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Racing to success

Martin Fullard meets Nick Butcher, executive director, HR Strategy Pro, to learn how events can grow businesses through the prism of motorsport.

I worked in motorsport for 13 years, and during that time met some of the most dynamic individuals and organisations that I know. The quest for excellence is part and parcel of success in motorsport. You only have to watch Formula 1 teams change a set of tyres in 2.5 seconds to realise that efficiency is at the sport’s core.

However, it was only after leaving the sport that I realised how transferable the core skills of management and precision are to the wider business world. It got me thinking that wouldn’t it be great if you could draw on motorsport expertise as an event concept for your organisation? As luck would have it, I know a man who has launched a programme that does just that. 

Nick Butcher is the executive director at HR Strategy Pro and together with a strong network of motorsport partners, including former Formula 1 and current British Touring Car driver Mark Blundell’s driver agency MB Partners, has developed a motorsport inspired training programme which is applicable to all industry sectors: it is called Ignition.

Fittingly, we meet at Mercedes-Benz World, Surrey, where I ask Butcher to explain what the Ignition programme is all about. “We look at unlocking people performance in businesses, and explore leadership and teamwork development,” he says. “We launched Ignition as a product that utilises the lessons from motorsport and other high-performance sports, which we call our motorsport DNA, which provides companies with bespoke leadership and teamwork training courses. We take the lessons from top level motorsport which can transport back into client businesses.”

It sounds like a solid concept. Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, and teams spend millions developing their personnel to be the best they can be. Butcher is keen to stress the importance of immersing people in this environment, and as such, has negotiated use of real-life Formula 1 factories, like the Williams Conference Centre in Wantage, Oxfordshire, which he used for Ignition's launch event in January 2020.

He adds that not only can he take delegations for bespoke training at a Formula 1 factory, but also draw on the expertise and inspiration offered by racing drivers from MB Partners or team members from within the venue they choose. Also depending on which venue you pick, you can enjoy a number of teambuilding activities such as the 'pitstop challenge', state of the art race sims or even karting. 

It is an original way to deliver a training session through direct contact with those at peak performance. 

I ask Butcher to explain the benefits it offers businesses, and how the programme can help clients grow. He says: “It is all about upskilling your team and we are trying to do that in an environment in which people can relate to. Rather than taking delegates away to an anonymous hotel and talking about boring leadership and teamwork models, we believe that with element of hosting it at sports venues, makes it more immersive with something that people will be able to see and feel. Plus, they may not realise it, but they already have an understanding of the basics because they watch it at the weekend. Our skill is drawing that out into a business context.”

Why did he choose motorsport as the foundation for this, and what stands out as an analogy for other businesses? He says: “The more I’ve worked in leadership, performance and people strategy, the more I’ve realised people think that motorsport is a pinnacle to unlocking people performance. In Formula 1, you have 10 teams, which are essentially 10 businesses, and they are publicly winning or losing. 

“They employ between 400-1,000 people. If they haven’t got the people engaged to work for them and to innovate, then that is the difference between winning and losing. You can use an example of a pit stop: in 2010 it took 3.4s to change all four tyres, now it is 1.9s. You are seeing a team working together with trust and engagement, but also constant striving to be the best.”

As many corporate event organisers and agencies which are tasked with handling internal communications and training events will testify, strategy is key. There’s a lot of businesses, perhaps unwittingly, which are ambling year-to-year without a coherent plan. To change the mindset of a team, to galvanise them to deliver results, you need to work towards a clearer strategy, and Butcher agrees. He says: “Everything is about strategy, even when you have got businesses who are free with their working hours, you still need the structure, you need to control the situation rather than letting your employees control you. If you are too free and too relaxed, you will run something that isn’t productive. 

 

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“From the top of an organisation you need to buy into a strategy, then you need your team to be working together towards that. A lot of people invest in marketing and showcasing brands, but you need to ask yourself what people you need to deliver on your plan. It is about embracing the talent that you have got but then understanding them and your own key strengths and weaknesses better. 

“By doing this you can then understand which areas you need to focus on when looking at a recruitment strategy or upskilling your team to move forward.”

There will be some who may not understand the connection between how the motorsports-based programme can work as an event, so how would Butcher demonstrate the ROI?

“Sport as whole is very relatable,” he says. “Ultimately these courses are bespoke to individual business, therefore ROI is absolute key. We look at the pinch points of a business and advise accordingly. We assess what the business needs are and what level its management is at, then talk to the individuals on staff and analyse their opinions, as everyone has their own individual values.” 

Butcher continues: “From the information we gather, we feed it into the course, tailoring it to ensure it is relevant. We take them through stages, such as the theory of leadership and how to apply it to their business, then build modules to help them execute what they have learned.In terms of ROI, a well-trained team which is in synchronisation with company values will result in a higher retention and higher productivity rate. This will naturally lead to savings that will then be made on areas such salaries and outsourced upskilling.”

Butcher is well connected in the world of motorsport, and as such has honed the Ignition programme in this arena. He shares an example of how the programme helped transform a performing racing team into an even stronger-performing racing team. 

He explains: “Last season, thanks to a partnership we had with their driver Louis Foster (who finished 3rd in the British F4 Championship and is one of the drivers managed by MB Partners), we worked with his team, Double R Racing (based in Woking, Surrey and co-founded by 2007 F1 World champion Kimi Raikkonen) the week they won the British Formula 4 Team’s Championship, which was an interesting session as they were already a successful team of individuals. However, it’s just not about winning a one-off; they want sustainable success for seasons to come and so it was important for us to work with them to focus on unlocking that. 

“We sat down with them and looked at some case studies of sports teams that have achieved this. In Formula 1 you can look at teams like Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, but we also looked at other successful teams such as Manchester United through the 90s/2000s and the rise of Team GB in the Olympics. We then asked them to think of their own examples, before they took those values and set up their own core team values, which served as the ‘buy-in’ for their team the following season. These team values are now proudly displayed in the team’s factory in Woking and each team member knows what it means to be a part of Double R Racing. In fact, they use the phrase 'WE R DOUBLE R' which I think is really powerful. 

 “Double R Racing may be a motorsport team but we have run that same course for charities, manufactures, health and safety, and automotive companies, so it is industry agnostic. The thing that made Double R unique as a case study is because we were dealing with an already high-performance team who wanted more.”

HR Strategy Pro’s Ignition programme is worth checking out if you are looking for new and innovative ways to help grow you or your client’s business. Courses are available for a range of budgets. Visit www.hrstrategypro.co.uk/ignition or email info@hrstrategypro.co.uk for more details.