Currently reading: Gordon Murray's tips for Autocar’s Drivers of Change
Legendary designer and engineer, and guest Drivers of Change judge, gives his thoughts on this year’s competition
Steve Cropley Autocar
News
7 mins read
17 September 2021

Having been at the forefront of the automotive industry for the best part of five decades, Gordon Murray will provide an expert eye as one of the judges across the three categories that make up Drivers of Change: Technology, Digital and Retail.

We join him at his UK factory to find out more about what he’s looking for from this year’s entrants.

For a chance to win £5000, click here to enter the competition.

Why would you spend some of your extremely valuable time getting involved in a competition like this?

GM "Well, we always try to encourage new talent into the industry. But also, it's a bit more personal than that, because I got given a break back in 1970, with the Brabham Formula 1 team. And I've always been keen to encourage young talent back into the business. For example, in this company, we have apprenticeship schemes and we have graduate schemes. And we do very well at introducing very young talent into the car industry."

Why should people want to work in the automotive industry?

GM "I think the automotive industry right now is probably at its most exciting point. And I think it's a great time to join it at whatever level, actually, in whatever discipline, because the change we're going through - not just in design and powertrain, of course, but in the whole way we own cars, use cars, service cars - it's all changing. So the opportunities for people coming in right now are probably greater than they've ever been."

Do you think that the demand for talent is going to rise as we come out of Covid?

GM "Trying to find people for the business is something we find quite difficult at the moment, as we come out of Covid. We're growing at a massive rate. Here in the Gordon Murray group, we've gone from 108 people at the beginning of Covid to 204 as we stand today. We thought it would be quite easy but actually we've found it quite difficult to find people, which is once again why we try and encourage new talent. And we have training programmes to bring people along in, in the business."

Eventually, the people who enter this competition will have to stand up and make a presentation to you and the other judges. There must have been a time in your youth when you had to stand up and make a presentation to people who didn't necessarily know you. What was it like?

GM "It's something that you acquire the capability of as you do more. And as you grow in your own business, and you get more knowledge, you get much more comfortable with doing presentations or talks or lectures or whatever. But when I was relatively unknown at Brabham - I think I'd only been there two years, was a bit of a long-haired hippie - and I got invited to one of our top, top public schools to go and do a talk to the students. And I was terrified. I didn't know what to expect, thinking that I'd have to keep the talk at a fairly low level. I was absolutely amazed at the reception and the questions, plus how technical they were and how in depth they were. And that was sort of a baptism of fire for me. But after that you learn very quickly, the more you do."

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You’re famous for good ideas that other people have never thought of. How do ideas come to you?

GM "I think it varies with people, with the personalities of people. I think you get two types of engineers: you get developers and you get innovators, and I think I fall into the second category. And then the ideas come to you pretty much out of the blue, literally the hot bath type of thing. But also, they come out of necessity. So in Formula 1, for example, you're staring at the regulations book all the time, and trying to find a way to have an unfair advantage and to be quicker and better. And I think that's where the innovation comes from.

"Even in the normal automotive industry, everybody's always trying to beat everybody else. It's a little bit like a watered-down Formula 1 situation. So, there are innovators and there are also people that develop existing ideas. And, of course, we're always after the innovators. And that's what this competition is all about, which is what I find really exciting."

In the past, this competition has tended to encourage people to come up with a gadget or widget. But what we’re trying to do this time is widen it and for people to think about digital and marketing processes. I know you’re an engineer, but give us a flavour of the way the wider industry uses people of other talents.

GM "I think a lot of people look into the automotive sector and they see the obvious things like design, styling or engineering. But actually some of the more interesting areas are behind the scenes. The change we're going through now in marketing and sales - the way cars are sold now and in the future, and owned or not, and the way we look after the cars and service them - means the automotive industry has such a broad array of opportunities for people. And I think, going forward, there will be just as much growth and opportunity in the other areas, as in engineering and styling."

Our entrants will have to explain their ideas. What lights your fuse?

GM "I think a lot of people stumble straight into what they've come up with. And I think that's a mistake. The first thing you need to get across is what the problem was in the first place. Because the real innovations are solving a problem that is rarely there. A lot of people think of an idea and then try and think of a problem it could solve. That's very common. And actually, it's really important to look around in the industry and see where the real problem areas are, and come up with something that is a genuine step forward in that particular discipline or area."

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How do you assess people?

GM “I always look at the character of the person as well. It's not just the idea and how they present it. I look a little bit beyond that. I look at the type of person they are. Are they practical? Have they got their hands dirty in the process of coming up with the idea? Because what we're looking for are all-round people, rather than somebody that's very pigeonholed.

“And just on the pure theoretical side, the advice I always give to young people who write to me from school or university is to get your hands dirty and to go and do some real work. I think the practical side is often forgotten these days, with too much emphasis on academia. So when somebody is sitting in front of me presenting themselves or an idea, I look beyond that idea.

“And I look into whether this is a one-off. Or is this a sort of character that can continue to innovate, and continue to grow and become part of a team, which is really important.”

Give us a few tips about what not to do?

GM “Well, I think the classic one was back in Brabham, there were just 17 of us. And when I finally decided I needed another designer to look into aerodynamics, we actually advertised for the first time or put the word out that we needed an aerodynamicist to help. I had 50-odd applicants, mostly graduates, apply. So I asked them all: what else do you do, apart from the academic side? What do you do in your spare time? And some of them said they played darts, or went down to the pub. It wasn’t the answer I was looking for. I was looking for somebody to say I go and help my friend with his Formula Ford every weekend. Or I’ve just rebuilt this car, or I'm really trying to build my own model wind tunnel or something.”

The Drivers of Change initiative seeks to promote talent interested in entering three exciting areas of the automotive industry: technology, digital and retail. It is being delivered in partnership with executive search specialists Ennis & Co, with the goal of energising the industry through innovative thinking.

Each category winner will receive £5000 as well as the opportunity to attend the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) dinner, the UK's biggest automotive industry event of the year.

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The initiative is open to anyone who has a visionary idea in any of the three categories. Prior experience isn’t required: the range of entrants spans those starting out in their career to those with more experience, be that within the automotive world or outside of it. The key is to have an idea that could challenge the status quo.

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