Santander has created a series of Masterclass events aimed at supporting and inspiring SME’s amongst their suite of initiatives under their Breakthrough Programme.

The Breakthrough Programme includes Growth Capital Loans, access to university interns with their partner universities, insights into overseas markets to aid in exporting, Connection Events and their signature Masterclass events. These events are aimed at giving SME’s an insight into a range of market-leading companies and iconic brands and recent events have been held in partnership with Google, Saatchi Masius and Innocent Drinks. The events gives companies first-hand knowledge of how these businesses have accelerated their growth and unlocked their potential - something we are all looking to achieve.

I joined a recent Masterclass at the home of McLaren in Woking as a guest of Colin Berkeley, Santander’s Regional Director for Kent, Surrey and Sussex to understand what these events bring to the table.

Few will argue that McLaren is one of those inspiring companies and just arriving at their HQ is inspiring in itself. Ron Dennis, the former head of the company, constructed a building that could of come straight out of a James Bond movie, with sweeping curves and wide open spaces that would appear to have been lifted out of an interior design magazine. Add to this the scattering of Formula 1 cars and an astonishing 50 metre wall of trophies, this building sets the scene for an inspiring day.

The first speaker was their COO of the McLaren Formula 1 racing team, Simon Roberts, and it was incredible to hear quite what it takes to run such a team. The logistics alone of moving 40 tons of equipment and personnel around the world to each race on the calendar was daunting let alone having to race these highly strung machines in an attempt to win every race. He also explained the ethos behind the seamless team work that goes into every weekend.

Before lunch, we toured the legacy F1 cars and the McLaren Automotive factory where the road cars are built. No robots or conveyor belts here. Every car is hand built on rolling trollies in a spotless building - no oil or grease on the floor - in fact, l could of eaten my lunch from that very floor.

Their new model, the 720S, was going into production and it was a privilege to see them being assembled.

After lunch, we met Geoff McGrath, their Chief Innovation Officer who gave a talk on where McLaren Applied Technologies was headed. During the tenure of Ron Dennis, he tasked Geoff to go out and find new applications for the wealth of McLaren F1 technology, and Geoff didn’t waste any time.

Geoff quickly realised that he needed to be speaking with market disruptors not market leaders as this is where progress was to be made. This takes quite an inspiring approach. To be told to take the highly specific technology from the rarified world of motor racing and apply it to other corporate sectors is not the average request - but then this is not your average company. Geoff and his world-class team of designers and engineers did not miss a beat and their first port of call was a train company. They designed a system that will ensure the train monitors itself and the track every time it runs, do away with the need for human track inspections and scheduled maintenance as the train will now tell the engineers when it needs a service and monitors the health of the track. To increase revenue, the system will also monitor how many seats are occupied and inform the booking system how much occupancy remains so that the next station can sell against seats available.

Geoff then looked at bicycles in the same way they look at racing. Race cars are fitted to the individual driver and they are sculptured around their individual frame and weight therefore how could bicycles possibly be one size fits all? Apart from leg measurement, there is no further requirement and this just did not seem right. Therefore, working with a well-known US brand of cycles, Geoff and the team devised a system whereby the bikes are now made to adjust to the weight, stature and height of the rider and the ground over which they would ride. This has transformed the manufacturing of cycles and the US company in question has incorporated this technology into every bike it now sells, further disrupting the market.

Further applications for their technology run longer than l have space for here but it even extends to medical inhalers - the type the majority of people with asthma carry that are prescribed by the millions. Geoff didn’t think they were terribly efficient so the team set about re-engineering them. These new inhalers are now totally personalised to the user and will not only tell them when they are not being used properly but will re-order themselves from the pharmacy and ensure the correct dose is administered every time.

This entire day starkly demonstrated to the fifteen business leaders attending that thinking outside the box is a mandatory action and not an optional action. Any technology, regardless of sector or size, can be utilised way beyond its intended use which has the effect of extending its life and its profitability, and therefore the company’s bottom line. It demonstrates that there is no need to be afraid of breaking into new markets, treading new ground or disrupting the status quo.

Great Britain was, for centuries, the home of brilliant engineers, inventors and designers that changed the world and they are still there now but, perhaps, a little cowed by the might of the US and China and the size and speed of international markets but, as McLaren aptly demonstrates, we can still be market leaders if we have the courage to adapt and overcome and, to use that hackneyed old phrase, think outside the box.

I was inspired by my day at the Santander Masterclass and everyone l met at McLaren and find myself bringing much of what l learnt back to my business - if it works for me, then I would heartily recommend a Santander Breakthrough Masterclass to every business leader in the UK.

Santander Business Banking

Colin Berkeley

Tel: 07739 860023



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