On track with Silverstone’s new boss
“We’re trying to be less IBM and more Apple” says Patrick Allen, Silverstone’s new Managing Director. “With a bit more get-up-and-go and do-it and fun and excitement”.
The new boss at the ‘Home of British Motorsport’ rides, he’s a motorcycle man and this makes us very happy. Like so many, he started (legally) at 16 on a ‘Fizzy’ before owning several Kawasaki’s and a Honda SP1. There have even been track days at Donington Park and Cadwell Park along the way. He’s one of us.
We met at the MCN London Show and he invited me to join him on track to blow the cobwebs off his leathers after a couple of years without riding. So when the boss of the circuit due to host the British MotoGP for the sixth consecutive year asks if you fancy a ride around his track, there is only one answer, right?
Allen is the man credited with doing great marketing things with Co-op but after the news broke last summer that the MotoGP had been sub-let to Donington Park by the Circuit of Wales and not Silverstone, he was bought in to analyse the business. The three-month process eventually led to his permanent appointment as Managing Director, a reign which began at the beginning of this year.
And there we were, sitting in the pit lane of the Stowe circuit with an R1 and an R6 for company. He’s kitted out in AlpineStars with a Mick Doohan replica Arai resting by his boots. I ask how his first eight weeks have been and with the widest grin, he says: “I’m loving it.”
But why Silverstone?
“The main attraction of coming here was to prove that the great brand of Silverstone could be put back on the top of motor racing as well as broader areas like destination events whether that’s concerts, racing or exhibitions for example. So it was a business challenge first and foremost but it always helps when you’ve got a love of what you’re doing; two and four wheeled racing.”
On loosing MotoGP (initially)
“I found that particularly disappointing. As you know I love bikes but what was probably more disappointing was that I didn’t see any fight to get it back. I’m sure there was but it wasn’t palpable. I thought ‘I’m not going to give up on this’. I know we don’t have it and I know the Circuit of Wales have won the contract but they don’t have a circuit and yes they’ve done a deal with Donington but who knows what will happen in the future, in 2016 or 17 and beyond.
I felt that we needed to be there if people needed us and show that we were still keen to hold the event. We have a great venue, it’s certified and we don’t have to spend millions doing track work. So for me it was about having a presence. I spoke to DORNA, I spoke to the Circuit of Wales and I got on planes and got in cars and invited people here and said ‘if you need us, we’re here’”.
On winning MotoGP (eventually)
Want to host MotoGP?
I thought about it for about a nanosecond and said of course we would.
“We’d been making noises that we’re here and ready to go. I don’t know the detail about what happened between Donington and Circuit of Wales. All I know is that, for one reason or another, we got a call from the Circuit of Wales asking of we’d be interested in running the MotoGP. I thought about it for about a nanosecond and said of course we would. So we discussed the detail about how it would work and they were happy with my proposal and I was happy with theirs. Thankfully, we now have the MotoGP back for 2015 which was beyond my wildest dreams. I never thought we’d get it but it’s here and they now say it won’t be ready for 2016 in Wales so it’ll run here again. What will happen after that, who knows? If they have a track then clearly it’ll run at the Circuit of Wales but if it doesn’t they’re happy to run it here. We’d love to see it here (longer-term), no question.”
On the Circuit of Wales
“I think the more overall investment in circuits and motor racing is a good thing for everybody but they have to be circuits that work. If we can swell the overall market for motor racing and motorcycling then that’s a good thing. It gives people choice and options; nobody wants to race around the same tack over and over again. But nevertheless we think we have a track and a brand that will always remain at the very top of people’s minds and hearts hopefully.
We have a good working relationship with the Circuit of Wales and Chris’ (Herring – Project Director) team. They have people sited in our offices and we’re working closely together on making a great occasion happen. So, clearly we’ve put several on before so our skills base hosting a MotoGP event is high but they’ve got good input and ultimately it’s their contract, not ours. They’re renting out track in effect but it’s a closer relationship than just a track rental.”
In fact when I spoke to Chris Herring at a press event in London this week, he too had a glowing report of Patrick Allen: “He’s a real big motorcycle man with great enthusiasm.”
On creating a GP Academy
“I was talking to them (DORNA) about a GP Academy. I don’t think there’s enough grass-roots two-wheel racing. The BRDC are brilliant at doing on four-wheels with opportunities like the ‘Rising Stars’ programme and various events for young drivers but then you look at the MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 podiums and they’re all Spanish. What are they getting right that we’re getting so wrong? And it seems to be the investment in young riders. So one of the reasons why I went to see DORNA was to see if they can support us in the UK, like they do in Asia with the Asia Cup. That resonated with the Circuit of Wales because they’re also interested in doing that sort of thing. It’s still in its embryonic stage and hopefully we’ll get some support for a MotoGP Academy and see young riders through Moto3, Moto2 and into MotoGP.
We’ll still do an academy whether we do it on our own or with other circuits remains to be seen. For me, it almost needs to be a feeder straight into the Spanish series to get our riders onto the podiums. I would like to think if the British crowd support us, and we’d like to see crowds of 80-90,000 here for MotoGP (race day), it should be as big as F1 in my opinion. And if they do support us and we can generate the cash for the business then we will earmark some of that cash to go back and support the MotoGP Academy.”
On GP pricing
“We’re trying to support the British public, you’ve seen our pricing model, prices are far cheaper than when we last held it and cheaper than Donington’s prices. We’re supporting the families, we’ve made under 11’s free, kids’ prices are cheap and camping is cheap, so that’s our way of helping the public come to us but we need the public to come to us to get the volumes in order to generate the cash to support other initiatives.
So, that’s what’s behind the pricing model. There are four elements, we’ve been completely transparent and it’s based on the airline model where the earlier you buy, the better the deal. That helps us get the cash in early in order for us to invest in the track and the preparations for putting on the event. So what we want to do is encourage people to get the best deals, we’ve done some great deals on stands and it’s only £10 more to come for the weekend than it is just to come for the Sunday. We’re going to have a real festival atmosphere with bands, partying, rookie rides and fairgrounds, we’re going to have a great time with it and really celebrate motorcycling.”
On a 21st Century Silverstone
“We’re changing the culture at Silverstone, it’s been a very corporate culture before and we’re going to approach this year with enthusiasm. We’re not that big-a-business, £50m turnover. Our product is excitement, exhilaration, fun, emotion, passion. That’s the culture that has to breathe through the business because everybody who walks through the gates are doing it for a reason, they are passionate about what we do here and what’s on track. And we have to reflect that. I don’t think it has been in the past, I think it’s been too stayed, corporate. So, we’re trying to be less IBM and more Apple, a bit more get-up-and-go and do-it and fun and excitement. Be innovative about what we do, let people make decisions which they’ve never been able to make before and empower the employees to come up with the good ideas because good ideas are no respecter of pay grade.
I have a passion for motorcycling, motor racing and sport in general and everybody in this business has to have the same because every one of our customers has that. Our customers need to be at the heart and we need to be with them.”
On growing Silverstone
“The big thing for me is the change of culture in the business. Our business is about people, it’s not about track or a car so unless we’ve not got the right people and they are enthusiastic and they are wanting to do well then it’s a non-starter. Fortunately we’ve got a great team now.
The second major goal is to really grow our two major events; F1 and MotoGP. And we’re doing that through our pricing models and giving better value for money to customers and that swells the gate. All these events have a fixed cost and every marginal revenue above that is suddenly dropped straight to your bottom line so it becomes about numbers and let’s have more people celebrating what we do in Britain so well which is to put on great events.
Our third major goal is to build the tertiary part of the business which is driving experiences, bike days, track days, concerts and events because our core competencies in this business are event management. And that can be applied to a concert, a food event, a night at the proms, a firework displays, drive-in movies; it could be any of these things because we’re great at putting on events. It just so happens that we only concentrate on motor racing right now. So, if I can build the other side of the business and generate cash from that, that helps me subsidise ticket prices, it helps me invest back in the track and that’s our focus because it is a great track. But then I see the business as a whole and one feeds another so we end up introducing motor racing fans to concert events and concert fans to motor racing so if we can build a total market then we’ll see the revenues of this business grow and the brand at Silverstone will be gleaming again at the vanguard of sport and event management.”
Allen and I had been on track for an hour, like teenagers chasing each other around the 1-mile Stowe circuit. This was the Managing Director at play. Yes, he was late for his next appointment but it didn’t stop him ‘asking’ his PR Manager if we could have a quick lap of the Grand Prix circuit!
Patrick Allen is the epitome of a cool and calculated business leader. His enthusiasm to give Silverstone a leg-up in the eyes of the consumer seeps out and his colleagues are simultaneously chomping at the bit and praising his methods. The self-styled ‘Home of British Motorsport’ may just be stepping out of the shadows of its more illustrious, and frankly newer, global counterparts.
I noticed he looked far more comfortable on left-handers. “I did a bit of grass tracking when I was 12 so left-handers were all I knew!” was the retort.
Are you heading to the British MotoGP this year?