Clive Scrivener facing forwards for Prodrive

Prodrive's Chief Executive, Clive Scrivener

Prodrive's Chief Executive, Clive Scrivener - Credit: Prodrive

The new CEO of motorsport precision engineering company Prodrive talks about opportunities, international growth… and the art of parking

Aston Martin Racing.
World Endurance Championship.
Round One, Silverstone, UK.
11th - 14th April

Aston Martin Racing. World Endurance Championship. Round One, Silverstone, UK. 11th - 14th April 2013. Photo: Drew Gibson - Credit: Prodrive

It’s easy to spot new visitors to Prodrive’s Banbury headquarters because they’re the ones who’ve parked their cars bonnet-in.

Prodrive's MINI rally car

Prodrive's MINI rally car - Credit: Prodrive

Apparently parking face in first (and yes, this interviewer did) doesn’t fit the precision engineering company’s culture and if a new employee parks wrongly, a colleague will quietly suggest they don’t do it tomorrow. According to the company’s new CEO, Clive Scrivener it represents the Prodrive culture: “Engineering is precise and if everyone behaves the same way it becomes quite powerful.” A fast getaway is useful for a company which has built its reputation on motorsport excellence in rally driving, working with manufacturers such as Subaru (for twenty years) and now a winning new partnership with Oxford-based Mini.

Prodrive has sites in Warwickshire and Milton Keynes as well as its Banbury HQ, and employs more than 500 people. It was set up in 1984 by professional rally co-driver David Richards CBE, who is still chairman, and also chairman of Aston Martin in Warwickshire. However in May Prodrive, which posted a turnover of £110 million in 2012, put Clive Scrivener behind the wheel as CEO.

Motorsport and performance engineering is big business in Motorsport Valley clustered around Oxford, now an acknowledged global centre for engineering and design excellence.

Prodrive is in the vanguard of Oxfordshire’s engineering expertise. It runs Aston Martin Racing in the World Endurance Championship and Mini in the World Rally Championship and Global Rallycross. It’s bursting out of its current site at Acorn Way, Banbury and plans to build a new HQ at the former Hella lighting site nearby. But first it has to get plans approved for a retail park on its current site to finance relocation.

Clive explains the company’s plans: “We moved here in 1986 before the M40 was built. We’ve added a dozen buildings since then. On a sunny day it’s lovely, but not in the winter when cars have to be moved from building to building. It’s also expensive to maintain.” The new site will give Prodrive room to grow.

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The company has undoubted expertise in precision engineering, but Clive explains that it is essentially a marketing business. “Most of what we do is about trying to help someone else sell something. For Mini it’s about showcasing what their cars can do in order to sell more cars, so they sponsor Prodrive to harness our engineering excellence and win car rallies. We also have a company called Brand&, which designs and sells bespoke clothing and other merchandising.”

Prodrive has a carbon composite business with its own dedicated factory in Milton Keynes employing 120 people with more needed, and significant capital expenditure is taking place on new equipment. Another Prodrive business is focused on automotive technology.

The company is increasingly undertaking projects for the automotive, aerospace, marine and defence industries, including the development of innovative low carbon technologies, lightweight composite structures and niche vehicle design and production. The company’s engineering expertise is so advanced that it is even working on products destined for Mars.

With all this precision engineering, why isn’t Prodrive in Formula 1? Clive explains: “In 2006 we got close to putting a team together before meeting a legal challenge from another team. We tried again in 2009 and it is the pinnacle of world motorsport, but it’s not just the high cost of entry but the on-going costs.”

However it is seriously considering participating in a new FIA-backed series called Formula E, which is for open wheeled, all electric racing cars.

This is a brand new championship, starting in 2014 with ten teams racing in ten cities across the world, from London to Beijing via Rome, Rio de Janeiro and others, this is zero emission racing with professional drivers and a world championship associated with it. It will run between September to May and open up opportunities for new sponsors. It’s ‘green’, family friendly and could attract an audience which would never dream of going to F1.

In the meantime, Prodrive is committed to rallying, and if you think about it, rally car driving says things about a brand and car that are more relevant to the paying customer than Formula 1. Rallying is about robustness, toughness, speed of innovation and versatility. It’s also about winning, thanks to Prodrive’s successful Mini RX debut at the Munich XGames at the beginning of July.

Rally driving is not as big in the UK as other countries, but we’ve had major champions: Most remember Colin McRae’s rally success, Jenson Button has driven rally cars and new manufacturers coming in (VW this year, Hyundai in 2014) will boost interest. It is certainly good news for Prodrive which has customers in almost fifty countries across the world, including China and India.

The business sells its innovation globally, signing over Intellectual Property knowing that it has more in the pipeline, but the pressure is on to keep up the development of ideas, and its competitive edge. For Clive this is achieved through people. “Creativity is about getting the right people thinking in the right way, and about an education system teaching people how to learn, not what to think. It’s about companies such as ours taking responsibility for bringing youngsters up through the business.

“We have a full house of work experience students this summer. Our graduate intake is healthy along with 16-18 year olds who come through the motorsport route. Sometimes the work that pays the best is not necessarily the most creative. The secret is to try and do enough work to make enough money to reinvest, and enough creative work to keep the pool of innovation going.”

Prodrive invests up to £1 million a year on R&D. “We invest where we can see a clear application and on some blue sky R&D,” explains Clive. “The challenge we face is the R&D projects we choose.”

The fascinating thing about motorsport is its dynamism. “We are driven by immovable deadlines,” says Clive. A race won’t be delayed because our car hasn’t arrived, or isn’t ready. It will start regardless. It makes the business intense,”

Prodrive has its own word for delivering high engineering on time:‘Neverstop’. “Getting things done properly but quickly. Apply that mindset across the businesses, you get merchandising, engineering and composite businesses built on a different cultural basis to other companies. This is how we achieve our difference.”

Clive qualified in the construction industry before moving to BOC Healthcare. He joined Prodrive around 18 years’ ago when David Richards was investing in the company to take it from a £14 million turnover business to something much bigger. Clive’s appointment was part of that strategy and, as the new CEO, he’s planning to do it again, investing in the composites, precision engineering and Brand& business to grow them to the next level. Having been Chief Operating Officer for eight years Clive has already done much to build the business. “The next five years is about building our capabilities and I want to do more in motorsport, especially Formula E as it’s a feeder to all sorts of opportunities for the rest of our businesses.”

Prodrive isn’t just looking for organic growth, which can be slow and capital intensive, but also at acquisitions, partners, joint ventures and technology sharing.

When he’s not working, Clive spends his time with family at home near Chipping Norton. “It’s quite intense working here and at home I’m happy to do ‘man stuff’ such as mowing the lawns. Last week I was at Le Mans, and in Germany this week. I don’t have a direct role in the teams as they are run locally but I go to meet people and maintain relationships.

“Leading a private company means getting closer to the action, taking the company forward and promoting British industry, because we are just the sort of company this country needs.”

With everyone, cars included, facing forwards.