When I learned that Jaguar-Land Rover boss Geoff Polites died of cancer at age 60 last week, I felt a twinge of remorse. Sitting on my shelf at home is a book I borrowed from him in 2004 and never got around to returning.
The book, called Sex and Thugs and Rocknroll, was a memoir by legendary Australian rocker Billy Thorpe, who led a rowdy blues-rock band called the Aztecs. Polites knew Thorpe and many other Aussie rockers. He was a big AC/DC fan, but he didnt confine himself to head-banging music. He told me he also enjoyed the music of the French singer Charles Trenet, who was popular in the 1930s and 1940s.
Music was one of the enthusiasms I learned that I shared with him, during the course of an hourlong interview at Ford of Europe headquarters beside the River Rhine in Cologne, Germany. Sports and a love of dogs were others. When the interview was over, I felt my reportorial objectivity getting weak. I really liked the guy. A generous man to his core, he absolutely insisted on lending me the book.
At the time, I was covering Ford of Europe for Automotive News Europe, and Polites had just been named vice president of marketing, sales and service.
His enthusiasm for life and for his new job was contagious. No sooner had he arrived in Germany from Australia than he plunged into German lessons, and he was reading a childrens book in German at the time I spoke with him. He was fascinated by Europes complex, multifaceted car market.