When I learned that Jaguar-Land Rover boss Geoff Polites had 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 Rock'n'roll, was a memoir by legendary Australian rocker Billy Thorpe, who led a rowdy blues-rock band called the Aztecs. Polites knew Thorpe and other Aussie rockers. He was a big AC/DC fan, but he didn't 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.
Love for obscure Australian rock bands was just one of the many enthusiasms I learned I shared with Polites 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 being swept aside. 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 passion 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 was reading a children's book in German at the time I spoke with him. He was fascinated by Europe's complex, multifaceted car market.