By Christopher A. Sawyer
“I’m a mechanical engineer by first degree,” says, Zenos Cars CEO Ansar Ali “and a pretty bad one at that. So, like any engineer who realizes he’s not going to be a good one, I went and got an MBA. While I was in business school, I was recruited by Ford, and I joined the company in 1991, and had seven great years.” That’s when Ali became involved in the family business, something he calls a “cardinal mistake”. According to Ali, “My uncle had a very large cheese making business, and he asked me to join with a view of taking over. We made 10 tons of cheese per day, and this caused me to lose any desire I ever had to eat the stuff. After a couple of years, I decided this wasn’t for me.”
Recruited by Lotus in early 2000, Ali was general manager of the U.K. and Europe, and thought he was joining the company at one of its high points when Managing Director Chris Knight suddenly put him charge of cleaning up after the M250 sports car program was canceled. “There was quite a lot of fallout with the dealers, customers and PR, and from 2000-2005 I went through three MDs, Chris Knight, Victor Kiam and Kim Olgaard-Nielsen. (Olgaard-Nielsen’s reign often was referred to by Lotus insiders with a Star Trek mindset as the “Wrath of KO-N.” He was not well liked.)
It was at this point that Ali crossed paths with Mark Edwards, who would later help run the show at both Caterham and Zenos Cars. “He was sort of Chris Knight’s righthand man, and we got to know each other when Chris was putting together various cost-down, cash flow and other firefighting teams to stem the bleeding. Mark, a production engineer by degree, was pulled out of one of these task forces, and became Knight’s go-to troubleshooter. If there was a problem, he would parachute in.” Like Apple’s legendary CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs, Edwards is a binary, all black or white, manager who shakes things up by drilling down to the essentials. “We complement each other very well,” says the loquacious, always smiling Ali.