The launch of my book ‘The Business of Winning’, published today by Kogan Page in London, comes three years after I had the idea to take lessons learned from Formula One and suggest how they might be applied in any business. It’s been 15 years since I start my professional public speaking career, brought about when I had to replace Eddie Jordan as a keynote speaker alongside Mikhail Gorbachev at a conference in Vienna, and in that time I have spoken for more than 400 companies around the world about what they can learn from motor racing.
It may not be immediately obvious what a sport like Formula One can teach business leaders. Having worked in leadership roles at Jordan, Red Bull Racing and Cosworth, I can confidently state that the day-to-day nature of this sport would be familiar to management and staff in factories and businesses around the globe. There is much to draw upon.
One of the reasons is that in order to compete in Formula One you have to recognise that first and foremost we run businesses much like any other. In our case we work in the manufacturing sector. We have to design, develop, build and operate a high end product - a Formula One car - which integrates technologies familiar to anyone engaged in aerospace, automotive or IT. We then sell it - perhaps not in the way most companies sell their product - but we sell it nonetheless; to sponsors, commercial and technical partners. The successful businesses in Formula One are very client centric.
Increasingly we also see successful Formula One companies such as McLaren and Williams selling their technology solutions into other sectors. Whether it be gold medal winners within Team GB at the Olympic Games, or efficiency improvements in the production lines at a GSK toothpaste factory, Formula One knowhow is being applied in the most unusual places.
The leadership of Formula One teams has therefore embraced change as our business model has evolved in recent years. In relation to our manufacturing capability we retain a laser like focus on never missing deadlines, adhering to quality systems while encouraging innovation, and always managing the commercial and physical risks associated with this 300kph sport. We also have to build high performing teams supported by clear leadership, effective cross functional communications and world class team work. Whether it is the 90% of our staff who work in our factories, or the 20 mechanics delivering a pit stop in 2 seconds, we need everyone to be aligned behind the target, and fully responsible for their role in helping achieve it.
I have been fortunate to draw on personal experiences working directly with race winning team owners such as Eddie Jordan and Red Bull’s Dietrich Mateschitz, the energy drink entrepreneur who has achieved the kind of success in Formula One that some of the great car manufacturers can only dream about. I have also observed industry leaders such as McLaren’s Ron Dennis develop a Formula One racing team into a diverse technology and business services group which is the envy of many.
Most of all, however, I have enjoyed recalling that my biggest takeaway from 30 years spent in the pit lanes of the world is that no matter how complex the technology, how demanding the commercial background, it is the people and how they work together that determines success in a business. It’s for that reason alone that a tiny independent team like Jordan was able to embarrass the giants of the sport in the late 1990s, and an energy drink called Red Bull take a struggling Jaguar Racing and turn it into the very best team in the business.