Spirit of New Zealand

While he was here in NZ for the launch of the Epic drive, I had the privilege of meeting with McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt. A car fanatic, dog lover (has a West Highland Terrier named Ellie), Part time racing driver (he and his wife Mia race Lotus Elise and Elan) and has an inquisitive mind.

I have to say, that this is the first time I’ve attended an interview where for the initial ten minutes I was the interviewee. Mike Flewitt is not only a very charismatic guy that immediately makes you feel comfortable but he’s also a genuinely curious guy that wants to know how everything works; and I mean everything!

Is this your first time in NZ?
Second, came here in 2013 when this dealership opened. This was a special one, it was ur 50th anniversary and this was the 50th dealership we opened. Giltraps have been huge supporters of McLaren all the way through so it just felt like it was one I had to come to.
This was still the only one that we had to do over two nights, there were so many people that wanted to come.’ There is such a love of McLaren here

Your background, you’re an engineer by trade?
I’m a production guy. I started with Ford Motor company in 1982, that ages me a bit, I started on the shop floor as a production worker, then Ford trained me in engineering qualifications and I stayed in production. I’ve pretty much done everything in production.
I did leave Ford for a while, worked for another couple of companies, Rolls-Royce and Bentley and Volvo and then went back to Ford again and by the time I left to come to McLaren I was VP of Ford Global.

So that brings on the big question, the big jump from a company so mammoth to McLaren which is (in the nicest possible way) a minnow.
He laughs. I’m an absolute car fanatic, I buy classic cars, I buy modern cars, I race old cars, so cars are my life and I’m very fortunate my wife (Mia) is passionate about them, she races (the race their ‘61 Lotus Elise and ‘63 Lotus Elan), so my whole life is built around cars. Two or three times I’d been approached about jobs that were really exciting but I liked my career in Ford, I was doing very well, I had elected in a sense to stay the relatively safe route - I was in charge of 23 factories, 45,000 people working for me - it was staggering. But they came along with this, (McLaren), and I um’d and Ahh’d about it but I thought if I don’t take the opportunity to go and be part of McLaren - because I really believe this company could be a success, it’s one of the only companies to start up a supercar company and be successful, we have great cars, great shareholder's, great technical people, I thought this could work, I was 50, I thought I could go and make this the latter part of my career and be part of something that is just amazing - and I haven’t regretted it for a minute. Four and a half years now and it’s the hardest I’ve ever worked but it’s most I’ve ever enjoyed myself. Genuinely.

Yeah, I hear there is quite the ‘cult’ure in McLaren
He laughs again (thankfully). Everyone is passionate that works there. I had a friend whose son wanted to come and work with us. After a couple of days he called and said his son told him how stressed and overworked they are but how they couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. I thought, stressed is not something to be proud of but I’m proud that everyone works hard and is so motivated. It’s a great place to work and I think that because it’s such a small company (around 1,700 I believe) everybody can feel part of the success. There is a sense of pride across the workforce, shares in the accolades that McLaren receive.’

So it wasn’t a planned/Strategic move then.
Of course it was (he jokes). My career philosophy has been quite strange in a way, I went to university, didn’t like it Dropped out, Joined Ford absolutely loved it (went on to do a masters degree through Ford) I was 20. And ever since I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve had. I think if you just enjoy what you do, you look at the opportunities that come up, you pick the ones that you think are right, then you g and do that as well as you can - it kinda works. Then other opportunities present themselves. Yes, this was a bit of a gamble but it’s quite unprecedented what McLaren have done, Stared a car company, then six years on get to where we are, where we’re a true competitor to some of the most incredible brand in the world. So; Sometimes you’ve got to take risks - Bruce himself took some risks.

What would be your typical day?
I guess I do two or three different things. I have a day where I go into the office, I have days where I go to customer events and I have days where I travel (airports, dealership/business meetings, airport, home). Customer event I go to alot because a lot of people ask me wow going from Ford to McLaren must be completely different and I say engineering cars isn’t, it’s lower volume but isn’t different, it’s stuff I’ve been doing for 32 years. What’s different is the customers. Because we’re in a luxury business, it’s a completely discretionary purchase, nobody needs to have a McLaren, so it’s a very different world and what I wanted to do was just to get to understand the customers. What they liked, what they didn’t like about McLaren. So 50% of my weekends I’m at a customer event somewhere. The better we get to know them, the better we can tailor our product and services to them.
Typical office day, I get up go for a swim, 7am in the office, then attend a whole range of meetings. I like to go and checks on production.

Is that home for you?
Yeah, I probably drive them mad because the last thing they want is me telling them every detail when they know it themselves. But my management style… I think through very carefully with the people we've got. The strategy, what is the direction of the business, I then get into a lot of the detail of what the plans are and once we’ve got that agreed, so we’ve aligned our operational plans with the strategy we’ve got, I get out of it and let people do their job but I look at the detail, I look at the measurement of are we on plan, and if we’re not that’s where I put my time in, if I can help, if I can use the resources of the business to help keep us on plan. Constantly reviewing with the teams that we are doing what we set out to do.

What was interesting there was you you don’t look to reprimand, you look to see how the business can help.
Everybody we’ve got wants to make the business a success, i passionately believe that. We move at an incredible rate, it’s one of the things that makes us successful, we’re very demanding, so you know what, we’re gonna get some things wrong. If we get it wrong, we all have to get round it to see how we can get it right. I wouldn’t criticize the team for trying something and not getting it right first time. It’s always about just how do we do it.

Are you more business or customer focused?
What make the business successful is our customers, without any doubt. We’ve sold 10,000 cars since 2011, last year we sold 1,600, this year will be 3,300. If we weren’t listening to our customers and building cars that they like...people have a choice. But we are a business and if it’s not a successful business I can’t do any of this. I probably spend more than 50% of my time on business matters. I am very fixated on us being profitable and reinvesting into the business. We’ve been profitable now for 3 years running, this year will be our 4th. Over the next 6 years we’re investing over GBP1billion in NPD. My relationship with our 7 shareholders is good, they are delighted with the way the company is performing, they have bought into the strategy and like that we are hitting targets. They are proud to be associated with the company.

NPD, 15 cars by 2022 I hear.
He laughs again. First one will be unveiled in Geneva March next year (super series, a 650 replacement). It’s quite demanding but if you think about this market, it needs to be stimulated, people need to want it. Customers either buy and keep (collect but drive - like the P1) or change about every 18 months - so we need to keep relevant.

So a McLaren SUV?
Absolutely, because the world needs more SUV’s (he jokes) - Not a chance! We’re a sports car company and what it all boils down to, is that the car has to be incredible to drive.

One day. Whether our whole range will go electric or not is hard to say. But we are going through an evolution in powertrain, NA, now low capacity turbocharged engines in our cars, we’ve done a hybrid car with our P1, as I guide I think that by 2022 50% of our cars will be hybrids. But I do think the endgame in this is electric vehicles and I’m certain we will do an EV, we will be starting on a prototype next year, but it’s more of a research vehicle to answer some critical questions. You know you can get the range and the speed but they’re not exciting - our cars have got to be exciting to drive.

Apple, is that dead?
It really never came to life. It genuinely surprised me when I saw the reports.They didn’t offer to buy the company, there’s no technology relationship - there’s nothing behind it.

The Auckland University Scholarship, were you behind that?

It’s an interesting relationship between us and NZ. We are a British company but we like there is the spirit of New Zealand in everything we do. So when Auckland University talked to us about what they are doing we thought what a fabulous idea. It almost mirrors what Bruce did, in 1957 he came to Europe on a Driver’s Scholarship, if he hadn’t we wouldn’t have the company we have today. So if we can take a young engineer, give him international experience, give him our technology, what we do, that’s a brilliant thing to do. And the winner is Andrew McLaren, can you believe that?

So it wasn’t difficult to pick then?
He’s not related haha.

Vision for the future?
Pretty much keep doing what we’re doing. But we need people to be aware of how we fit in. We’re an enthusiast brand.

Final question - how do you handle your work/life balance?
I call it work/Life Integration, because I don’t ever feel the need not to be involved with it. What I do feel the need is to spend time with my wife and enjoy what I do, so if I can integrate my life into what I’m doing then it’s absolutely fabulous.

Good answer - Thanks very much for your time.

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