June 2013 | uk.tata.com

‘Innovation is important at JLR and everyone is encouraged to think creatively’

Danella Bagnall,senior engineer, Jaguar Land Rover enjoys everything involved with bringing designs to life and mentoring young engineers. In her career of more than 25 years at JLR, Ms Bagnall has travelled across the world to unveil the latest cars. The first woman in the world to drive the new Range Rover Sport, Ms Bagnall considers test driving new cars as one of the perks of her job. In this interview with uk.tata.com, she talks about what makes JLR so special and what it takes to be an engineer at JLR


How long have you worked for Jaguar Land Rover and what positions have you held in that time?
I started as a technical apprentice almost 26 years ago. Since then I’ve held a number of varied positions and have been involved in every part of design and engineering cars.

Whilst working on the all new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, I led a team of over 200 engineers, which was a great experience. The new Range Rover Sport was actually revealed in New York with Daniel Craig; unfortunately I couldn’t be there.

I’ve been all over the world with my work — I did a placement in America for four months and spent time in Shanghai, and have been on Tata leadership training courses in India.

Recently I have taken on a lot more leadership and educational responsibilities, to help inspire others and mentor junior staff, a role I’m really enjoying.

It’s been a fantastic career and I still have lots to do here and goals to achieve.

Describe your day-to-day routine.
As you can imagine it’s really varied when you work on a car from concept to production. Sometimes I’ll be working with designers, using clay and virtual models, which is fun. I also have intense periods of engineering analysis using computers to develop the first prototypes. Then, I also work at the manufacturing site to help finalise and “mature” the car ahead of the launch.

Sometimes I’m even lucky enough to test drive the cars. It was a very surreal experience test driving the new Range Rover Sport camouflage at one o’clock in the morning, at our test track in Gaydon. I was the first woman in the world to drive the car, and I loved it.

Having this variety keeps the job really exciting. 

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy everything involved with bringing the designs to life. And of course there are additional perks, like test driving the new cars and travelling to official unveilings in London, New York, Morocco and all over the world.

I like that with continuous technological and engineering advances there is always more for me to learn, which keeps my job challenging and interesting.

A responsibility that I have increasingly taken on and am enjoying is the coaching and mentoring of younger engineers. It’s important to help support and guide their training and career development. After all, they are the engineers of tomorrow.

What do you think makes the Jaguar Land Rover brand so special?
Having worked here for over 25 years, I have seen the focus that Jaguar Land Rover places on the customers. Their preferences are considered in every decision that’s made. The driver, the passengers, and the families are put at the heart of everything we do, to make their driving experience more special. And that’s why our customers love us and come back to us.

And that’s why I drive a Range Rover Sport, it meets my every need.

Out of all the cars you’ve worked on, which car stands out as a favourite and why?
I’m proud of every car, especially when I see them on the road. And I always get a special buzz when I see them while I’m on holiday in another country.

However, if I had to pick I’d say my favourite is the all new fourth generation Range Rover. It was a privilege to lead the body engineering team on this fantastic car.

We have engineered an aluminium body shell (the first SUV to use this) which makes the car significantly lighter. Combined with a luxurious interior, this car is an extraordinary proposition and one I’m very proud of.

I also enjoyed attending the car’s global unveiling in London and press launch in Morocco. I even got to test drive it through rivers and up and down sand dunes in Morocco, which was really fun.

What skills are needed to be a successful engineer at Jaguar Land Rover?
First and foremost, you need to have the technical skills, ideally a first class degree in mechanical engineering. However, over time the role has developed and it’s important to have more than this.

I’d say it’s essential to have great people and communication skills. Designing cars involves collating and consolidating the opinion of lots of people. This is a hard task so it’s important to be good at understanding and communicating with others.

It also helps to be business and commercially savvy. This means understanding cost implications of materials and features, understanding the customers’ expectations, the current economic climate, and what our competitors are doing.

If you have these skills, combined with a determination to succeed and continually learn, then an engineering career at JLR could be for you.

How important is innovation within your job and what innovative ideas are JLR currently working on?
Innovation is massively important at JLR and everyone is encouraged to think creatively. This is shown in the line-up of cars we’ve had over the years. We’re always looking to make cars and all of our processes more efficient, easier, and simpler.

For example, we recently took the decision to construct the car bodies of Range Rover and Range Rover Sport with aluminium metal instead of steel. This has helped to significantly reduce the weight of the vehicle, but remains as strong as those made from steel. Our investment in aluminium means we now have the world’s largest aluminium car body shop.

We do have other exciting innovative projects on the go at the moment, but these are closely kept secrets, so all I can say is you’ll have to wait and see… 

Have you noticed any changes in the number of women engineers in the UK since you started?
Yes. There are definitely an increasing number of women in all functions of the automotive industry, including in engineering, which is great to see.

JLR runs various educational activities to promote careers in engineering to students of all ages, gender, and background, through school visits and tours of the factories, so it’s pleasing to see that these activities are helping inspire young girls as well as boys. That said, there is still room for the number of female engineers to grow, which is why Land Rover recently launched the Range Rover Evoque WISE scholarship. This is a three-year bursary which will support three female students looking to further studies or start careers in engineering.

What first inspired you to be an engineer and what can be done these days to inspire the next generation of engineers?
As a kid I was very good at maths and science, and I knew I wanted to go to university. My mum worked at Rolls Royce and my father at Jaguar and they encouraged me to study engineering. But I remember falling in love with car design when I saw a car being put together at a factory while I was doing an apprenticeship at Land Rover in Solihull.

There’s always time at JLR to inspire and attract the next generation of talented engineers. Often it requires dispelling myths about how dirty and repetitive the role is; it’s really quite the opposite. JLR runs various apprenticeships inviting students to come to our factories and engineering centres to learn about the industry, and my colleagues and I are on hand to help mentor them, and hopefully inspire them.

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