Winning Lessons from Formula One -Mark Gallaher

At the end of 2012 and as an adjunct to The Abu Dhabi Formula 1 event, Innoverto, a leading Training and Development Company in the region and one of our Media Partners invited us to a morning session on The Business of Winning, Business Lessons from Formula One presented by Mark Gallaher, who uses his experience of 30 years in Formula One and the lessons he has learned from being a top executive in this highly competitive global industry.
Mark Gallagher has spent the last 15 years as a senior executive at Jordan Grand Prix, Jaguar/ Red Bull Racing and Cosworth. Formula One™ is a unique mix of business and sport, where strong leadership, efficient team work, split second decision making and a clear focus on delivery are required to compete at the highest levels in the 20 Grand Prix which comprise the FIA Formula One World Championship.

Having been fortunate enough to have been given a free ticket to the race the year before, but, I have to say not having much to say about the sport in general, I was intrigued by what these lessons might be. On attending the event in 2011, for about 5 minutes, I thought I had understood the adrenaline rush of speed and the noise of watching those machines tear around the track. But 10 minutes in the novelty of the noise had worn off, my neck was hurting from the 180 degrees swivel, and unable to hear the commentary, it took me 45 minutes into the race before I could make out who was driving what! I retreated inside to see if the TV screens would tell me more. No such luck, the noise had won! Looking around I began to scan the fans and realised here was a sport beloved by many a small “boy” (actually men in the mature years) dressed in their favourite team outfit with the names of their favourite drivers on their T shirts, and hats. Oh well perhaps it beats trainspotting anoraks in the sport fashion world.

So, I was wondering what lessons was I going to learn from Mark. It is a measure of the stories Mark told on his lessons from the sport, that in January I can still remember them, have in fact shared the lessons at dinner parties, in training and to many who have listened fascinated. Formula 1 is a great story.

1.Entrepreneurial Leadership and Split Second Decision Making

Alan was a great storyteller, and from the outset I was hooked. He began by talking about the beginnings of Formula One as we know it today,– way back in the sixties when Bernie Eccleston, a second hand car salesman at the time, grabbed an opportunity to buy a race team. In those days the team calendar consisted of 14 events in differing countries. If a team won after eight races they often failed to turn up for the remaining four- not best perhaps for the loyal fans!

Having bought his team Bernie noticed that there was a gap in TV coverage on a Sunday in the UK. Most people in those days watched repeat old films, there was no Sunday shopping, or fell asleep after a large Sunday lunch! Bernie saw an opportunity, and approached the BBC with a proposal. He offered exclusive coverage of motor racing, he guaranteed 14 events fully attended by all the teams ( he had already brokered the deal with all the teams to guarantee to be fully present with all the competing drivers), and also was shrewd enough to insist that the viewing was just under two hours. Just enough not to be too long and not to take the men away from the family for too long! The TV company was delighted but mistakenly thought that Bernie’s company was going to pay them! They were mistaken

2. Competitive Edge and Sponsorship

Bernie had no intention of paying in fact he had designs of being paid by the TV companies, and so he was a pioneer in introducing the art of competitiveness into sport coverage, as then threatened to approach another TV company if they did not agree. He got his contract and that was the beginning of televised motor racing on Sundays- the bane of many a spouse I am sure.

Over the years, this competition to host formula One events and televised coverage have brought the sport to the attention of governments, who are now competing to have the Formula One event in their countries as they see how it brings attention, tourism, and much needed publicity and income.

Interestingly enough sponsorship deals are no longer the source of income they were, and even more surprisingly Alan shared that it is not really and issue, any more even though they lost the lucrative deals of smoking. Only Marlboro has survived the ban, and they have been forced to modify their logo. Which leads me to the next lesson, as it here through managing change that their core business is now founded.

Innovation and Creativity

As the industry now behind Formula One is engineering it is here that the story takes on a great twist. I was proud to come to know that 80% of F1 industry is based in the UK! Because F1 has, through competition, sought to innovate its technology, through necessity, or through truly highly creative engineering teams, and strong completion, they have managed to innovate on many levels, which has come to the attention of industries such as aviation, medicine, and the motor industry to name but a few.

Aviation: The aviation industry recently have suffered from delays in production, design faults, safety fears etc, and have noticed that the F1 industry, manages to bring things to the table on time, within budget and incredibly creatively. They are now seeking their help.


The technical innovation shown in F1 for example their rotating joint on their pit stop control arms have come to the notice of artificial limb experts. The pit stop success has impacted emergency operations as F1 pit stop teams have worked with medical teams to reduce the timing of their placing and removing pipes from patients which have dramatically reduced incidents of death after emergency ops etc.

Motor Industry

After, Ayrton Senna’s death in May 1994, the motor industry recognised that they had not cared for the safety of their drivers enough. They had lost scores of drivers up until then, and in fact perhaps death and accidents is what people were thrilled to watch. So the industry, made a momentous decision to improve driver safety, vowing never to lose another driver. Too date they haven’t and we were shown incredible crashes from which both drivers and support teams have walked away with hardly a scratch! It is this dedication to employee safety, which has driven innovation and creativity for F1 today. – salutary lesson for every industry interested in the outcomes of employee engagement.


F1 is a great example of how great teamwork produces high performance and high employee engagement, and great results. We need look no further than the pit-stop challenge which last year brought the record down to below 3 seconds! High competitive spirit and innovation from the pit stop teams working with the engineering teams – another example of cross team co-operation.


My final story from the winning lessons is about employee recognition. This story takes place in a high-level strategy meeting at HQ in UK with some very lofty attendees. Dave a “lowly” employee was serving them tea during the meeting. As he was serving Dave interrupted the meeting and asked if he might add his ideas on strategy. All in the meeting, who wondered what on earth he could add to the discussion, rebuffed him with disdain. Anyway, come race day, the teams were out with the support crew all ready with screens and headphones monitoring the race and with strategy in place, or so they thought! All of a sudden they heard a voice interrupt saying helloooo! It was Dave on a walkie- talkie telling them of the impending weather! They could see it was raining and the strategy was to fill the cars with a little fuel and then the rain would stop and they would have another pit stop later in the race. Lighter cars carrying less fuel go faster! Anyway, Dave persisted and said, “ I think you should know but from the type of clouds out there I don’t think the rain is going to stop all day! “ The support team countered by saying, “ What the hell do you know about weather?” Dave answered, “ I am Scottish!” So, they decided that that was expertise enough, changed the whole strategy of the race, filled the car in the pit stop to the gunnels, making the car heavier, but not having to stop again in the rain throughout the race! They won by a huge margin. Other teams after the race were asking,” How did you do it? Why did you not have more than one pit stop?” When they heard the answer that Dave on his bike a couple of miles down the road from the race was monitoring the weather which had changed their strategy, the whole of the strategy for every team from that day on changed. To this day they have a “Dave” out there looking at the weather. He might be a bit bored here in Abu Dhabi however. Lesson? Never, ignore the lowliest employee when he makes a suggestion.

Respect F1!