had to convince my parents, but I have never looked back.

I’ve been with the business now for 27 years and have seen it evolve from BMW to Ford to Tata. And I can honestly say we’ve never been in a better place as a company.

When the business was split up, I had the choice of staying with BMW or moving onto Land Rover, which was sold to Ford. The Land Rover brand had captured my heart the most, and I was loving the stamping engineering work I was doing on CB40. I decided that I wanted to come and work for Land Rover. 27 years on, I’m still here.

Things have come full circle in a way. When I first came to the UK, my dad hardly slept for a month. He was so worried about what terrible things could happen to me. But now, where mum and dad live in China, they have neighbours who drive JLR products. They genuinely feel really proud to tell people their daughter works for JLR in the UK.

2. What do you know now that you wish you had known at the outset of your career?

It would have to be diversity. When I first joined the company, while most people were kind and supportive, I did have to deal with someone telling me ‘you shouldn’t be here’ and others taking things out on me for all the negative press they’d heard about the Chinese government, like they were my fault. There were challenging times. I would never quit, but at times felt that I was fighting my own battles. I am so glad that I didn’t quit. 27 years on, JLR has come a long way in cultural transformation. We have a much more diverse workforce now. The company’s drive for diversity and inclusion has had a positive impact on serving our customers, fuelling our innovation, engaging and inspiring our people, and making the workplace a happy place for all. If I’d known what I know now, I would have done more in championing for not just me, but also for the wider, diverse community in the company. These days, apart from my day job, I’m also a business manager on the JLR REACH Network Committee, championing diversity and inclusion for employees of diverse races and ethnicities.

3. What legal issues do you encounter in the course of your work?

There are legal issues on direct sales, import tariffs, emission laws, etc. I want to reflect on the increasing scrutiny of emissions laws. JLR has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across its operations by 46 percent by 2030. Lots of money has been invested in the electrification of both the Land Rover and Jaguar brands. All Jaguar and Land Rover nameplates will be available in pure electric form by the end of the decade. Jaguar Land Rover has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across its operations by 46 percent by 2030. This is the company’s pathway to a 1.5°C emissions reduction in line with the Paris Agreement.

4. Where do you think the UK automotive industry is headed in the future?

Rong SuThe UK automotive industry is navigating the complex aftermath of Brexit and a quickly evolving global supply chain. The stakes are very high but also bring us new opportunities. I think our future competitiveness lies in the technology that powers our vehicles. JLR’s Reimagine strategy is delivering a sustainability-rich vision of modern luxury by design, which I’ve no doubt reasserts the company as a leading player in the automotive world of today and tomorrow. The company has introduced a company-wide Agile project management approach, and the impact has been phenomenal. I’m proud to be part of the diverse and inclusive workforce that’s making a positive impact on delivering pioneering technology for JLR’s future faster.

You can find out more about Toby’s legal expertise on our website. If you need advice or assistance in relation to your business or any of the legal issues mentioned in this article, please feel free to contact Toby who would be delighted to hear from you directly, or alternatively, visit our Automotive homepage.

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