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There seem to be a range of articles around at the moment analysing the current problems at Ferrari. There are suggestions that Ross Brawn is returning, that Eric Boullier should be recruited, or that Ferrari should relocate to the UK, as they once did in the 1980s.

To add my own pennyworth into the discussion, I see the problem as one which impacts on many organisations around the globe. The problem is the nature of the relationship between a specialist business unit and the corporate centre. Corporate centres, and the senior managers within them, like to feel they are the ones in control, they are the ones that call the shots, and, generally, because they own the overall business, they are correct. However the managers in the business unit are the ones who really understand the industry, the market and how to get things done in this particular situation. So there is inevitably a tension between these two worlds. The term often used to describe the relationship between the business unit and the corporate centre is corporate parenting.

There are many different approaches to corporate parenting. At two extremes we have the laissez faire approach where – to extend the parent/child analogy – we don’t care what our children do, as long as they are getting the right results. We don’t tell them when to work on their homework, or what to write in their reports, we give them a set of boundaries and we let them get on with it, we judge them by their results rather than their activities. In a corporate sense this could be like the relationship between Tata and Jaguar Land Rover. Tata don’t tell JLR what cars to build or where to sell them, they set some overall targets and tell them to get on with it. At the other parental extreme we micro-manage and attempt to control everything our children do. We tell them when to do their homework, we continually check their work (whether they ask or not) and suggest how they could improve things in a great deal of detail, and perhaps we even end up doing it for them. This is over-protective parenting, where we focus on control and micro-managing activities in the assumption that this will produce the best results. This is analogous to the relationship between JLR and their previous owners the Ford Motor Company. In this relationship they were told what models to lauch in what markets, how to price, market them etc. In other words the managers in the business unit were being micro-managed by the centre, unable to do the things that they felt would work best in their specific markets.

Ferrari are the most successful team in F1. Ever. Their most successful period owes much to the driving skills of Michael Schumacher, the technical orchestration of Ross Brawn, the design brilliance of Rory Byrne and engine director Paolo Martinelli. But it owes equally as much, if not more, to the management style of Jean Todt. Todt protected the F1 Team from the parent Fiat. This also would not have been possible without the support from, then President, Luca di Montezemolo. Montezemolo had been responsible for appointing Todt. It was always tempting for Fiat/Ferrari to meddle with the F1 team, particularly in the mid-nineties when the results were not yet there, but this would ultimately have destroyed their ability to compete and dominate F1. Just look at what happened when the Ford Motor Company took over Stewart Grand Prix and turned it into a corporate political football called Jaguar Racing. The team lost its direction and leadership and ultimately failed. When they then became Red Bull Racing the story was somewhat different.

Parents who micro-manage their children may be well-intentioned, but ultimately misguided. If we want our children to become capable, well-developed individuals, we have to give them space to grow, make mistakes, learn and build their own capabilities. Organisations are no different. The main problem I see at Ferrari is the managerial style and approach of Sergio Marchionne. As Chief Executive of Fiat Chrysler he has ended up micro-managing the F1 team – Scuderia Ferrari. He has made their success in F1 a very personal crusade and he has also been quick to get rid of those that he saw as not supporting his approach. Hiring and firing can be very important to build a great team, but, if done badly and for the wrong reasons, it can destroy a great team and create a culture of blame and fear from which success will never grow.

Great leaders are great enablers. Their secret is that they allow others to flourish and develop and bring their abilities to the organisation. Just look at how Mateschitz built up Red Bull Racing. He doesn’t micro-manage. He has good people in place, they know about racing, and he lets them get on with the job. Marchionne should take a step back and give Scuderia Ferrari and its leaders the space they need to build future success.

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Inspired Leaders Network

July 21, 2016

On 5 July 2016 I took part in a panel discussion at an Inspired Leaders Network event held at the London School of Economics. I shared the stage with my co-author on ‘Performance at the Limit’, Ken Pasternak, and Williams F1 Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds. Hosted by the ILN’s own business guru René Carayol, the focus of the discussion was the learnings that organisations and leaders can take from looking at the world of Formula 1. As ever, Pat was succinct and insightful in his comments and Ken and I were able to reprise some of the key messages from the third edition of the book. You can find a review of the event and some video clips here:

http://www.inspiredleaders.com/event/performance-at-the-limit

In one of my lectures on strategic change I use a quote from Professor Larry Greiner, formerly of the Harvard Business School, ‘The clues to future success lie in the past’. I use it to explore the notion that every organisation has a unique history and it is only by understanding that history and using it to build future success that organisations can succeed in a way that is impossible for their competitors to copy. Let’s face it, most organisation’s today have very similar strategies, what makes the difference is their ability to deliver the strategy and the uniqueness they bring from their past. When you look at success stories like Apple and Harley Davidson you can see that the key is that they build on their past successes in ways that are relevant to present and future markets.

Never has the principle of remembering your past, but adapting to the future been more readily demonstrated than in Formula 1. Enzo Ferrari was first and foremost a builder of racing cars, he moved into supplying customers with versions of his racing cars to help fund the racing, but he was never a mere automotive manufacturer. Ferrari’s focus on the cars led to suggestions that he disliked drivers becoming too successful and would often manage things to suggest that ultimately it was the car that was the reason for winning, not the driver. A strong focus on the car has permeated many of the F1 teams in the UK, with Lotus, McLaren and Williams all concerned with the racing car as the focus, of course they wanted good drivers, but ultimately it was all about the car. Frank Williams’ famous mantra for anyone wanting him to sign a cheque was always ‘Will it make the car go faster?’.

The story at Red Bull Racing however demonstrates a very different history. Dietrich Mateschitz supported by his driver coach/mentor Dr Helmut Marko was never into cars. His focus has always been unequivocally on the driver. Red Bull entered F1 not as car maker, but as a sponsor with a clear focus on developing driver talent. They bought a stake in the Sauber team in 1995, and in 2001 introduced the Red Bull Junior Team under the guidance of Dr Marko. The purpose of Red Bull Juniors was to develop young talent, and ultimately to move them into F1. This included a young German, Sebastian Vettel, who Red Bull had first supported driving karts in 2000 when he was 12 years old. In 2001 Mateschitz had a disagreement with Peter Sauber; Mateschitz wanted Enrique Bernoldi in the car, whereas Sauber was keen on a young Finn called Kimi Raikkonen. As a consequence Mateschitz withdrew his funding from Sauber and looked to purchase the struggling Arrows team to provide a seat for Bernoldi. This failed to work out, but in 2004 he was looking for a drive for a young Austrian driver, Christian Klein, and in discussions with Jaguar Racing discovered that Ford might be interested in selling the team. He purchased Jaguar Racing with the initial intention of keeping the existing management team, but a disagreement over…wait for it… drivers, meant that they were relieved of their posts and Christian Horner became the new team principal at the start of 2005.

So in the end what we have is a very different history that marks Red Bull Racing ultimately as a team constructed for Red Bull drivers to show their talent, not, like Ferrari, McLaren or Williams for the building of racing cars, and like most aspects of an organisation’s history, it is both a strength and a weakness. So what happened in the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix is perhaps less surprising than you may think and maybe what arises from Vettel ignoring team orders is more a question for Christian Horner and, particularly, Adrian Newey as to the kind of organisation they want to work for, and the kind of history they want to leave behind, than it is for anything related to drivers or indeed cars.

One of the fascinations of Formula 1, from a business strategy perspective, is how the same organisation suddenly shifts from being nowhere to a championship contender and equally how a championship contender suddenly ends up nowhere.

The obvious explanation for many is that it is simply all about money, the more money you have the better car you produce and the better driver you recruit so inevitably you will win more races. Not so. If it was all about money why didn’t Toyota’s huge investment in an F1 operation allow them to win a single race, even though today some of the top-teams are still making use of their wind tunnel in Cologne? If it was all about money then Renault would not have won their world championships in 2005 and 2006 and the team that was BAR and then Honda would surely have achieved more success on the track before they became Brawn in 2009?

Of course money is a key part of the equation. I remember former Jaguar Racing boss, Tony Purnell, describing Formula 1 as a ‘celebration of unfairness’, you can see his point, the richest teams have the most resource to get sponsors and performance on the track, and when they do well they get even more revenue from the distributed media royalties via Formula One Management, the more you have the more you can get. But that’s what makes it fascinating when the underdog does pull through. When Williams produced their FW07 car back in 1980 they were running on a shoestring and only could afford one week in the wind tunnel at Imperial College to try out Patrick Head’s ground-effect design, and yet they produced a better car than the all-dominant Lotus and went on to become world champions. When Dietrich Mateschitz bought Jaguar Racing for a ‘nominal sum’ (and all the debts as well – so in reality a bit more than £1) most could not see how he would turnaround a team that had showed potential as Stewart Grand Prix, but had become a corporate political football for various groups of Ford’s management to fight over and ultimately destroy, and yet today we all see them as the obvious favourites for the championship.

Today many argue that the technology is so tightly regulated and the focus so much on continuous improvement, rather than innovation, that we will not see the kind of turnarounds that we have seen in the past. I’m more optimistic, there is a huge wealth of engineering talent in F1 and it is not just about the superstars drawing the seven figure salaries, there’s a lot of creativity out there and maybe this year we could get a few surprises that show that at the end of the day performance in F1 isn’t just about money.

The Three Futures of #F1

December 1, 2011

With the 2011 season now at an end the teams are working even harder on their 2012 cars. We are also getting more clarity on driver line-ups, with F1 very much in tune with work practices in general – extending the retirement age with Kimi Raikkonen now returning to F1, this time with Lotus Renault, not sure if he’s having to make bigger pension contributions.

But while much of the media attention focuses on 2012, the movers and shakers: the Team Principals and FOTA, the FIA, Formula One Management and CVC are all focused on 2013. This is when a new Concorde Agreement should come into effect. Recently in the FT, Leisure Industries Correspondent, Roger Blitz aligned the politics of F1 to those of the Eurozone, with an intense battle emerging between the haves (Bernie and CVC) and have-nots (FOTA and FIA) – my definition not Roger’s. The complex web that is the governance of F1 is yet again going to be stretched and rewoven, and currently, no-one is quite sure how this will all end up. Certainly we will see Bernie at his best – he always enjoys a good fight – and will undoubtedly be focusing on divide and rule with the teams, not a new strategy, but always an effective one, but who knows perhaps Martin Whitmarsh and his peers will be able to keep FOTA united and carve out a good result? The key is going to be where the FIA end up. In the past they have traditionally aligned against the teams, but perhaps this time we will see a new permutation? Expect plenty of off-track fireworks during 2012.

However there are those in F1 for whom 2012 and 2013 matters not a jot: for the technical strategists in the teams work is well underway for the 2014 regulations which will require the cars to have 1.6 litre V6 power units and substantial Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) to harvest and reuse the energy to improve performance. The engine manufacturers are well underway with a variety of permutations and concepts and the teams will be keen to see how they can build the optimum package from this new powertrain.

All in all the next few years are going to be a busy time for anyone involved in F1, regardless of whether or not the Eurozone holds together.

Mark Webber: the off-strategy expert with my co-author, Richard West. Photo: Jenkins, Pasternak & West

Mark Webber secured an outstanding victory in Hungary yesterday, partly due to luck, partly due to some outstanding laps on the shorter life ‘option’ tyre, and also because, in his words, he went ‘off strategy’. One of the most important things about a strategic plan is knowing when to abandon it, and that’s exactly what Red Bull did when the Safety Car came out on lap on Lap 14. The accepted wisdom is to make your pitstop as soon as the safety car comes out thereby changing your tyres when the field is going relatively slowly, and so you lose less time. The problem for Red Bull is that this was fine for Vettel, who was leading, but would have meant that Webber would have remained behind Alonso in third place, and they wanted a 1-2. So they kept him out. This meant he was now in front with a clear track and had the task of building up a 20second lead over Alonso to move to second place when he made his pitstop. It worked perfectly, but was also helped (inadvertently I think!) by his teammate Sebastian Vettel, who lost radio contact and became disorientated during the safety car period and allowed Webber to pull out a big gap between him and the rest of the field and so Webber disappeared into the distance when the safety car came in. Unfortunately for Vettel his tardiness in following Webber meant that he had exceeded the 10 car gap (does someone measure this?!) permitted by the regulations and so got a drive through penalty, which demoted him from a pretty certain win to third place. So Webber and Vettel swapped places, and it was nothing (as far as we know) to do with team orders.

The other point of note from the race was just how close F1 is to a major disaster, despite all the work on safety. In the rush to get in and out of the pits when the safety car came in, Rosberg left with a disconnected rear right hand wheel, which promptly flew through the Sauber pit crew bounced some ten metres in the air and came to rest against a Williams mechanic, Nigel Hope, who fortunately was not badly injured. In the confusion that followed Robert Kubica was released from his pit box just as Adrian Sutil was trying to enter his and a collision occurred, mercifully with no injuries, but it could have been so much worse. Finally we had Michael’s ‘tough’ move on Rubens that was within centimetres of disaster, Rubens could have been intimidated and lifted off, but he didn’t and there was great joy in the Williams garage, it was only for a single point, but for Rubens making the move stick on Schumacher was worth a whole lot more.