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Cranfield's Forumula One Professor

Cranfield professor on business lessons from the world's biggest grossing sport

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Cranfield students take in business lessons while adjusting a Williams car

As Brazilian racing driver Felipe Massa recovers from a near fatal accident at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Cranfield professor and Formula One blogger Mark Jenkins ponders business lessons from the world of the fast and furious.

Jenkins, director of research at Cranfield Business School and co-author of Performance at the Limit: Business Lessons from Formula 1 Motor Racing, believes there are real insights to be drawn from the sport.

“Perhaps the most important lesson is open communication,” says Jenkins, who writes a hit blog on the Formula One World Championship. “Constant communication is the key to so many teams’ success”. A team must be clear about its priorities, what's happening and who is responsible: “Getting everyone together to say what's going on is so, so important,” adds Jenkins.

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Cranfield’s Mark Jenkins: the “f1Professor”

A fan of Formula One for “20-odd years”, Jenkins was impressed by the friendly welcome he received when he visited Ferrari, the world’s most popular team, last year: “Ferrari surprised me a lot. With them being so rich and popular, and not knocking me back: it really changed my opinion.”

Jenkins roots for Williams F1, currently sixth in this year's world championship table.

“I like Williams a lot because of their rich history and because they always try to be a true racing team”, he says.

Teamwork is also an important business lesson in Formula One, according to Jenkins. Successful racing teams are very precise in what they try to achieve: “Whenever Frank Williams (owner and funder of Williams) signs a cheque, he asks: how this will make the car go faster? That's real focus.”

Jenkins uses lessons from Formula One in the classroom. He wrote a series of case studies exploring how different Formula One teams performed over a particular time period, which showed students the “real idiosyncratic details” of managing a team.

On June 22, as part of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Annual Soiree, 12 Cranfield MBA students participated in a six-team pit stop challenge in partnership with Williams F1. Each team had to change the tyres and oil, and refuel a real F1 car. Team “Ferrari” won the day with an unofficial best time of 6.9 seconds during a practice run, and an official time of 9.25 seconds.

The tasks in themselves were not technically difficult, but doing them quickly was. The point of the challenge, says Jenkins, was to show how good management improved results.

Formula One is now the biggest grossing sport in the world after the FIFA football World Cup and the Olympics. Jenkins describes the three billion dollar sport as “a successful commercial package: a product that people can consume from home every year rather than every four years.”

“It’s not just cars going around the track,” he adds. “Politics, leadership, personalities, egos and of course the money. They are all very important. It's a very fascinating world.”

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