The new Jaguar XF would never have taken to the road if Ian Callum had followed the advice of his careers teacher at school.

Biology was young Callum's best subject and maybe he should look at the medical profession in terms of a career.

But it was engineering and art that fascinated Callum in his schooldays and if it was good enough for Leonardo da Vinci it was good enough for him.

He designed his first car at 13 and sent his drawings off to Jaguar because "I always had the feeling that I would one day work for the company. In terms of what I drew it was not so much creativity but emulating what was going on around me."

Callum admits to being obsessively tidy. "Everything in my life has to be in order. I can't leave my flat without it being tidy and that is really how I see art - turning chaos into order."

Born in Dumfries, Scotland, Callum attended a course in Industrial Design at Glasgow School of Art, followed by a two-year course in Automobile Design at the Royal College of Art.  

He was 'spotted' at the RCA by Ford and from 1978 he spent 12 years working in the company's design studios in Britain, Japan, the United States, Australia and Germany. He was then appointed Design Manager responsible for the Ghia Design Studio in Turin before he returned to the UK to join TWR in Oxford as Chief Designer in 1990.

During his time with Ford, Callum worked on both the exterior and interior design of the Fiesta, the Mondeo, the Ford RS200 mid-engined sports car, the Escort RS and the Cosworth.  

At Ghia he played a major role in the Via design Concept for a mid-engine sports car utilising a fibre optic lighting system and was responsible for the design and development of the Ghia Zig and Zag compact 2-seater sports car and mini van vehicles.

At TWR he worked on programmes for GM's Australian subsidiary - Holden, together with projects for Aston Martin (DB7 and Vanquish) Ford (Puma) Volvo (C70) Nissan (R390 Le Mans) and Mazda, Range Rover and Rover.  

His brief for the DB7 was to carry through the design theme of Sir David Brown's world famous DB series, the last of which was manufactured in 1971, while taking full advantage of modern materials, components and manufacturing techniques.

Callum joined Jaguar in 1999, originally to head up an advanced design time under then design director Geoff Lawson: "The thing I remember about his office was guns and guitars, plus the cigarette smoke." 

Sadly Lawson died shortly afterwards and Callum was moved into the top job by Ford's head of design J Mays.

"I never considered being number one, but I was offered the best job in the world and I was terrified. I had never wanted to be promoted into a position where I would be expected to make public speeches.  

"The whole notion of being executive grade horrified me. I also had to learn how to manage people and a whole department.

My initial problem was naivety. I did not know how to run a department of 100 people. I was not an executive and I had to learn the processes.   

There was also the small business of designing new Jaguars.

"The X-Type was being introduced and there were aspects of the car I was not happy about. For one thing the quality of the clay modelling was not good so that was the first thing I wanted to change.

"Fate was good to me in that respect and some people were approaching retirement and I was able to bring in my own people."

In terms of design Jaguar is all about Britishness, but Callum said the perception of Britishness can tend to be retro which is not necessarily the right direction in terms of design.

"Britain has enough heritage and we can do lots of things without destroying that. I wanted to start off by doing something significant to show that Jaguar did not have to follow history."

The result was the R Coupe which Callum said: "was a statement of intent - although you can see the faults now.

"But if we had not done that concept, the XF would not look like it does now."

When he came to explain his design direction for Jaguar to the board there was more fast learning to be done. "I had to learn how to verbalise what Jaguar was all about, good taste, good design and drama."

While essentially British, North America is Jaguar's largest market and its demands cannot be ignored.

"There is a culture clash and the markets demand different things. The exterior design is not so much the issue as the interior and that is all about the packaging.  "Lifting the centre console so that you sit down in the car making it feel larger while the roof pitch at the rear is about the lowest we could get it without making it uncomfortable for tall passengers.  

"The US market generally likes a higher roof line, but it is important for a Jaguar to have a sports coupe look, so we took things right to the limits in terms of the design - if we don't sell in the USA then it is not good."

What are his biggest design challenges? "C02 legislation which means weight and aerodynamics are king. We are arguably kings of aluminium which gives us a bit of a head start in terms of weight.  

"We are also constantly engaged in negotiations with engineers over the car's 'hard points' the standard requirements which have to be built in while all the time we want to ensure Jaguar has the best-proportioned car on the road."

With a new owner for Jaguar expected to be announced soon, Callum has had some dealings with interested parties. The approaches have varied from "extremely respectful to extremely disrespectful," he said.

He did appear to like the approach from Indian car maker Tata. "Tata will allow Jaguar and Land Rover to develop," he said.

"Some of the parties did not seem to appreciate how successful we are. This is a successful company and part of my life is helping to create its future.  "Designers are always learning and XF was a bit outside of the comfort zone but we are given free reign to move on and keep the momentum going."  

Does Jaguar need to appeal to more young people? Callum said: "Certainly Jaguar should appeal to younger-minded people but we're getting significantly more interest now from younger buyers.

"There are lots of issues that have been raised about Jaguar in the past. Can we meet quality standards? Yes. Can we meet the aspirations of younger people? Yes."