I was recently invited to Innovate UK’s inaugural Women Infocus networking event on 9th February 2017, designed to help women entrepreneurs in the UK grow and scale their businesses. There were about 50 plus of us, mostly startup founders and business owners – all women of course – which really helps with the UK’s diversity push. There was a chance to practice your pitch. There were also sessions covering topics such as business support, the power of your connections, and finding funding. It was also a great opportunity to find out more about Innovate UK and what they do. The event was a great success and I can’t say enough about how much support I felt, and have since received, as a female founder of a tech startup.
Without a doubt the highlight for me was the question and answer session at the end of the day with Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal at Williams F1. I’m a big F1 fan, so it was a pleasure to hear her speak.
Williams F1 is no longer just an F1 team. They now run an advanced engineering business which develops their innovative technology from F1 for use in other areas. Claire gave active suspension as an example of one of the technologies we now use in everyday cars which was developed from F1 innovation.
But the impact of Williams Advanced Engineering is not just in the automotive industry. Claire sees the advantage of working with smaller startups, and their speed to market, as ways in which Williams can quickly take new technologies and find a use for them. They have worked with bicycle maker Brompton to develop lighter-weight bikes using their lightweight materials. They also work in healthcare. Taking the knowledge it takes to get an F1 pitstop done in under 2 seconds, they’ve worked with neonatal units to increase their teamwork and response time when a premature baby is born.
Claire spoke about being a woman in F1. Williams recognise that securing talent for a successful future is all about people. This, coupled with a growing shortage of skills in engineering, makes connecting with the next generation a top priority. They run programmes in schools where they talk about careers in engineering to encourage ‘promotion of the best talent.’ Claire’s message was very much about nurturing young talent and showing there are ‘no barriers to entry,’ especially for women.
As the floor opened for questions, I was keen to get to ask mine. Williams F1 brings together my passion for F1 with my passion for… well, passion. Williams are recognised for their company culture. They are a close knit and loyal team. As they note on their own careers page ‘Williams’ staff are its most important asset.’ With this focus, it stands to reason that they have a loyal workforce, who are passionate about what they do.
My question to Claire was this:
How do you build the passionate culture at Williams? And do you look to help other industries build a workforce that is also powered by passion?
In answer to this, Claire talked about what makes the Williams culture so unique. She credits her father’s leadership as the basis for this. With over 1000 employees, Sir Frank Williams knows all their names, and the names of their partners and children. In a time when it was not the done thing to call everyone by their first name, he fostered this environment where there was a flat structure and mutual respect. He still takes the time to go around the business on a regular basis and talk to people, find out what they are working on, and how things are going.
With this commitment to making their employees feel important and valuable, Claire also spoke about celebrating success and ‘the Williams culture.’ She hosts a tea for employees who have 25 years service with Williams. The last time they did this, the tea had to be held in two sittings as there were so many attending! This is a testament to the fact that a culture centred around employees, and their passion for their work, breeds loyalty and longevity.
At an event celebrating women that are pursuing businesses they are passionate about, it was great to be reminded again what a central role people play in any successful team or business. Bringing together people who are passionate about the outcomes you want to achieve as a team, around shared values and vision, is the key to building a successful strategy journey. And it was great to hear that from someone I admire so much as well.