Sir Michael Edwardes, the South African industrialist renowned for troubleshooting and famed for his work with British Leyland, has died aged 88.

Edwardes’ early career was spent with Chloride, a battery production company. This had largely been through the influence of his father Denys, who controlled an associated company. Initially a sales manager in South Africa and Rhodesia, he was recalled to England to restructure Exide in 1969. He joined the Chloride board in 1969, becoming CEO in 1972 and Chairman in 1974. The Guardian’s Young Businessman of The Year for 1975, he was invited to solve the problems at British Leyland and joined in 1977.

Sir Michael Edwardes was responsible for drastic restructuring; breaking the power of union shop stewards by appealing to a workforce who didn’t really want to strike. His repeated threats to close the company and the dismissal of convenor Derek Robinson were the defining actions of his tenure – once Robinson had been dismissed and his own unions voted against industrial action to prompt reinstatement, strikes at BL became negligible and profitability increased.

Edwardes was responsible for brokering a deal with Japanese manufacturer Honda, flying to Japan on Christmas Day 1979 to set in motion a process which led to the Triumph Acclaim and well over a decade of co-operation and joint development. This action arguably led to Rover’s greatest and most desirable years, and renewed interest in the corporation to a point whereby it could be privatised in the late 1980s. Key to this was his argument that BL shouldn’t be split up, as he felt that without the desirable brands of Land Rover, Rover, Jaguar and MG the mainstream arm of the business would be considered unsaleable. With the exception of Jaguar, BL was privatised as a sole concern.

Knighted in 1979, he published a memoir of his BL rescue in 1983, Back From The Brink. He is survived by his second wife and his three daughters.