McLaren masterclass: Engineering fast growth

Iconic automotive brand McLaren hosted another Breakthrough Masterclass, providing delegates with insights into performance and quality that could be applied to their own companies. Breakthrough Business Editor Dan Matthews explains.

McLaren is an obvious choice for a Breakthrough Masterclass: the business is a beacon of manufacturing excellence that almost any business could learn from. Cutting-edge innovation, design brilliance, and an attention to detail bordering on obsession are three watch-phrases that describe the approach of this iconic technology company.

McLaren is actually three businesses comprising: Formula 1 racing, performance road vehicles, and applied technologies. The company applies lessons learned in the fine art of motor racing to other industries that can benefit from a more precise, efficient approach. From its headquarters, the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, the business not only builds and rebuilds its race cars for each individual Formula 1 meet, but also creates a line of precision, hand-built supercars supplied to order for individuals around the world.

“The Applied Technologies side of the business started from scratch relatively recently, so the delegates saw a part of McLaren that was perhaps more closely aligned to their own experiences in business,” Rachel Nash, Head of Operations and Delivery for the Breakthrough Programme.

Inspiring insights

A Masterclass at McLaren is an attractive prospect for any fan of quality engineering, or any grown-up with a childhood dream to race, let alone directors of the kind of manufacturing businesses that could learn from McLaren’s innovative and unique approach. Having already taken businesses to world-beaters like Google, LoveFilm and Innocent Drinks, Breakthrough believed McLaren would be the ideal destination to inspire a new crop of bosses from growing entrepreneurial UK companies.

“Masterclasses are an opportunity for delegates to derive insights from businesses that have already been through the growth curve and have become iconic brands,” explains Rachel Nash, Head of Operations and Delivery for the Breakthrough programme. “It’s part of our holistic approach to supporting growth in SMEs. We like businesses to see that our approach is different and that we don’t just offer the financial support, but a complete package to aid their growth and help them to achieve success.”

The Masterclass began with a coffee and an early opportunity for the delegates from 18 different businesses to introduce themselves and network. What followed was a presentation from Mark Williams, McLaren’s Head of Vehicle Engineering, who described the meticulous detail that goes into the production, testing and data-capture of McLaren’s Formula 1 cars.

The delegates were treated to a film charting McLaren’s history and successes, before being given a tour of the Technology Centre itself, taking in all of the major racing cars created by the company and dating back to the first cars tinkered with by founder Bruce McLaren himself. Delegates also witnessed Formula 1 engineers in the McLaren garage servicing and working on the F1 cars from the most recent race in preparation for the next. Following this on the tour was an exclusive visit to the road car production plant, where performance vehicles are hand-built by expert technicians, and tested and tested again to ensure they maintain top performance in all conditions.

“Looking at the domestic manufacturing side, where cars are constructed for sale, it was unlike any other production line I have ever seen,” said Rachel. “There were a lot of technicians, but everything seemed to be done quietly and efficiently without any feeling of a rush or stress to get things out the door. It’s far more important for McLaren to get it right and delight the customer first time around.”

“The expertise really came through from just watching the staff working,” she adds. “There was an individual that we got to meet who worked on the F1 floor and was responsible for the F1 cars 25 years ago. His knowledge and experience were absolutely invaluable, as he would continue to work on that car and current models. It was apparent that this length of service was not unique to just him.”

The inside track

After a break for lunch and further networking opportunities, the group heard a presentation and Q&A session with Geoff McGrath, Vice President of McLaren Applied Technologies, an ‘SME’ in its own right that aims to bring Formula 1 precision to a range of other applications.

Delegates learned how Formula 1 teams harvest data in a similar way to other industries where performance is key, such as sport and medicine, and how it could one day be used to produce optimum performance in individuals going about their everyday lives. “The Applied Technologies side of the business started from scratch relatively recently, so the delegates saw a part of McLaren that was perhaps more closely aligned to their own experiences in business,” says Rachel.

A valuable experience

Delegates were overheard discussing in wonder some of the more unusual aspects of the McLaren business, including the fact that pit crews, who among other things have to change all four tyres in pit stops in less than three seconds, are contractually obliged to use the gym in order to stay in shape. The gym and swimming pool are provided on-site, of course.

The Masterclass was a resounding success and afterwards feedback poured into Breakthrough about how much of a valuable experience it had been and how many lessons had been learned. Many of the delegates said they planned to translate aspects of the McLaren way into their own businesses.

For many, the day ended too quickly. But, as they acknowledged, this event was a fine line between gathering information for their businesses and living out childhood dreams.

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