Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive’s managing director, says the phrase “It’s all just common sense” rather a lot.
He drops it in frequently when talking in his rapid-fire way about the specification of a new McLaren, his company’s attitude to marginal warranty claims, or the way manufacturing will be organised in his soon-to-expand Woking factory.
For Sheriff, you sense logic has always provided opportunities. He believes the most challenging situations can be boiled down until the sensible approach appears — and that’s the one you adopt.
This philosophy has become a part of McLaren Automotive, not least because four-fifths of its 500-strong staff has been hired since 2003, when Sheriff rather unexpectedly took the job. You can see it in the way people get things done: quickly. You can also see it in the practical qualities of the new MP4-12C.
Six years ago, aged 40, Sheriff abandoned a promising career in the Fiat Auto hierarchy — notably the enormously influential position of director of product development for Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia and all the commercial vehicles — because here was a chance to do everything, to be in at the ground floor in a new firm.
He’d be “responsible for the design, development, manufacture and distribution of all current and future McLarens”, the job description said. If you were as keen a car guy as Sheriff, it was just common sense.
Brought up in Manhattan, Sheriff qualified there as an engineer-economist but decided he needed to try car design. He worked one summer in the UK for designer Richard Oakes, and another at Pininfarina before joining Chrysler in the US and then the management consultant McKinsey.