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Sir Jackie Stewart tells EN why he joined the Lotus F1 team as strategic advisor

In the driving seat with Sir Jackie Stewart

If you think the speed and thrills of Formula 1 are a far cry from the business world – think again. Kirsty Hewitt joined three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart and discovered that this glamorous world has a lot to teach entrepreneurs

Formula 1 has made a lot of people very rich over the years, but one person who has been in the driving seat taking orders, and in the pit stop giving orders, is Sir Jackie Stewart. He has experienced both sides of the sport and has made a substantial living from it.

The former three-time world champion was behind the wheel between 1965 and 1973, which was one of the most dangerous times in racing. During this period F1 drivers who raced for five years had a two out of three chance of being killed in a crash. Sir Jackie was responsible for improving safety in F1, something which he felt strongly about after seeing so many drivers lose their lives over the years.

When he retired from racing Sir Jackie became a commentator on American TV and, perhaps harking back to his Scottish roots, he saved the money he made from this along with the cash he made while driving.

In 1997 Sir Jackie launched his own F1 team - Stewart Grand Prix - with his son Paul.

This, he believes, was his biggest ever challenge. He risked not only his reputation but the nest egg he had built up over the years.

“It took 18 and 19-hour days for four years without holidays or weekends off. Big pressure, stress and strain but it worked. It was a start-up company as I didn’t buy an existing F1 team.

“It was a green field site and we won a race within 31 months, we had several podium finishes and a pole position.”

Sir Jackie believes the business connections he made through his time as a driver helped him when he launched his own team.


He was also very careful with who he did business with and who he mixed with.

“My father had a great saying: if you fly with the crows, you are liable to be shot at.

“This means crows are vermin and they need to be shot. If you’re in the same flock and you are hanging out with the wrong people you are painted by the same brush and shouldn’t be hanging out with them.

“If you soar with the eagles, you are flying too high for the shot to reach you. All of my friends are people I really trust and they have earned that trust.”

Although he clearly took risks in his racing days, Sir Jackie warns against taking unnecessary risks. He tells us that he has taken many over the years but he tried to minimise the risks by “driving for the best teams” and working with the “best mechanics”.

“You should always analyse risk.”

When Sir Jackie sold his F1 team to Ford, the company had no debt and the firm did not even have an overdraft. He says that he always paid his suppliers on time too.

The entrepreneur wouldn’t disclose how much he invested in the team, but he did tell us that the profit margin was “something like 135 times what was invested”.

Sir Jackie says, “I sold the business for around £130 million. I gave a lot of the cash to my son because he was in it with me.”

Although he has always remained linked to F1, Sir Jackie recently took on the position of strategic advisor with the Lotus F1 team, which is owned by Genii Capital, which is part of the Genii Group.

Eric Lux and Gerard Lopez established the Genii Group, a global enterprise that specialises in corporate and financial interests, and have been friends for almost two decades.

Lopez’s job within the business is to focus on investing in technology companies.

He says that the firm gets around 1,200 requests a year, but one of the things they do is to try and look for what they believe is the next mega-trend.

“We found Skype and were the first to invest in Skype.

“I think that most people would be happy to find one, we will look for the home run. That’s the kind of entrepreneurs we like to back.”

Venture capital, according to Lopez, is vital form of finance for businesses, especially for start-ups.

He believes that it is all about managing risk and that the risks that are present shouldn’t be for things like cash flow management, instead the only risk that is worthwhile is innovation.

Lopez would not reveal the Genii Group’s turnover because he has “a lot of companies within the group” and Genii does not own all of these, so the answer would not be “black and white”.

So why did he and Lux decide to buy the Lotus F1 team?

“Well, there was an element of passion there”, he says.

“However, the biggest thing is because it really is one of the few events that is global, that goes to the countries that we believe we should be active in terms of the future and it’s also one of the few events that is very standardised in a positive way.

“So you can provide the same level of reception environment and so on in country after country and that is unique.

“It’s very important to invest in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries. There certainly are the major engines of growth in the economy. Those are definite places that you have to look at.”

Meanwhile, Lux says the decision to enter the F1 market was because it is an “amazing” platform that covers numerous locations where Genii does business.

The Genii Business Exchange is a “platform that puts people on the right track to meet people that create business”.

His advice to budding entrepreneurs?

“Work, work, work. You learn from any failure. In any failure there is something to learn so some lessons are nicer than others but there is always something to learn.”

Sir Jackie says that he was thrilled to be approached by Lopez and Lux.

He had “seen them around” at business events and they had also noticed Sir Jackie “servicing his relationships” with the likes of HSBC and RBS.

“They approached me knowing that I was going to retire from RBS and I liked the idea of still being associated with F1 while at the same time enhancing the activities within the commercial world.

“My address book is pretty full of fairly significant people in the business world, so they thought I could assist them using motorsport, and with me being three-times world champion, it has worked out very well,” Sir Jackie recalls.

He says it’s exciting to work with Lopez and Lux and believes the team is “rejuvenating itself back into the top echelon of F1”.

“They [Lopez and Lux] have the money to do it, as they have worked together for about 17 years and have built up a considerable fortune.”

Sir Jackie believes his reputation has a lot to do with his success.

“The main thing is to have a good reputation. I have been fortunate that I have aligned myself with high-quality people in high-quality companies.”

He also “really believes” in long-term relationships and the ability to always deliver is an important attribute that any business person should possess.

“Because I was a racing driver, in sport, you simply have to deliver. If you are not winning, or you are not on the podium, then you’re really not in the business.”

He said that when he entered the business world he soon learnt that there are a lot of people who are good sellers but not necessarily good deliverers.

“I have to have a closed loop, as I hate an open loop. You can talk about a deal and sell a deal well, but if you don’t close it and make it happen then you’re not getting it done.

“And even if you do the deal, to keep long-term relationships, you have to service them and deliver. So if you work on the policy of under-promise and over-deliver you will never get the sack.”

Sir Jackie is now using his experience as both a former F1 driver and business owner to help other companies make connections that could prove beneficial to their bottom line.

F1 is one of the most lucrative sports in the world. It reaches around 1.8bn people on television over the course of a season.

This, on an annualised basis, is more than the Olympics or World Cup, which only occur once every four years, and is the reason why sponsors want to get involved.

F1 also takes place in virtually every continent in the world and this year 20 Grands Prix will be held.

Given its global reach, it would seem F1 is a licence to print money. F1 generates millions of pounds every single year for the teams involved.

The aggregate turnover of the companies and sponsors, of which there are more than 200, financially involved in F1 amounts to US$3.8 trillion (£2.3 trillion).

If the F1 Paddock was a country, it would have the fourth largest gross domestic product in the world ahead of France, Germany and the UK.

Of course it costs a lot to run an F1 team, anything between $75 million (£46.1 million) and $400 million (£246.3 million), but the teams get this back as they get a slice of the profits from broadcasting rights and they make money from having sponsors.

EN learned that entry levels for association with an F1 team can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. To have a sponsored logo on a car, well, this can run upwards of £10 million.

Stephen Curnow, chief commercial officer of the Lotus F1 team, says that businesses become involved in F1 for a variety of reasons, with the main one being to reach their end consumer or customer.

This is done through the “exceptional media value” that the sport offers on a global basis.

And, of course, the opportunity to network and engage with contacts to create opportunities to work together.

He says, “There is also the added benefit of the positive brand attributes that F1 can bring to a brand that wants to become involved in a sport.

“It’s fast, exciting, dynamic and has high levels of technology, investment and innovation. Sponsors can borrow these positive brand values.”

Curnow believes that Sir Jackie’s acumen as a business man is what made him stand out from other people when Lux and Lopez were seeking an ambassador for Lotus.

He says that the entrepreneurs could have approached a number of former F1 drivers but opted for Sir Jackie because “he has been as successful as he was when he was driving in F1”.

“He adds a huge amount of value when we talk to prospects about the business value that F1 can bring.”

Image: The boys are back in town: (l-r) Gerard Lopez, Sir Jackie Stewart, Eric Lux

The boys are back in town: (l-r) Gerard Lopez, Sir Jackie Stewart, Eric Lux
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