BUSINESSiQ Editor Mike Hughes meets one of the most powerful men in engineering - Antonio Leitao, vice president of Cummins Europe



A visit from the boss can be a challenging time.

Who’s picking him up… who does he need to see… what’s on for lunch… what will he be asked in the staff Q&A?

But when the company is Cummins, the site is Darlington and the VIP visitor is vice president of Cummins Europe Antonio Leitao, the atmosphere is different.

The campus on Yarm Road is a success story, and has attracted major investment from the company. In many ways it is a model operation for Cummins and they understandably want to celebrate its success and develop its future.

Read more: Darlington icon Cummins celebrates 70 years of production

So, to a degree the pressure is less, because there is a confidence about the place all the time. They know what needs doing and they are among the best in the world at doing it, so they want to show people like Antonio and CEO Tom Linebarger – who visited only a few weeks ago – what progress is being made here and how ready they are for the future.

“I haven’t been to Darlington since 2019, most recently because of Covid and the travel restrictions, so I was excited to get back,” Antonio told me during a break in his meetings with Yarm Road workers and management.

“To keep up with what is happening in every area of the plant, we need to be here physically and talk to people to see what they need. Perhaps we all had some Zoom fatigue and were ready  for this, because I got a lot of energy from our employees here.



“We have done a lot of investment during the pandemic in areas like robotics to help production and productivity and I wanted to see that for myself. There has been a lot of work done here and it is fantastic to see what it all means for the Darlington team and the region they live in.

The Northern Echo: Antonio LeitaoAntonio Leitao

“We have so many good people here - and that means capacity to grow the business.”

The Darlington campus has 1500 staff and is globally recognised as a vital cog in the Cummins engine.  It has been operating at the site for more than 50  years and produced an astonishing 66,000 engines in 2021 – a rate of around 250 a day.

It started off in 1965 building the ‘Small Vee’ family of V6 and V8 diesel engines. In 1985 production switched to the Mid-Range engines following a £13.5million upgrade. The Mid-Range engines are the B and C Series products, the forerunners of the ultra-clean low emission products manufactured today. Spanning a range of 75 to 430 hp, they power a wide range of truck, bus, construction, agriculture, material handling, military, marine and power generation applications around the world.

As a clear sign of how all that history inspires the workforce, in January the company announced that Darlington had manufactured its 1.5 millionth Mid-Range engine.

There’s a lot for Antonio to be proud of.

All about people


“Last year we had our best year since 2008 and Darlington is very important for our network - it supplies most of our customers in Europe, but also Korea and Japan and beyond,” he says.

“We have hired around 560 people since 2020, which is a huge positive for the whole company. For us it is always all about people – they are what makes the difference here and I have been telling them that during my visit.

“We use new technology – robotics – really well here and they are important for repetitive and difficult processes, but they don't replace people which is why we have made that investment in our staffing levels. I have been so pleased to be able to meet Unite recently, because they have such a fantastic level of collaboration and have been able to do a lot of good during the pandemic. For all of us it is always about putting people at the centre of the operation.”

The Northern Echo: Antonio addresses Cummins staff (Picture by Chris J Parker)Antonio addresses Cummins staff (Picture by Chris J Parker)

That strategy means that young people who start work here as apprentices then get trained in new skills which means they can move between departments, keeping them interested and engaged and supplying a wider range of skills for Cummins. They get treated well and stay to build their career.

“We have some very special people in Darlington and we work very hard to make sure they have a great place to work,” Antonio tells me.

“That doesn’t always mean the campus itself, because working from home is a good tool for any business and one we want to address further. What is missing sometimes is the connection between people - that is important - but you don't need to have five days a week at the office to get that.

“So at Yarm Road we have invested more than £20million in the facility, providing the right environment for our team and making sure we have a great place for our employees to come, because we want to attract and retain their talent.”

Antonio Leitao found that out for himself in 2002 when he joined Cummins as Executive Director for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Six promotions later he holds his current role, so he and his new employer obviously clicked as they soon drew up a long-term plan between them.

He says the structure of the company helps any employee move around within it and get the full Cummins experience from Yarm Road in Darlington to Shayang Road in Beijing.

No silos


“In this organisation we have Business Organisation areas - one in China, one in India, one in Latin America, Africa, Middle East and Europe. We have those regions to help us make sure that we develop talent across the whole business and don’t create silos that give us one view, but the whole view.

“That way we can look after the development of our people within a cohesive relationship that gives us good connections across all our business units within Europe and out into the supply chain.

“I'm very proud of how it all works because we have fantastic leaders across the UK in places like Darlington, Daventry and Huddersfield. When we can connect the talented people at all of our sites we are a better company.

Antonio lived in Ramsgate for seven years at the start if his own Cummins career, then went to the US for almost ten years before coming back to Europe after some time in China.

“I believe that our culture is built on the same values wherever we are,” he says.

“We have some differences in certain regions, of course, but I feel when I go to different places I see the same Cummins with the same vision and the same mission. We will always strive to make sure that when our customers globally go to different markets, they have the same Cummins.

“So if a customer buys a product in Europe and then in India, we have the same processes and they know that if they trust us and work with us in one country, they can trust that same company in any other country.”

The future of the Darlington plant is safe in his hands, such is the depth of his knowledge and influence in this sector, his passion for engines and his confidence in the groundbreaking fuel-agnostic R&D work being done here.

The Northern Echo: The Cummins plant at DarlingtonThe Cummins plant at Darlington

In March the company announced it would invest £14m at Darlington, building a new facility to test engine technologies.

The new centre will mean Cummins - a key partner in The Northern Echo's Level Up campaign - can develop a wide range of power technologies, including engines to operate on green hydrogen, renewable natural gas, or sustainable diesel. Its installation and testing capability will also extend to hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric powertrains.

Read more: Cummins to build new £14m engine testing facility at Darlington

The first phase is expected to open for operations by May next year.

“The internal combustion engine will be still with us for 20 years or more, and we have a very strong product portfolio,” he explains.

“We can continue driving forwards despite the market shrinking a little bit in different segments because we will continue investing in the future of new technologies like our hydrogen internal combustion engine. That will be so important for us.

“I believe there is a lot of good potential for the future, which is why we are making important decisions like developing a truck with a fuel cell which  will be tested as a prototype. We need to prepare our team to be able to work on all different kinds of  alternative products in the future.”



Hydrogen as a fuel meant little to this part of the world only a few years ago, but now it is a core element of a new energy economy where we stand ready to lead the world once again and it is a huge bonus for the whole region and for the UK’s changing energy needs that Cummins will be playing a key role.

There are challenges to face as well, with Brexit high on the list as it is for any global operation. The strength of the Cummins supply chain will be vital here, as the company develops the bonds it has with the thousands of companies it works with across the world.

Read more: Darlington engineers Cummins joins Echo's Level Up campaign

There will inevitably be threats of shortages and worrying gaps. But this is Cummins - and the company engine will be in top gear to make it seamless for the most important part of the equation. The customers.

The environment is also a battle to be won, and the Government has to play its part, says  Antonio.

“We undoubtedly need to diversify our energy which means that we need to have more hydrogen, wind and solar. Not zero oil and not zero gas, but reducing our dependence from the oil and gas countries.

“But my big concern is investment from the Government into infrastructure because we need both hydrogen and electrification in our sector.  If you want it in trucks, you need infrastructure.

“We as a company will always invest in the future, but the politicians need to play their part.”

But this is a VP and a company both used to such global challenges. Their business is about finding the answers, not being daunted by the questions. As Antonio tells me before moving to his next meeting: “I'm very optimistic about the future because we have the best product in the market. So even if the market shrinks, we can still increase our share - that has to be the target.

“Darlington and UK have a very important role to play in our growth because we have talented people with the right skills, the logistics and the infrastructure to make us one of the strongest companies in Europe.”