From the racing car motif on the side of the building, clearly visible from the neighbouring M40, to the sleek, racing-liveried Aston Martin parked right in front of the reception desk, visitors are left in no doubt as to the heritage of this company. But it’s not all about motorsport though….Matt Wright caught up with its chairman, David Richards, to find out what drives Prodrive.
Q. Could you talk us through how you went from winning the World Rallying Championship in 1981 to building a multi-million pound global business?
“Well, it wasn’t exactly planned like that from the outset. For the first 20 years, Prodrive focused exclusively on racing and was extremely successful in that respect, winning world titles with Subaru and Aston Martin, (to name but a few), across virtually all motorsport disciplines.
“Everything evolved naturally from there. Motorsport breeds a high-performance culture which demands excellence and is intolerant of second best – all we did was to translate that racing culture through to conventional engineering tasks.”
Richards goes onto explain Prodrive’s current set-up; three of its four divisions – Motorsport (which now accounts for only 30% of revenues), Advanced Technology, and Bespoke Services – are based in Banbury, employing around 300 people, while the 200-strong Composite division is located just down the road in Milton Keynes.
Nowadays, all of Prodrive’s operations are based in the UK, although its reach and customer-base is decidedly global, in fact it could even be said to be ‘interglobal’ if Prodrive’s current work on the Mars Rover vehicle is taken into account.
Q. To what would you attribute Prodrive’s success?
“The motor racing world creates great engineers who are able to think laterally, with no boundaries or constraints in their thought processes. We’ve been able to take those attributes and apply them across a range of businesses.
“We sometimes get very modest challenges, and we sometimes turn down projects, but wherever possible, we pride ourselves on applying our innovative thinking to practical solutions.
“This ‘can do’ attitude is fundamental to everything we do.”
Richards outlines some of many current challenges Prodrive is involved with, ranging from the design of high-tech marine components for Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup bid through to the prototype production of the lightest folding bicycle in the world, all driven by Prodrive’s culture of engineering excellence.
Q. How would you define your leadership style?
“I’m very detailed in my own thinking and thought process (no doubt due to my motor racing background), but as a chairman I’m also able to look at the big picture and move quickly.
“I delegate a lot – I have very talented people working around me and I trust them to implement our strategy. It’s an interesting challenge – how to manage and get the best from extraordinary people … but then you only get ordinary results from ordinary people.”
Richards’ vision is evident throughout the company – the Advanced Technology and Composites divisions offer more scalability and diversity than Motorsport, given the resources needed to run a racing team and the limited number of sponsors who can be kept happy at any one time.
However, motor racing is in both Richards’ (and hence Prodrive’s) DNA and will continue to attract the brightest graduates and apprentices whose skills will need to be channelled accordingly.
As Richards summarises: “We’re a technology company which does motorsport.”
Q. What is the outlook for Prodrive in 2017?
“We rarely know what challenges we’ll be faced with next week, let alone next year.
“However, I think that we are now able to concentrate on doing the right things rather than doing lots of things, as was the case in the 90’s.
“With the wide range of businesses we’re now involved in – marine, aeronautical, electric cars to name but a few – the most exciting thing for me is what Prodrive is going to do next.”