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Sir Jackie Stewart on leaving IMG and Formula One’s financial health

2 December 2013 | Posted in Quick-Fire Questions | By David Cushnan | Contact the author

Sir Jackie Stewart on leaving IMG and Formula One’s financial health

After 45 years with IMG, Sir Jackie Stewart announced on Sunday that he is switching management agencies, joining fellow world champion Niki Lauda at motorsport specialists Just Marketing International.

Stewart, who has been commercially active for a number of brands, notably Ford, HSBC and Rolex, since his retirement in 1973, joined IMG in 1968, the year before he won his first world title. Despite his surprise decision to leave the company after such a long stint, he insisted on Sunday that he "has not a bad word to say about IMG", telling SportsPro: "I had a wonderful time, whether it was Mark McCormark or Jay LaFave, Ian Todd, Alistair Johnston, Bud Stanner – a whole range of people. Martin Sorrell worked with me as an employee of IMG; it was his first job and I had a great time with him. They’ve served me very well. Without Mark McCormark and his team I wouldn’t be the Jackie Stewart I am today.

"Without Mark McCormark and his team I wouldn’t be the Jackie Stewart I am today"

"But they no longer are in Formula One Grand Prix racing. Mark always had good people and I enjoyed it but if they’re not in the sport that I’m involved in, then there can be very little chance of proper deals being done and me giving commission to two companies wouldn’t make any sense."

Stewart remains a Formula One paddock regular. He was heavily involved in bringing Rolex into the sport as a global partner at the start of this year and has fulfilled an ambassadorial role for the owners of the Lotus team, Genii Capital. The Scotsman, now 74, revealed that it was JMI who approached him earlier this year - "they've got a very good initiative, a good feel for things" - and that the timing was right for a change.

"At this stage in my career I need to align myself with a company that’s already there, well-connected, already servicing multi-national corporations, looking towards bringing new business into the sport. Somebody like myself, who has had a fair experience in marketing over the years with large relationships, both as a driver and since my retirement, for me it sits very comfortably.”

"At the same time," he added, "I was recognising that if I didn’t do the deals myself and service them myself – and that’s not my business; management of your affairs, whether they be legal or financial, or introductions, or manifesting the relationship has to come from a team of people who are there for that very purpose. If I had wanted to do that I would have created a company to do it. That’s never been my objective – I had Stewart Grand Prix, but I could have had any number of car dealerships, particularly Ford, around the world but I didn’t want to go that route.

"I want to be an individual working without 5,000 people or 500 people working for me. I’d far rather be well-represented, packaged well, sold well and then be able to deliver well.”

Speaking to SportsPro shortly before the start of Sunday evening's Autosport Awards in London, Stewart revealed more about his guiding principles in business and offered his view on Formula One's current commercial health.

How important is it to you to still be attached to brands, to still be involved in the commercial side of the sport?
I like the sport. I like business. I get as much out of doing a really good deal in business than I ever got by winning a Grand Prix or a world championship. Recently, I was deeply involved in the Rolex relationship with Formula One. I enjoyed that experience enormously and to bring a company like Rolex in and to see them getting as much benefit out of it as they are, that’s as good as winning a Grand Prix, for me. It takes longer to stitch it together, but because of my age I’ve got a lot of experience. My access to people, because that deal was done at the top level of Rolex and the same would apply to Unilever – because of my maturity of years and being in the sport, I’ve got experience that a younger person simply wouldn’t have and I’m not as hungry, so I’m not forcing a deal through in the same way. People realise that, feel it, see it and therefore more comfortably get into alignments that might otherwise slip away.

You’ve been a driver, a team owner, a representative of several successful sponsors: how concerned are you about the commercial side of Formula One at the moment?
Big trees blow over – it only depends on the strength of the wind. When you think there’s a wind coming you usually find a way of creating some sort of deflection to avoid the tree being blown over. I think some companies haven’t done that and the trees have blown over – some trees, 300 years old, are no longer with us. You’ve got to be very careful how much money is involved and you’ve got to deliver. I’ve got a belief that you under-promise and overdeliver and you never get the sack, you never lose a deal. If you deliver more than was expected, you will always be able to be do business because people have confidence in you doing that.

"I think there’s enough in Formula One to be able to deliver even in those difficult times"

The economic climate at the present time is better than it was 24 months ago but it’s still far from being fully recovered. The world is still going through a lot of trouble with borrowings and financing and so forth, but there are still new companies that are coming in, that have technologies that are very well linked to Formula One. I’m a strong believer that you’ve got to create incremental business – it’s no good taking sponsorship and only giving corporate identity; you’ve got to make money for that sponsor. The amount of networking you can do in Formula One and the incremental business that I’ve personally been able to create, that pays much more – because that’s profit – than the cost of sponsorship. If you can wipe off the cost of sponsorship by a margin by bringing in new business, then you’re not only getting new clients that you can service more fully, you can give them the experience of huge television audiences with corporate identity. You can do corporate hospitality better in Formula One than any sport in the world. I love Wimbledon, I love the British Open golf championship, but Formula One’s Paddock Club is unquestionably the best – I don’t care whether you go to the Super Bowl or to Augusta, the level of quality there is above everyone else. If I do bring a serious player to Formula One and show them what we do, show them our garages which are immaculate – I think there’s enough in Formula One to be able to deliver even in those difficult times.

The problem is motor racing has never been awfully good at staying within budgets. Engineers will come and say ‘we’ve got a new thing’ – you’ve got to find new money to do that. I think engineers should be tutored in marketing, because they’ve got to market their new technology and it’s left to people like us to do that but to find extra money halfway through a season from a company that has already had a budget allocated in September or October isn’t easy.

There’s a huge debate about so-called pay drivers, which seems more pronounced than ever. Do you think some drivers who don’t perhaps have the same level of personal sponsorship as others should be working harder at better marketing themselves?
While we had Paul Stewart Racing we had David Coulthard, Allan McNish, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran, Andrew Kirkaldy, Peter Dumbreck – a whole bunch. Every one of them went to public speaking courses, every one of them was dressed correctly – four shirts, one blazer, one flannels, one suit, shoes and socks. They represented themselves as young developing drivers better than I think any other in the sport, because I saw the need for that – I learnt to do that. One of the reasons I got into some of the multi-national corporations that I did was by how I presented myself. I would put Dario Franchitti up on any audience and he would deliver – and the same for David Coulthard, de Ferran, Castroneves, all of them. Very few drivers have that and very few sportspeople have that.

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