Last Thursday, the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin welcomed Matt Jones, Head of Marketing Services for the Williams Formula One team. The presentation was part of the “EU-US Distinguished Business and Politics Lecture Series” at UT Austin. This series presents lectures relevant to business and political relationships between the United States and the European Union and aims to bring attention to our shared economic interests. The goal is to encourage discussion between the UT population, local business communities and the broader public.
Matt’s professional experience includes his six years in the British Army’s Royal Anglian Regiment, three years as a Sponsorship Manager in the Formula Three series, Account Manager at Arrows Grand Prix from 2000 to 2002 and Sponsorship Manager at Jordan Grand Prix (now Force India) from 2003 to 2005. Although not a lifetime motorsports fan, over the past decade he has acclimated to the non-stop travelling lifestyle and now embraces F1’s fast-paced and challenging business culture.
Matt’s lecture was comprehensive, informative and engaging; I always enjoy hearing the collective gasp in the audience when they learn about F1’s 1.88 billion annual viewers or how it is broadcast in 187 countries. After introducing Formula 1 as a sport to a full lecture hall, he switched gears to talk about the Williams F1 team and how marketing is a vital role in this sport.
I admit, I knew very little about Williams F1 before Matt’s presentation: I knew that it was founded by Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head, but didn’t realize the team has “only” been around since 1977 or that Williams has won 16 FIA Formula One World Championships to date. At their 20 acre headquarters in Grove, Oxfordshire (southeastern England), they employ about 500 staff, with a majority of the workforce comprised of engineers. Aside from operations, marketing, reception, design and electronics offices, the site also includes two wind tunnels, a race bay, museum, conference center, stores, research & development and machine shop, to name a few. As the image of a corporate powerhouse comes into focus, you realize they do much more than build cars and train drivers.
The presentation’s title, “Glamour and Grit: The Marketing of a Formula One Race Team,” properly captured Matt’s focus. An F1 team’s marketing group does not simply decide advertisements; they must simultaneously spin many plates. For Williams F1, Marketing Services manages partner and sponsorship accounts, event and paddock hospitality, the Williams F1 Conference Centre and brand and licensing. All strategy and execution of team sponsorships and partnering must pass a rigorous review to be cleared by Marketing Services. This process ensures continuity, aligns corporate objectives and values and matches Williams F1’s values to each partner’s commercial objectives.
Matt spoke in detail about current and past Williams F1 partners, including relationships with the Dutch staffing company Randstad, RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland), Budweiser and the insurance company Allianz. It was interesting to learn how varying sectors align their needs and values with the F1 world and what they gain from it as the result of an active partnership. Matt echoed the shared sentiment that all F1 teams realize the importance of an active US market to be a truly global sport.
The Williams Formula One team is the only company that is wholly independent and traded publicly on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange (since March 2011). Williams F1 describes this independence to its advantage:
Williams F1 commercial partnerships must work harder to drive value back into its partners’ companies…it has no publicly funded automotive giant to bail it out should things go wrong. It exists solely to go racing. It is driven by a hunger to win. It is – unusually on the modern Formula 1 grid – purely about racing.
This independence and desire to win transcends to admirable team values: integrity, entrepreneurship, precision and accessibility. As you learn about Sir Frank Williams and the history of the Williams F1 team you begin to draw parallels between his character, work ethic and winning attitude. Williams F1’s partnership announcement with Michael Johnson Performance is the most recent example of aligning a winning attitude with a dedication to excellence. Matt also introduced us to the Williams Spark Program, which exemplifies how Williams F1 embraces energy efficiency, education and road safety. The Williams F1 website is quite comprehensive and serves as an ongoing, accessible resource.
There was an active Q&A session and reception after Matt’s presentation. Based on the level of feedback from the audience, it was evident that Matt sparked an interest within F1 amateurs and led long-time F1 fans to a better understanding of how teams continue to evolve in today’s marketplace. Matt’s lecture at UT Austin’s EU-US Speaker Series proved to be a great opportunity to engage with varying communities as he offered valuable insight into how Austin’s November Formula 1 race has the potential to elevate Austin throughout the global business community.