Professor Garel Rhys

Elected: 2013

Area(s): Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Specialist Subject(s): Business, Economics

Garel was internationally recognised as one of the leading academic analysts and commentators on the automotive industry. His encyclopaedic knowledge of the industry, a sharp analytical mind combined with his eloquence, enthusiasm, and infectious sense of humour characterised someone whose work had a significant impact not just in terms of his academic contributions but also to a number of major areas of government and organisational decision-making.

Garel was also a regular radio and TV broadcaster on the history, business organisation and economics of the motor industry, and the first port of call for journalists when a news item to do with the industry broke. The many tributes that have followed the sad news of his death are testimony to a very distinguished career and the high regard in which Garel was held.

David Garel Rhys was born on 28 February 1940. He attended Ystalyfera Grammar School, before graduating in 1963 from University College of Wales, Swansea with a degree in Economics. His post-graduate studies took him to Birmingham University where he completed his master’s degree specialising in Transport Economics and where he made his first foray into motor industry economics with his thesis entitled The Economics of the British Commercial Vehicle Industry 1945-1966.

Between 1965 and 1970, Garel held several academic posts at the University of Hull before he began his long and distinguished career at Cardiff University initially as Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in Economics (1971-1984), and then the SMMT Professor of Motor Industry Economics first at University College, Cardiff (1984-1988), and, more recently, at Cardiff Business School.

From 1988 to 1999, Garel was Head of Economics within Cardiff Business School. This was a time when the two Cardiff universities (University College, Cardiff, and University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology) merged and Garel was instrumental not just in bringing the two economics degree programmes of the respective universities together but also in integrating economics within the Business School, a task Garel achieved with his usual diplomacy and wisdom. In 2005, Garel was awarded the title Professor Emeritus in Economics at Cardiff University and, in 2013 he was elected as a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.

During his academic career, Garel established the Business School as a major centre of academic research in the motor industry most notably through his own publications, but also in the establishment of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research, of which he was Director until his death.

He was a popular and effective teacher and his lectures combined the knowledge, enthusiasm and humour that characterised everything he did. His lectures were in much demand outside academia and included, inter alia, those presented to GKN, Ford, Daimler Benz, Volvo, on various Civil Service training programmes to Cabinet Office’s ‘Top People’s’ programme as well as to a host of six-form students.

Garel’s international standing as a commentator and analyst of the motor industry is reflected in the numerous expert bodies on which he sat; these have included the Institute of Welsh Affairs, the Engineering Industry Advisory Committee, the Design Council’s Welsh Advisory Committee, the Institute of the Motor Industry, and the Welsh Development Agency.

He was Chair of the Welsh Automotive Forum and he has been a Special Adviser to the Expenditure Committee of the House of Commons during its investigation into Chrysler UK, to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Industry and Trade’s investigations into the economics of Concorde, Rolls Royce, British Leyland and the privatisation of Jaguar, and to the House of Lords Select Committee enquiry into the motor industry’s selective distribution system and its impact on motor product prices.

In more recent years, Garel devoted an increasing amount of his time to issues surrounding economic regeneration and sustainability in Wales. He was Chair of the Economic Research Advisory Panel of the National Assembly for Wales, and of the St Athan and Cardiff Airport Enterprise Zone Board (which was instrumental in bringing Aston Martin to South Wales), and a Board Member of Industry Wales, Capital Regional Tourism, and the Higher Education Council for Wales.

Over the years, Garel has been awarded many accolades including the Castrol/IMI Motor Industry Gold Medal Award for his contribution to the motor industry and the Welsh Communicator of the Year. In 1989, Garel was awarded the OBE for services to the motor industry and education and a CBE in 2007. He was also made a Liveryman and a Freeman of the City of London in 2000.

Garel passed away peacefully at home on February 21 2017 aged 76. He is survived by Mavis, his wife, their children, Angela, Gillian and Jeremy, and their families.

Professor Robert McNabb FLSW, Emeritus Professor of Economics and former Head of School.