Publication: Motorcycle News
Date: July 2020
Article: New Norton interim CEO reveals future ambitions for TVS-backed resurrection
Norton have big plans for the future, as well as a return to racing, according to their interim CEO. Following their acquisition of Norton in April, TVS employed John Russell to help lay the foundations for any future success. With decades of experience and a lifelong passion for Norton, the new man in charge spoke exclusively to MCN.
"There’s just so much magic about Norton," Russell said. "I grew up in the era where Geoff Duke was still a current racer, the Manx Nortons had only just gone out of production and stopped their winning ways and Norton was still a very strong brand.
"The featherbed frame was talked about in hushed tones as some magical quality that most people didn’t understand. It was a legend in its own lifetime."
After a career in cars, Russell switched to two wheels joining Harley-Davidson, ultimately becoming Vice President and Managing Director of European operations. He first began working with TVS seven years ago and says the Indian firm were always looking to purchase a known motorcycle brand: "One of their interests was always the idea of buying a good brand that had the potential to be developed into a powerful force in the industry."
Once Norton came up for grabs, the firm moved quickly, purchasing select assets in a £16m cash deal that saw manufacturing remain in the existing premises for six months, with plans for a new factory to follow.
"I was absolutely delighted to take on the Norton role. I haven’t had this much fun for a long time," Russell continued. "When I came into Norton, there was this sense of lots of people frustrated with the problems in recent years, but this immense amount of goodwill.
"People everywhere who had a passion for it, owned a bike, wanted to own a bike, had a dad or a son that owned a bike and everybody having this sense of reverence and excitement around this fantastic motorcycle brand."
John says the team have begun looking at improvements to the production process and ownership experience, as well as bringing the latest 650 twin range to market alongside the existing models. This is despite Covid-19 forcing some staff onto furlough and others to work remotely.
Elsewhere, staff have been contacting existing customers with unfulfilled orders from the previous Norton ownership in an attempt to resolve the situation.
"The first aim of any company must be to try and deliver its customer orders and that’s what Sudarshan Venu (Joint Managing Director of TVS) said when we first bought the company and that’s what we’re hoping to do," Russell explained.
"We didn’t buy it as a going concern - so there’s no legal liability there – but obviously if we can find a way of doing that, that’s what we want to do and we’re working our way through that process at the moment."
Although refusing to be drawn on the firm’s new road-going model plans, interim CEO John Russell suggested that Norton would return to racing in some capacity, thanks to the brand’s rich motorsport history at events like the Isle of Man TT.
"We won the first TT – the oldest motorsport event in the world – and it’s so much part of Norton’s DNA," he said. "Back again to my first childhood memories: Norton and TT were two brands that went together and were indivisible. We will have a racing thread to what we do and it will be an integral part of the business. What we do on the racetrack will inspire what we do on the road bikes and vice versa.
"What form that takes, how we get there, how we organise ourselves, the timing of that, none of that is determined as yet, but it’s definitely on the radar."