Life Lessons: Motoring ahead in lifeby Yasmin Helal on Feb 8, 2017
Having worked in Formula One (F1) my whole life, my career led to interesting opportunities because I met a fellow Irishman in 1990 called Eddie Jordan who decided to set up an F1 team so I joined him and worked with him for the next 12 years. It was very interesting because we started the team from scratch and it took us 7 years to build the team up and we eventually became a winning team.
After we sold the team to a private equity, I moved on to work for RedBull who used to be a sponsor and decided to buy their own F1 team. This was a different experience for me because I took over an existing team with 600 employees and two quite large factories in England. Our task was to transform this team, which had been very uncompetitive and had not achieved its objectives, into winners, which we achieved. The team became world champions in 2010 and went on to dominate F1 for four years. It remains one of the biggest teams today.
In 2010, I was invited to become the managing director of an England-based company called Cosworth, which manufactures the engines, electronics, and software for 30% of the F1 teams. My job was to run that business, a completely technical exercise and entailed managing 300 engineers, which was a very different type of challenge for me because my background is commercial. Also, I went from being a part of a team to working on the supplier’s side.
Now, I get invited to talk at conferences around the world like ADIPEC. For audience from the energy sector, I give presentations about some of the business and leadership topics that have a good cross over between my field and the sector such as health and safety issues. For example, F1 is a very dangerous sport that used to have a lot of fatalities. Between 1950 and 1994, over 44 F1 drivers were killed. In contrast, the last 22 years saw only one fatality. What changed is our safety culture; we have put safety at the centre of all of our operations and engineering.
Some of the most difficult times of my career have been when people I worked with lost their lives in racing. One of my best friends had a very serious accident while racing, which ended his career. He survived but he suffered very serious injuries and I spent many months visiting him in the hospital. Afterwards, I made sure I never forget that while the sport is very exciting there is a darker side to it. This is why now I enjoy speaking at conferences about health and safety.
I feel very blessed. I have had a career involved in my favourite sport. I have worked with some great F1 drivers. Before he moves on to win seven world championships, Michael Schumacher’s first F1 race was for my team. It is a privilege to meet such people because you really see the difference in the way they focus, their attention to details, and also the way they inspire others. Michael was a very inspirational person in a way that made working with him as well as competing against him a big highlight in my career because he is the best we have ever seen.
The very first time I won an F1 race is a day I will never forget. We had worked so hard for 8 years to build the team and to be number one. To be able to beat the major teams in the world and to see everything come together, made it an extremely important and memorable day in my life.
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