August 2016

'It's an exciting time to be an automotive engineer'

Danella Bagnall, chief product engineer of the Jaguar F Pace, was recently featured in Autocar’s list of 100 outstanding British women in the global automotive industry. A Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) veteran of close to 30 years, Ms Bagnall is a passionate engineer who believes that “there is always an answer if you get the right group of people together to develop a solution.” Here, she talks about her exciting journey with JLR and why she thinks the best is yet to come.

How do you view the Autocar honour? Were you surprised by your inclusion in the list?
I am really happy to be included in Autocar’s Top 100 list and delighted to head the product development category. Celebrating success is always motivating. I’ve had a lot of young engineers at JLR – male and female – congratulating me on the recognition. I tell them I expect to see them heading the list soon. We need to encourage more talented people to take up engineering. I think all segments of the industry, including media, need to work together to show the world just how exciting engineering is.

The F-Pace, of which you are the chief product engineer, marked Jaguar’s entry into the SUV space, and the car has won plenty of plaudits. From an engineering perspective, what sets the F-Pace apart?
The F-Pace is a fantastic car and the team that has brought it to life is great – it’s been a joy to be part of such an engaged team and to continue the F-Pace journey. The car has had a strong start in the market. It drives and handles like you would expect a Jaguar to and has some great features like our new infotainment system In Control Touch Pro, great connectivity and introduces our new activity key so that customers can enjoy sporting activities wearing a wristband to keep the car key with them. We are very excited about our beautiful F-Pace.

What are the principal challenges you face in your job, and how do you deal with them?
One of the reasons I like engineering so much is that I love solving problems. There is always an answer if you get the right group of people together to develop a solution. I get a real buzz from working collaboratively and cross-functionally and I always encourage my teams to work in this way too — to find the ‘win win’ solution, that’s always the best method.

Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to occupy your current position with JLR?
This year, I will complete 29 years at JLR after starting as a technical apprentice in 1987. I was good at maths and science at school and was interested in finding out more about engineering. I come from Coventry which has a strong industrial heritage so there were many companies offering apprenticeship opportunities.

I chose Austin Rover as they said they would offer me the opportunity to study for a degree. After graduating, I started work in body engineering of seat structures.

Each project I worked on increased my technical and leadership responsibility and I have brought some amazing cars to life – I recently spent the last 18 months in our Halewood factory leading the launch of the Evoque Convertible, and I’m now back at our design and engineering centre in Gaydon leading the F-Pace car line-up. I’ve had a great career so far at JLR and there is more to come. It’s an exciting time to be an engineer in the automotive industry.

There are more women engineers than ever before in the automotive industry, but they remain under the radar. Will, or can, this change in an industry dominated by men?
This is something that has changed a lot in the time I have been in the company – but there is more work to do. I and many others at JLR spend time in schools, colleges and universities to share information on how interesting and diverse engineering is. I also spend time coaching and mentoring engineers and leaders of the future.

JLR also runs initiatives like ’Young Women in the Know’ where we bring schoolchildren into our factories and engineering areas, so that they can see engineering happening in real time. It’s about capturing hearts and minds at an early age.

The best email I ever got was from a young girl who had attended my presentation at Birmingham University. She had applied for the JLR graduate scheme and was successful, so sent me a note on her first day in the company — that was lovely.