McLaren announced yesterday that Ron Dennis will return to the role of McLaren Group CEO with immediate effect. This is in addition to his role as Chairman of the board of McLaren Group. As CEO, Dennis replaces Martin Whitmarsh, who held the position in addition to his role as team principal of the McLaren Formula One team. No announcement has been made regarding Whitmarsh’s post at the head of the racing outfit.
Ron Dennis has an enormously successful history with McLaren. He was team principal of the Formula One team from 1982 to 2009, presiding over 10 of the team’s 12 World Drivers’ Championships and 7 of 8 World Constructors’ Championships. Dennis was team principal when a formidable list of drivers won world championships: Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton all triumphed under the guidance of Ron Dennis.
But Dennis’s success has not come only on the track. He is largely responsible for McLaren being the large, successful company it is today. The companies in the McLaren Group include McLaren Mercedes, the Formula One team; McLaren Automotive, which manufactures McLaren’s high-performance road cars; McLaren Applied Technologies, which “develops groundbreaking solutions across sport, medicine, biomechanics and entertainment by applying McLaren ‘know-how'” (according to the McLaren website); McLaren GT3 Racing, which is responsible for the company’s sports car programme using the McLaren MP4-12C GT3; and Absolute Taste, which provides catering and hospitality services to, amongst other clients, the Formula One team and its guests as it travels around the world.
Dennis was Group CEO from 1982 to 2012, the incredible period of growth that transformed McLaren from a racing team to the powerhouse described above. After handing over the Formula One team to Martin Whitmarsh at the end of 2009, Dennis continued in the role of Group CEO until the end of 2012 before Whitmarsh was also handed that role. Dennis became Group Chairman but relinquished executive responsibility for the Group.
After just one year with Whitmarsh at the helm, Dennis is back. That must at least partly be the result of the Formula One team’s poor performance in the 2013 F1 season. For the first time since 1980, neither McLaren driver stood on the podium all season. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez finished 9th and 11th respectively in the Drivers’ Championship, and McLaren finished fifth in the Constructors’ Championship, the team’s worst result since 2004.
It’s clear that Dennis intends to make changes at McLaren, and quickly. He said after his appointment yesterday:
“My fellow shareholders have mandated me to write an exciting new chapter in the story of McLaren, beginning by improving our on-track and off-track performance. Over the coming weeks I intend to undertake a thorough and objective review of each of our businesses with the intention of optimising every aspect of our existing operations, whilst identifying new areas of growth that capitalise on our technologies, and where appropriate further investing in them.
“During February, I will articulate a new Group strategy and implement the organisational structure best suited to achieving it. I am excited by the prospect of returning to the role of Group Chief Executive Officer and working with my many colleagues and fellow shareholders to fulfil our objective – which is to win at whatever we do.”
There are at least two major announcements still to be made before the Formula One season gets underway. Firstly, the team has yet to name a title sponsor after Vodafone terminated their McLaren partnership at the end of 2013. And secondly, the position of McLaren Mercedes team principal has yet to be confirmed for this season – after the disaster that was 2013, Martin Whitmarsh may well fear for his job.