Nissan farewell to founding father Kevin Fitzpatrick after almost 40 years

“It has always been more of a vocation than a job.”
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The man who rise from the Nissan shopfloor to become one of the car giant’s senior global executives is hanging up his overalls after almost four decades.

Senior Vice President Kevin Fitzpatrick was one of the original 22 supervisors hired before the plant opened to oversee development of the factory and the start of production of the Nissan Bluebird in 1986.

UK’s biggest ever car plant

Kevin with Alan Johnson (left) and  Adam PennickKevin with Alan Johnson (left) and  Adam Pennick
Kevin with Alan Johnson (left) and Adam Pennick
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From his early days in the Paint Shop, Kevin held a range of senior positions across the plant and became Vice President for Manufacturing in 2010, before rising to Region Senior Vice President, Manufacturing and Supply Chain for the Africa, Middle East, India, Europe and Oceania region (AMIEO).

In Kevin’s time, Sunderland has become the UK’s biggest ever car plant, launching more than 20 new models and growing from a workforce of less than 450 into a team of around 6,000 people.

The plant has delivered models like Micra, Qashqai and Juke, as well as pioneering electric vehicle and battery production in Europe with LEAF and has made more than 10million cars.

Now Kevin, 63, is coming to terms with being able to spend more time with wife Susan – who he met at the plant – and rediscovering his love of fly fishing.

Kevin won the Lifetime Achievement award at the Sunderland Echo Portfolio Business awards in 2015Kevin won the Lifetime Achievement award at the Sunderland Echo Portfolio Business awards in 2015
Kevin won the Lifetime Achievement award at the Sunderland Echo Portfolio Business awards in 2015
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“I had to make my mind up about six months ago and I wasn’t really bothered then but now I’m thinking ‘What am I going to do?’,” he said.

“I have had a job since I was 13 – and I have known what I wanted to do since I was 14.”

Kevin left school at 16 and took up an apprenticeship at the Royal Ordnance factory at Birtley, but could see the impact of reduced defence spending on the firm.

"I absolutely loved working there but I could see it starting to decline,” he said.

“There were not many options.”

‘Like winning the pools’

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He moved to Huwood at Team Valley but joining a mining equipment company as the pit closure programme started to bite was hardly a long-term option.

Then came the chance that was to secure his future for almost 40 years: “When Nissan advertised, I did not think I would have a chance but I got the job – it was like wining the pools,” he recalls.

The firm recruited a mix of local engineers and staff from other Uk motor companies. For the local boys, who could see the region’s traditional jobs in the pits and coalmines vanishing, the opportunity was one to be grabbed with both hands: “We were all determined to make this place a success because we had all come from other industries that were on the way out.”

The plant soon began to expand: "We used to get the parts and all the bits were welded together in the body shop – we did not make the panels but we did full body assembly,” said Kevin.

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“Then we put the press shop in and started making some of the big panels ourselves. In 1985, we were just an assembly plant, but the press shop went in around ‘87 or ‘88 then the engine plant started production as well.

“In 1987, we went to two shifts, then in 1989 we started to build the second line to build Micra.”

It was a hectic period: “We were expanding that fast that I went from supervisor in ‘85 to senior supervisor in ‘87 to manager in January ‘89 – that would normally take 15 to 20 years and I did it in four.”

It has not been all plain-sailing: “It has been really difficult at times, with some of the challenges we have faced from outside issues such as the Lehman Brothers shock, what we went through with covid, the semi-conductor crisis…

‘It has always been interesting’

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“The success of Qashqai was brilliant but it was hard work. We were doing six days a week every week for two years

“It has not been easy but it has always been interesting and it has been more of a vocation than a job – it has never just been a job.

“I consider myself very lucky to have been part of Nissan’s journey and am extremely proud of what we have achieved.

“We’ve started another exciting chapter in the company’s history, towards full electrification and carbon neutrality.

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"I’m really excited for the team, and even more excited to drive those future Nissan models.”

During his time, Kevin’s has overseen the creation of the Nissan Skills Foundation which inspires young people to choose careers in engineering and manufacturing, and more than 75,000 students have now taken part in the programme.

More recently he played a huge role in securing a £1billion investment for the world- first EV36Zero project which will make the plant global focus electric vehicles.

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Guillaume Cartier, Chair of the Nissan AMIEO region, said: “I pay tribute to Kevin’s inspirational leadership. It is truly an outstanding life’s work.

New appointments

“He was part of the team trusted to set the direction for Sunderland Plant right from the very start, and his commitment, knowledge and fantastic skill as a leader have influenced Nissan’s manufacturing teams across the world.

Kevin’s retirement triggers promotions for two long-serving members of the team who have also risen through the ranks of Nissan since arriving in the company as graduates.

Alan Johnson, currently Vice President for Manufacturing in the UK, will replace him as AMIEO Region Senior Vice President and he in turn, will be replaced by current Production Director Adam Pennick.

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