Interview with Alex Burns, the chief executive of the Williams Formula 1 team, who joined in 2002 as general manager, running the production side of the factory and car production. In 2004, he was promoted to chief operating officer of Williams, and became chief executive in 2010.
On why Williams became a public company with a flotation on the Frankfurt stock exchange:It was a logical progression for the business. It is a business that has been around for a long time. It has been profitable in the vast majority of the years of its operation. You need to have long-term profitability to survive and sustain the business and to invest. You need that positive cash flow to invest in facilities. Particularly with our strategy of diversifying the business away from Formula One more, it gives us access to the financial markets should we need it for particular investments.
For many years we have run the company like a public company. We partner with public companies, and big public companies with valuable reputations want to partner with other public companies or businesses that are run like public companies, with good governance and transparency.
I think there have always been slight issues; some people look at a Formula 1 team and say: ''If I sponsor that, how do I know exactly where the money goes?'' If it is a public company you can look in the accounts. You have access to that and it is transparent. So I think it is a benefit in terms of trying to attract sponsors.
On how Williams has struggled with loss of sponsors and appears fragile. Yet it also has begun to build up a series of automobile environment-related technology businesses outside racing:It brings stability. We do see fluctuations in sponsorship. Although we are a public company now, we are still a private team. We are not part of a large corporation as some teams are, so we don't have the stability of the large corporation behind us. We succeed or fail on the basis of our own commercial endeavors within F1, and now to a certain extent the other businesses.
So some of the logic behind the strategy to diversify is to bring growth and some is also to bring stability, because those businesses can be more stable. F1 sponsorship is quite linked to the economic cycle and the sponsorship and marketing budgets of large corporations. So you can see some fluctuations. It's right to say we have a smaller budget than some of the leading teams. It is wrong to say that we are financially fragile. We are financially in good shape. We have very little debt and we are comfortable.
On how the future of Formula 1 in general looks to him:I think Formula 1 is pretty robust. I think it is in good shape, there is still a lot of money coming into the sport, the audience is growing. The global audience is up about 7 percent this year, compared to last year, and last year it was up 7 percent on the year before.
We have the new technologies coming through for 2014 now as well. So the new engine format with an increased use of hybrids, we're very keen on that and the sport is going in the right direction: down-sized, turbo-charged, direct G.D.I. engines is the way that a lot of automotive people are going.
On what, with his background in aerospace, attracted you to Formula 1:It is the precision engineering and the competition. To have the two combined is fantastic. It is very exciting. The challenge of Formula One is: ''How do you get a group of engineers working together so that they can outperform the competition when those competition are very, very good indeed?''
And I think we have got something to say. It think we have got a lot to teach business about time to market. Creating a culture of innovation at speed is something I think we are very good at.