One of my most enjoyable Christmas presents this year came from my mother-in-law. It was the biography of Steve Jobs by ex CNN CEO Walter Isaacson, it was an impressive read, not just in terms of Jobs himself, but also in terms of the way Isaacson managed to combine the social, emotional, technical and business dimensions to build a deep and insightful portrait of the man. When my latest edition of Harvard Business Review arrived it contained ‘The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson, there has been a lot of poor quality writing about Steve Jobs, particularly in terms of the ‘leadership lessons’ variety, but this was one article I was going to read at all costs, and so last night I did.
It confirmed many of the insights I got from reading the book and which I have used in my strategy sessions with our MBA students, Steve Jobs is very much an inspirational figure, as much for his dark side as the light. As I was going through the HBR piece it suddenly struck me that many of his qualities and quirks I had come across before in an individual who has been as innovative and revolutionary in his spheres of work as Jobs had in his, Colin Chapman.
If I look across Isaacson’s lessons many (but not all) relate very strongly to my picture of Colin Chapman. The importance of focus, the ability to cut through a complex technical issue to the core – think of Chapman’s ideas for fuel sacks rather than tanks which came out of them trying to thread the tanks through a complex spaceframe, the search for elegance and simplicity – Jobs hatred of using screws in his products, Chapman’s concept of the monocoque chassis in the Lotus 25 and the engine becoming part of the structure of the car in the Lotus 49, the lack of tolerance for any who were not ‘A’ team players, it can be said that neither Jobs or Chapman were model managers particularly on the people skills front and yet both had the cream of the crop wanting to work with them, why? Perhaps because they were the best, or perhaps because people saw the interpersonal deficiencies as symptomatic of someone in an hurry, someone who was going to get things done, make things happen and this was a ride they were not going to miss. There was also Jobs’ famous Reality Distortion Field where the impossible became possible, this was very much reminiscent of Chapman where the car could be redesigned and rebuilt just before the race, to incorporate a new innovation thought up by Chapman that day! And perhaps the best of all: ‘When behind Leapfrog’ – anyone remember the Lotus 78? In the mid seventies Lotus had fallen behind and so Chapman got Tony Rudd, Peter Wright and other brilliant technical minds to go back to basics and redefine the grand prix car, no copying competitors, just developing the best solution, in this case ground-effect aerodynamics.
Of course there were also differences. As far as I’m aware Chapman was not a fan of Zen Buddhism, Chapman was also an adept collaborator and, unlike Enzo Ferrari, did not feel the need to build his own engines, Jobs, in contrast, wanted to control the whole thing from end to end, he would have instinctively gone down the Ferrari route. So there were differences, but on balance the similarities win out, for me the most poignant are that both started their businesses in their garages from nothing (although in Chapman’s case this was a stable behind his dad’s pub), and sadly both left us well before their time.
October 13, 2011
There is no question that Sebastian Vettel is a worthy driver’s champion for 2011. He had the best car, but he rarely put a wheel wrong, and so his title is undoubtedly well deserved. I do feel that Sebastian, like Lewis before him, is very much a champion who, although a worthy champion, is still highly dependent on the support of the team for the title, this I would contrast to other champions who really lead their teams to victory. It is the difference between someone who is dependent on the team for their success and someone the team is dependent upon, someone who brings the team up with them.
I guess the contrast I would draw would be the difference between Michael Schumacher at Benetton where supported by Flavio Briatore, Ross Brawn and others he achieved two world championships, here he was a champion, but not a leader. In contrast, during Michael’s time at Ferrari he played a very key role in turning round the whole organisation , becoming the catalyst for change and winning the greatest number of championships that have ever been won, Michael grew from being a champion to being a leader. Similarly, I would also put Fernando Alonso in the leader category, he played a key role in the success of Renault in the 2005/6 seasons and has gone on, with a brief blip at McLaren, to do the same at Ferrari. If we look back into previous champions individuals like Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Niki Lauda and Jackie Stewart all fit with the leadership role. The interesting question for me is where Jenson Button is on this, in many ways he seems to be stepping up to the leadership role this season, not only through his performance on the track but his demeanour, his confidence, his approach are all suggesting something stronger than a driver who just gets in the car and performs on the track.
So the obvious thing for Sebastian to do now, or certainly in a year or two, is to move to a new team that needs a leader and see if he can shift up a gear from being world champion, not easy, but some have done it. Who knows, like Michael at Ferrari, he may even persuade Adrian Newey to come with him.
August 16, 2011
There are relatively few examples today of where a single leader imprints their personality on an organisation. A couple from contemporary businesses would be Steve Jobs at Apple (now holding more cash than the USA) and Richard Branson at Virgin. The question will be how long after these individuals have gone will their shadow remain in these organisations? I am reminded of a documentary I watched on the making of the Disney animated film Hercules. The Artistic Director was artist Gerald Scarfe (remember the animation of Pink Floyd’s The Wall? – that was Scarfe). There was one scene where Scarfe had drawn a satyr which showed a certain amount of buttock cleavage, ‘I don’t think Walt would like that’ said one of the Disney animators, who’s Walt I immediately thought, was he one of the producers? He was referring to Walt Disney who died over forty years ago, but clearly his spirit was alive and well throughout the organisation.
I have been very fortunate to have been able to meet and occasionally interview many of the movers and shakers in F1, but if I had to select the one person I would have loved to ask some questions to, above all others, it would have been Enzo Ferrari. Like Walt Disney, Enzo’s presence is still very much in evidence at Ferrari. The term ‘racer’ is often used to describe someone whose very being is driven by the need to race, and win races. If all of the money disappeared from F1 many people would disappear, but the racers would still be there. Enzo was the original racer, he was, at one time, a works driver for Alfa Romeo, he created one of the first motorsport companies: Scuderia Ferrari which provided cars and the support for rich individuals to go racing. His road car operation was there to help raise funding to go racing. Many car manufacturers have tried to emulate the Ferrari mystique by racing to promote their road cars. None of them come close and the reason is Enzo Ferrari, his passion and his values. I recently managed to get a copy of his autobiography ‘My Terrible Joys’, it is one of the best motorsport books I have ever read, it is candid and insightful, it is, of course, his view of the world, but it is all the more engaging for that.
It is now twenty three years since Enzo’s death and Ferrari have just put a piece on their website asking for comments on the great man:
I am certain that Enzo’s shadow will be there for as long as there is a prancing horse on a Ferrari.
With Sam Michael and Jon Tomlinson leaving Williams, and the news that Aldo Costa will be standing down from the Technical Director role at Ferrari, it looks like some of the F1 teams are getting into panic mode and believe that a bit of firing is needed. Unfortunately, although such managerial machismo may create the impression of decisiveness from the top, it will only work if these specific individuals are the real source of the problem. Quite often this is not the case, and that means that the problem remains but is now compounded with all the effort and disruption of recruiting or promoting new people and integrating them into their new roles.
When we interviewed Ross Brawn at Ferrari back in 2004 we asked if there was a particular innovation that had created their success, this was his response: “… if we had an innovation here it’s the fact that we combine the engine and the chassis together as one whole, but we apply that principle to all areas of the car with the electronics, the engine, the chassis, the aerodynamics, the structure, it all had to be a whole, there was no point in having one area very strong and the other area weak.” Aldo Costa had replaced Ross in this overarching role focused on ensuring that all the departments worked together to get the best overall result – this role requires not only managerial skill, but also technical knowledge and capability, these ingredients are only found together in a few key individuals, Ross Brawn is one of these and apparently Aldo Costa is not. However Ferrari have now segregated the technical roles into chassis (Pat Fry), engine and electronics (Luca Marmorini) and production (Corrado Lanzone), each reporting into the team principal. This implies that the only person with an overall responsibility and overview is Stefano Domenicali. Stefano is a lovely guy and a great manager, but he doesn’t have the technical insight of a Ross Brawn to knit the whole thing together, that is what Ferrari need now.
February 22, 2011
It was interesting to see the very negative way in which the FIA’s approach to the Bahrain decision was viewed by a number of UK journalists who have been tweeting on the subject. There can be no doubt that had Max Mosley been President of the FIA the style would have been very different with pronouncements and impromptu press conferences on the developing situation. Jean Todt has a very different style and one which recognises that the FIA had effectively outsourced such decisions back in 2001 when it leased the commercial rights to FOM for ninety nine years, in response to an EU investigation into competition which required them to separate the governance and commercial aspects of the sport. In this sense the decision whether or not to hold a particular race is down to CVC Partners’ Formula One Management run by Bernie Ecclestone, and not the FIA (unless it is done on safety grounds). It is for this reason that the FIA has taken very much a backseat, although there has probably been a lot of background diplomacy involved. In essence this is far more about leadership style than substance, Max leading from the front, although not always being followed by everyone, and Jean Todt working behind the scenes and standing back from the spotlight. Both can be effective, but get results in very different ways.
January 6, 2010
The recent ruling by a French court to remove the bans placed by the FIA on Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds appears to be starting a new series of legal and PR activity that takes us back to the trials (literally) and tribulations of 2009. The robust response by the FIA suggests that there will be appeals and probably counter-appeals to this sorry episode. Briatore still maintains his innocence, although both Nelson Piquet Jr and an anonymous Renault employee have stated that he did know of the plan to crash Piquet’s car in Singapore in 2008.
Whatever the outcome Renault F1 have clearly moved on and their appointment of a totally new Team Principal, Eric Boullier, indicates a desire to move away from the F1 old guard. Boullier has no previous F1 experience, although he, like Jean Todt when he joined Ferrari, has had experience in a wide range of non-F1 motorsport operations. He joins a list of ‘new to F1’ Team Principals this year which includes Tony Fernandes (Lotus) and Alex Tai (Virgin Racing). New leaders with new ideas across the teams and also with Jean Todt taking over at the FIA will hopefully provide some impetus for positive change in F1.
October 23, 2009
Jean Todt is the new man at the helm of the FIA, almost two years after stepping down from his position as CEO of Ferrari. Todt has a reputation for hard work and real commitment to whatever role he takes on, he was certainly the major architect of the transformation that took place at Ferrari in the mid and late nineties, let’s hope he can bring a similar transformation to Formula 1 and move it forward after what has been a very difficult year for the reputation of the sport.
October 19, 2009
So in the end it was all resolved in Sao Paolo, Jenson Button is the new Drivers World Champion and Brawn GP is the World Champion Constructor.
Although both Jenson and Rubens have shown their real potential this year, 2009 for me has really been about the achievements of one person, Ross Brawn. Ferrari must be really kicking themselves that they didn’t offer the quiet, authoritative Englishman the position he wanted, that of Team Principal, when Jean Todt stepped down at the end of 2006. Brawn isn’t a great designer in the mould of John Barnard, Gordon Murray or Adrian Newey, neither is he a great wheeler dealer in the mould of Ron Dennis, Bernie Ecclestone or, dare I say it, Flavio Briatore. No Ross is perhaps closer to Colin Chapman of Lotus and his former boss, Patrick Head of Williams in that he is a great leader of engineers and a navigator through the complexity of technology.
At the many talks I give on the subject of F1, I’ve often been asked why Brawn have been so successful this year. The answer has two parts to it, first the team have always had significant resources in terms of infrastructure and human talent, way above the performance they had demonstrated since their days as British American Racing and then Honda Racing. So you had to have the elements to make a world champion team. The second part is that they weren’t able to galvanize and utilize all of these resources until they had some coherence and, in particular, technical direction, this is what Ross gave them. The recipe for success at Ferrari had been simple, get them all working together as one team with some clear direction and priorities, a clear strategy. Ross has applied the same philosophy at Honda, now Brawn, to devastating effect. It will be interesting to see if they are able to sustain this momentum in 2010, I suspect they will.
September 18, 2009
On the assumption that the Renault F1 team will not be banned from F1 at the World Motorsport Council hearing on Monday, the team now face the challenge of finding a new Team Principal. Arguably the biggest gap to fill will be that of Pat Symonds whose understanding of race strategy and tactics was immense, however there are many very capable technical people within Renault F1 and therefore this role is most likely to be filled from within. The Team Principal or CEO role is a bigger challenge. The Renault board member responsible for the team, Bernard Rey, could take this on, but this is unlikely to be a long term solution – and Renault have signed the Concorde agreement up until the end of the 2012 season. There aren’t many individuals who could step in and take the team forward both technically and financially, Mario Theissen may be looking to stay in F1, but he is strong in the technical side which isn’t the area where Renault really have a gap –and he will probably remain a BMW man through and through so the cultural fit would be problematic. Another name which has been mentioned is that of David Richards, head of Prodrive (based in Banbury – so not too far away from Renault’s Enstone headquarters) and chairman of Aston Martin. Richards has managed the team back in the Benetton days, and was also Team Principal of BAR/Honda. He has the commercial and negotiation skills that the team need. He may also be interested in taking over the team should Renault decide to pull out, Aston Martin having made one of the unsuccessful bids to the FIA earlier in the year. Of course David Richards has plenty of other things to keep him busy, however this could be the opportunity he has been waiting for to get back into F1.
June 24, 2009
There have been many books written on the subject of Leadership. One aspect of leadership is that it is often all about timing, being in the right place at the right time (and similarly being in the wrong place at the wrong time). F1 is littered with examples of teams who entered with the wrong car at the wrong time such as Aston Martin and Ferguson in the 1960s and Lotus and Brabham in the 1970s and 1980s. Similarly individuals come and go, some like Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley moved from team ownership to become involved in the running F1 in the early 1980s when they represented the British based Formula 1 constructors in opposition to the FIA and the car manufacturers. They were in the right place at the right time, but they also made the most of their opportunity and progressively strengthened their position over the years.
Now we are in a different place with different antagonists, but many of the same principles apply. So who will end up being in the right place at the right time? Two of the most influential management figures in Formula 1 over the last twenty years are currently conspicuous by their low profile and silence on all matters related to the FIA/FOTA schism. They are Ron Dennis formerly of McLaren, and Jean Todt formerly of Ferrari. They both achieved many victories when at the helm of their respective teams, they also both have reputations as great leaders and as bringers of change within the sport. They may well be now enjoying life on other projects away from the politics of F1, or maybe one or both of these individuals will end up being in the right place at the right time. Time will tell.