The man, who almost singlehandedly put Range Rover on the map in the USA, Bill Baker, has died from cancer aged 72. Bill was a dear friend of mine, whom I first met in Australia in 1975.
Bill was then the PR VP for Volvo of North America, and had brought a group of American automotive journalists Down Under to drive Volvos on an extensive and varied driving route, to try and convince the press that there was more depth to the Volvo brand rather than being known just as a ‘safe car’.
Fortunately, for Bill, the ‘safe car’ was the one that saved his life, when he and one of the US journalists were seriously injured in a massive crash south of Sydney. The journalist had become confused, driving on the ‘other side’ of the road. They both ended up in hospital in Sydney, and I went to visit both of them.
From that moment on Bill and I became the closest of friends. He went on from Volvo, to management roles at Fiat-Lancia, then Ferrari, but in 1986 was one of a very small team of eight Americans who were pulled together to form the original management team which launched Range Rover in North America in 1988.
As PR Director, Bill worked with another good friend of mine whom I worked alongside at Jaguar Rover Australia, Russell Turnham. Russell was the Marketing manager, and he and Bill collaborated on many innovative and inventive events both across America, and in far-flung parts of the globe, as Bill tirelessly worked to establish the brand.
The Rover name had been sullied over preceding decades by poor quality cars, inappropriate models for the American market, and poor dealer support.
In 1990 when I joined Jaguar Cars North America, Bill and I met often to discuss the challenges we were both facing, trying to massage the image of the brands we represented.
One of the brilliant initiatives Bill participated in, as a founder and ambassador, was TREAD LIGHTLY, a non-profit organisation which aimed to show off-road enthusiasts how to treat the environment with sensitivity, whilst enjoying the outdoors.
Bill and I always remained close friends and communicated by email right up until he became ill.
He left Range Rover to pursue a career in film production and consulting in communications. He was an outstanding professional, with a never-give-in attitude, and such a high level of self-confidence that most people around him became impassioned supporters of his plans and projects.
Bill Baker was really special and leaves an indelible mark on my heart, and fond memories of many great moments together.