A Different Order of Commitment

August 25, 2015

Manor F1 Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon with myself and co-author Ken Pasternak

Manor F1 Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon with myself and co-author Ken Pasternak

I’ve just returned from the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. Although many of my students think that I’m off to a Grand Prix every other weekend, sadly this isn’t the case. In fact, I only tend to visit a Grand Prix when we’re working on a further edition of our book – Performance at the Limit: Business Lessons from Formula 1 Motor Racing. In these situations Mr Ecclestone has kindly supported our endeavours by permitting us access to the F1 Paddock, the essential place to be if you want to meet up with the movers and shakers in the various F1 teams.

The first time was at Imola in 2004 – ten years after that fateful weekend when Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives, then we were at Barcelona in 2008 working on the second edition. Now it’s time for the third edition and, as luck would have it, this time it was the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa that fitted into our publishing schedule – it is a circuit I have always wanted to visit, one that oozes from the history of F1, where else would you find a version of the circuit which was modified in 1979 being referred to as the ‘new’ circuit?

It’s always enjoyable to attend a Grand Prix and to breathe in the real atmosphere of F1, but on the other hand this would hopefully be a fairly straightforward visit – interviewing some familiar and some new faces to update the F1 story and how it provides real insights for organisations and their managers to learn from. I’d managed to make contact with a few people prior to Spa to see if it would be OK for us to talk to them. One of these was Manor’s Graeme Lowdon, I’d never met him before, but I’d always thought he seemed to be a straight-forward and approachable kind of individual, and this was borne out when he responded positively to my Email within 50 mins – no passing me on to the media team, or his PA, just ‘yes, come and see me when you get to the race’ they don’t hang around in F1.

This was great news, our book focused on how other businesses and organisations can learn from F1, and as Manor F1 had just effectively risen from the ashes of administration to race again – I felt that there must be some real issues here that would interest a wider readership. So we met with Graeme at the Manor hospitality unit and I started with the question as to how he and the organisation had dealt with the challenges it had been facing over the last twelve months and how it had managed to make it back to the F1 grid in 2015, my thought was that this would get us into a discussion about the problems of going into administration. But Graeme started talking about the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix and the dreadful accident that befell Jules Bianchi and the challenge of then going to first Russian Grand Prix at Sochi while Jules was still in a critical condition in hospital. How could I have been so crass? Why did I not anticipate that the biggest challenge the team faced was nothing to do with administration, but with the catastrophic injuries suffered by one of their drivers at the Japanese Grand Prix. Like every F1 fan I had been devastated to hear that Jules had lost his fight for life in July 2015, but somehow I had managed to separate this from the organisation and most importantly the people in that organisation. What was I thinking? Or rather why was I not thinking?

How many of us can envisage a situation where one of our colleagues dies in the course of doing his or her job? Sadly, it does happen – today we woke to the sad news that Justin Wilson had succumbed to his injuries at an Indycar race – how do we then pick ourselves up from that devastation, what can those leading the organisation do to help and support others when they themselves are grieving too? And then if you realised that your business was now in a desperate financial situation that could not be immediately resolved, wouldn’t it be easier to walk away? To decide that this was the time to do something else? Not so Graeme Lowdon and John Booth of Manor F1. They pulled Manor from the ashes or perhaps more accurately from EBay, where much of the teams equipment was due to be sold, and they put themselves back on the grid where, currently they are fighting with McLaren for position, a team with around four times the budget and people that they have.

We had a great time at Spa, many of the teams could not have been more helpful and co-operative – particularly Mercedes, McLaren, Williams and Sauber. But my abiding memory will always be Manor F1, what they’ve been through, but also the quiet commitment and resolve they have demonstrated, never giving up, when most of us would have been pleased to be able to do so. One term that is used now and again in F1 is ‘racer’ it means someone who has a passion and a commitment to go racing no matter what, it’s not about the money, it’s not about status or fame, but the joy of racing and the desire to win the next race. Teams like McLaren and Williams epitomise this approach, as do their leadership, and for me so do Manor F1. They have demonstrated a different order of commitment, one which shows who the real racers are.

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