Norman Jackson meets a Grand Prix Icon with an unbeatable business
In a recent Victoria Foundation Charity Sports Dinner in Richmond Guest
Speaker Gordon Murray, for fifty years at the forefront of vehicle engineering
and car design, gave the ultimate masterclass in transferrable skills.
It was Charles Darwin who said, “It is not the strongest or the most
intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change” – and when
it comes to change, Gordon is a master.
Born to Scottish immigrant parents, Gordon grew up in Durban, taking a
mechanical engineering degree. He built and raced his own car in South
Africa before coming to the UK, when he became involved in Formula1 by
joining Brabham, for whom he worked for 12 years before spending three
years with McLaren. His cars have won over 50 Grand Prix, 5 Drivers’ and 3
Constructors’ World Championships. He then designed the McLaren F1 Road
Car which won the Le Mans 24 hours race at its first attempt and for the last
eleven years, he has run his own Surrey based Consultancy – Gordon Murray
Design, which has gained a global reputation.
Here are five things, business owners can learn from Gordon.
• In professional sport, feedback is immediate – change becomes a necessity.
Continuous change has been part of his DNA such that Gordon Murray Design
has now developed the iStream® manufacturing system which incorporates F1
technology, delivering new levels of lightweight, safety, and manufacturing
flexibility. Other breakthrough designs include City Cars and the “OX”, a ‘flat-
pack’ all-terrain, 3.5-ton truck, that will benefit people living in Africa and other
parts of the developing world – for some, the impact could be as big as Ford’s
T- Model automobile.
• Ideas and inspirations come to him easily (even in the bath!) – but he follows
through and implements. Many business owners have good ideas but have
difficulty completing – as Felix Dennis, the colourful Publisher, Poet and
Philanthropist said “Ideas? We’ve had ‘em since Eve deceived Adam but take it
from me, Execution is the Key”.
• Some people achieve great things but continuously have doubts about
themselves (Billy Connolly always thought that someone would tap him on the
shoulder and say “Billy – your time’s up – it’s back to welding in the Glasgow
shipyards for you“). – But others like Gordon, have an inner belief. The only time
he broke out in sweat was when he recently re-visited his Brabham works
premises and the enormity of his then responsibilities kicked in. He had been
made Chief Designer by Bernie Eccleston at the age of 26 with a staff of
around 18 (Mercedes now has around 1,500).
• Giving back to the community or industry sector is the mark of a top business
person – Gordon spends much time writing for the Classic Car Magazine,
speaking at schools, universities and elsewhere and being part of judging panels.
By doing this, it keeps himself and his ideas fresh.
• Some pundits say, “I am going into business to make money” – but that rarely
works. It is first following a passion and assuming there is a market, the money
will follow. Yet, what strikes me is the enjoyment and richness of a business
journey behind a truly rewarding and satisfying career.