Inside Line: What’s really going on inside McLaren?

McLaren Technology Center

In the wake of the announcement that McLaren will split from Honda, the Japanese company’s head of motorsport has accused the Woking outfit of being resistant to change which was met with much derision as this appears to be a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black.

However for Masashi Yamamoto, in his role as Honda motorsport chief, claiming this is unlikely to be a tit-for-tat criticism, but rather based on experience over the past three years. For many it evoked laughter, for me it did so too until I started thinking about it…

For the record I have a soft spot for McLaren, I happened to work for a photo agency that serviced Marlboro during the team’s heyday. Indirectly they gave me my ‘F1 break’ at the time.

Irrespective of this I believe that their presence in Formula 1 is as important as Ferrari being there.

Invariably I have kept contact with McLaren staff of that period, and in the wake of Yamamoto’s statement was approached by a former employee to write a piece about the shenanigans at the team they once worked for and still love, but are shocked by what has been happening. Last year we were given insight into the ‘climate of fear‘, that endured at Maranello.

But now no one is reporting about the apparent dissatisfaction among staff at McLaren. After all the massive Motorsport Network (they have colonised just about every motorsport website) is unlikely to touch the subject of dissent and dissatisfaction at Woking because McLaren chief Zak Brown is their Non-Executive Chairman.

Which screams conflict of interest. Something like Sergio Marchionne being boss of Autosprint or Dietrich Mateschitz being chief of Speedweek… oops he is, scratch that! Yes nepotism among F1 teams and media exists but that’s another story for another time.

Back to where we were…

Now we have suggestions, even evidence, of ‘chaos at Woking’ and my sources are not disgruntled former employees but rather from written evidence, available to all, through a website called Glassdoor.

The website describes itself as: “Glassdoor holds a growing database of millions of company reviews, CEO approval ratings, salary reports, interview reviews and questions, benefits reviews, office photos and more. Unlike other jobs sites, all of this information is entirely shared by those who know a company best — the employees. Add to that millions of the latest jobs — no other site allows you to see which employers are hiring, what it’s really like to work or interview there according to employees, and how much you could earn.”

The Glassdoor thread entitled “McLaren Technology Group” was a major eye opener for me.

First and foremost McLaren have to do something about their parking!

But this is a relatively minor element, perhaps contributing to the spirit within the workplace, but the real rot appears to be at management level. Some (not all) have indicated how long they have been working at the company.

The reviews include feedback from current and past employees, for obvious reasons I filtered out the latter and present first hand insight into what is going on behind the doors of the MTC in the words staff that work there.

Principal Engineer
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (More than 3 years)
Pros: “Young flexible company, a lot of opportunities to grow. Fast pace and huge responsibility at any level makes the job interesting and exciting”
Cons: “Lack of directions from management, chaotic management, lack of resources.”

Design Engineer
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (More than 5 years)
Pros: “The working environment is great. Fantastic building. Small teams mean hard work but lots of exposure to different areas.”
Cons: “Building is now too small for the amount of employees. HR rarely have a clue what’s going on.
Advice to Management: Keep the engineering and technical expertise within the company. Keep the building up to its original standard.”

Anonymous Employee
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (More than a year)”
Pros: “Fascinating business, great location, lots of clever people.”
Cons: “Broken Management, crowded workplace, non competitive salaries.”
Advice to Management: “Look after your people better.”

Logistics Team Leader
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (More than a year)”
Pros: “Passion for cars. Clean place to work. Ambitious if your (sic) lucky to progress. Good benefits tickets to car shows etc.”
Cons: “No teamwork. No meal variety in Restaurant. Employees unqualified out of there depth. Seems anyone can be a group leader. Certain departments run riot. Worst logistics I’ve ever seen. Production made up of boy racers. Car parks completely overrun. Employees constantly shouting. Horrible shift hours.
Advice to Management: “Need to get a grip on the needs of the business. Be more understanding with staff. Promote staff who deserve it from hard work and not just being someone’s mate. Group leaders are too young need more experience. Stop employees shouting around the warehouse as it was never allowed once upon a time in McLaren. Drastically improve sap users as they are useless never reply to emails.”

Anonymous Employee
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (More than a year)”
Pros: “Lovely building. Great restaurant. Wonderful history on display.”
Cons: “Parking is a nightmare, with a complete lack of courtesy and consideration for others coming to the fore.”
The majority of people that work here (especially the women and the management) are “up” themselves. They don’t even possess basic manners and courtesy. They really think there “it” when, in fact, they’re not! Very cliquey.”
“Staff who have been there a long time are allowed to treat other people like dirt; they also get away with bullying people. I have heard terrible stories of what happens when people complain, so I haven’t bothered, but I am looking around for another job. Visitors (not just the millionaires that can afford the cars) are treated like gods, whilst the staff are treated like dirt!”
“Difficult to transfer internally if your manager wants to be awkward. Terrible communication, both within my own company and also inter-company.”
Advice to Management: “Wise up. Follow your own disciplinary system! Treat people with respect and as adult rather than treating them like they are five years old!”

Anonymous Employee
Status: I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time.”
Pros: “Fantastic product. Clean working environment.”
Cons: “The stress starts before you arrive. Most employees have to leave for work up to an hour before you need to be there because the parking on site is a joke. Reason being if you arrive 30 mins before shift start you stand a chance of being blocked in or blocking someone in so all in all just the start of the day is part of the stress. On the work side you are confronted by skilled people with vast trade experience and unskilled which causes quality related concerns.”
“Another thing is alot of people are contractors who get £15 plus an hour and many of them are unskilled against the full timers whom have been through an interview and employed based on skills experience and content of cv, most productìon full timers are on about £ 11.50 an hour so straight away theres a massive pay divide which causes psychological injustice to the point where you think can you idiots not see this is wrong?”
“Most production staff are expected to work 26 days a month some 6 days a week some 7 days and up to and beyond midnight 5 days a week for less than 25k a year. The work life ballance is not countered by good wages. If you complain about any of this you are soon told where the door is and formal complaints to HR is a waste of time because they bow down to the management.”
“As for promotion it is exactly as i say its mates rates and whos backside you are prepared to kiss and many people get overlooked because someone who knows someone gets the job. All in all McLaren is a very difficult place to work out it is very up itself it is in love with its own self immàge and believe me the car is the star not the management. There are lots of people there who are making good money that they do not deserve. Finally i heard a manager say if an employees complaint becomes a problem the best waý to solve that problem is to remove the problem ie the employee and that just about sums up the place.”
Advice to Management: “Can not say more than listen but they wont. There is none so blind as those who do not listen.”

Systems Engineer
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (More than a year)”
Pros: “Interesting projects, cutting edge technology to work with. The facility is clean and high quality, and it must be noted that the staff is really high level, both in terms of skill and intelligence. A pleasure to work here.”
Cons: “Days can get long. Hard to see a clear career path currently. Parking space is an issue, however a new parking lot is in the works.”
Advice to Management: “Focus more on people development and career plans/guidance to motivate your staff.”

Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (More than 3 years)”
Pros: “Canteen (cost and quality are big positives). A lot of skill and knowledge to absorb from experienced and older employees who had the perseverance to stay since SLR days. Cars themselves are actually really good and apparently MAT is not as bad as Automotive if you do want to work at McLaren.”
Cons: “Engineering company run by finance and HR with a very short sighted attitude. Complete disappointment on several fronts – poor remuneration, poorly managed with a lot of so called managers having no clue what they are meant to do, including some very senior managers/directors.”
“Plenty cases of nepotism and favouritism, especially among Italian employees who generally are paid a lot better.
Complete disparity between pay and expectations for what’s meant to be accomplished in timescales and with no budget – this is not racing on a cheap! Unclear promotion and progression, unless you know the right people.”
“Salary/bonus/promotion put on hold for selected, who don’t share the ‘correct’ management opinions. No budget and limited training opportunities for development, even crucial to your role. A lot of young, inexperienced engineers left without support and guidance, leading to some poorly designed systems, which have issues over and over again – costing the business on every project.”
“The business must have upset almost all quality suppliers by now as finance simply does not want to pay the bills – meaning a lot of quality issues from tier suppliers with poor process control. Expectation are completely unrealistic with some key decision makers having no clue and understanding on what’s sensible and achievable.”
Advice to Management: “Become transparent and concise across the business when it comes to pay, promotion, bonus and other crucial areas, listen to your employees and get a reality check – match your targets to something achievable – nothing wrong with aiming high – just understand what it takes to do it!”

Anonymous Employee
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time.”
Pros: “Flexible hours, work from home scheme, various discounts, on site restaurant and gym. Great people!”
Cons: “McLaren automotive is a disruptor not only for the automotive market but for it self due to the ambitious growth plan. The facilities and processes are not ready to accommodate this and is causing a lot of chaos. However, I do believe that in couple of years the growth pains will pass and will prove to be an even more exciting place to be.
Advice to Management: “Pay more attention to the facts and figures rather than perceptions. Also, personal grudges have no place in a professional environment.”

Pros: “Intelligent and generally enthusiastic colleagues. Interesting technology and projects to work on. Generally direct line-managers are good to learn from and will develop you. Beautiful building.”
Cons: “Doesn’t always feel like management care about employees – if you’re in real trouble I think they actually tend to be very sympathetic and help you out. But for the most part it feels like they don’t consider daily issues or inefficiencies, which strikes me as short-sighted as fixing small issues (and generally improving morale) would likely improve productivity.”
Advice to Management: “It is already starting to happen, but showing your employees that they are valued will go a long way to helping morale and staff retention.”

Anonymous Employee
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (Less than a year)”
Pros: “Free coffee during lunch and at specific hours. Low prices for food. Interesting products. A job at McLaren looks good on your CV.”
Cons: “Cold and impersonal enviroment. Total lack of life-work balance. Not worth the stress and lack of personal life for a job at McLaren – a pat on the shoulder is not compensating for all the other negative aspects.”
Advice to Management: “Consider the human side of the employees, don’t just see them as resources.”

Anonymous Employee
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (Less than a year)”
Pros: “Canteen, nice building, fantastic products.”
Cons: “No life/work balance, long hours, overloading with work, stressful place. Poor respect of employees, extremely high expectations, unpleasant atmosphere at work. More managers than employees.”
Advice to Management: “Learn to respect the employees, they are the true asset of the company.”

Anonymous Employee
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (Less than a year).”
Pros: “A few great individuals on the ground. Brand opens doors to interesting potential customers and technical challenges, and is a great talking point for your CV. Nice building.
Cons: “Zero vision or strategy from management. Horrendously low salaries relative to the market (“we don’t pay London wages, we’re not in London!”). A real culture of people succeeding based on who they know, not via any kind of merit – which is also true of the hiring process. Zero transparency, bordering on underhand at times. Company is struggling to retain staff like a bucket with a hole in it.”
Advice to Management: “Stop losing great engineering talent – recognise it, reward it, and it might stop walking out the door. As Ron would say, “cut the fat” from the management team. Other companies are striving for flat organisational structures, but McLaren is adding more and more levels of reporting. Decide what direction you actually want the company to go in – something more specific than growth!.”

Anonymous Employee
Status: I have been working at McLaren Technology Group (More than a year)
Pros: “Clean, warm environment. Canteen is usually very good. The people on the shop floor make the place bearable. Top class facility.”
Cons: “I have worked for McLaren for over 2 years. In this time the company has changed dramatically and not in my opinion for the better. Since my start the upper management in automotive has changed. The remit of the company has been to employ management mostly from a mass production company (Honda) and with that employ staff with experience in doing so to expand the company rapidly with a dynamic and aggressive strategy.”
“Thats when the problems started. So far it has been as about as competent as the managers that run the place. The management that came in come with the attitude of what Honda was. For the most part non skilled workers with little or no experience needed to do a 90 second process on a car. Such minions were seen as easily expendable and even more easily replaced. Within a short time the values of Mclaren have eroded as the cancer of senior Honda management has seeded itself and infested all levels of management in the Automotive sector of McLaren.”
“Staff are now treated with absolutely no respect what so ever. It is very much a Honda boys club with former Honda staff coming into the business and within a no time at all taking team leader roles. Most career progressions going to former Honda employees with no regard or consideration for the “old” Mclaren staff who are usually a lot more knowledgable and skilled for the roles. All middle management have come in from Honda (all hired by their friends higher up) and have come with the same arrogant and distasteful attitude of “if you dont like it the door is there” even one of the most senior managers who you see on the shop floor comes onto the line bullying staff and trying to play the bully role and speaking to staff like they are sub human.”
“The irony is non of the management know anything about the cars or how they are put together. And they know even less on how to run the place. You end up repeating answers to non relevant questions and discussing topics that are not important considering the dire straits the company is in. Staff morale is at its lowest since i have been here and they are at breaking point. We have also expanded rapidly and brought in non skilled workers to put their hands on 200,000 – 700,000 pound cars with minimal or no training what so ever. The place is understaffed with the droves of people leaving due to the management, lack of career progression (unless your in the boys club) and with the direction the company is going.”
“There is a clear lack of direction involved in how we are going to achieve building a quality car that is enjoyable and more importantly safe for the customer. The quality of the cars in my opinion has dropped dramatically and that is reflected in what goes out the door and the results we get back (when info is leaked to us) It has got to a point where we don’t get told about the quality now such is the decline. McLaren has turned from making a quality slow built car to making cars as fast as possible with little emphasis on quality.”
“I leave this now with a sadness that the soul of the company has been ripped out of the company. And its on a road of no return! I believe another 18 months and that will be the end of what i loved about McLaren. RIP.”
Advice to Management: “Listen to the staff on the shop floor. Realise our importance as without us you have nothing. Treat is with dignity and respect and most importantly, value us! Concentrate on the quality and brand of what we are building and stop concentrating on numbers!”

Anonymous Employee
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (More than 3 years)”
Pros: “Saying that you work from McLaren brings a lot of interest.”
Cons: “An awful company with terrible leadership, no vision, no direction. They exaggerate their capabilities but there isn’t a whole lot under the hood. Aggressive blame culture and no transparency.”

Anonymous Employee
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (More than a year)”
Pros: “Strong leadership with a clear three year strategy in place which gives.”
staff an understanding of upcoming work and new technologies. IT now has good relationships with other areas of the business allowing the team to work collaboratively.”
Cons: “Facilities such as the car parking and restaurant are over crowded however i know this is something that is being looked at.”
Advice to Management: “Continue to provide good leadership and communication.”

Production Team Member
Status: “I have been working at McLaren Technology Group full-time (Less than a year)”
Pros: “Name on a CV. Good people on the line. Canteen is decent.”
Cons: “Blame culture. No parts on time. Wasteful. Honda and Lotus middle and upper management. HR lie, don’t listen and are more interested in talking to each other about last nights Eastenders. Implementation of SAP is going belly up. Quality of the cars are abysmal. Culture of move the car onto the next process regardless of how complete the process is. The McLaren values are completely out of the window.”
Advice to Management: “Sack all of the middle to upper management and start again. Get rid of the Honda of culture of moving cars on.”

Note: The above is a selection from 53 McLaren staff reviews on Glassdoor, written this year people whoe were by staff there at the time of writing

Information: The McLaren Technology Centre is the headquarters of the McLaren Technology Group Ltd and all of its companies, located on a 500,000 m² site in Woking, Surrey, England. The complex consists of four buildings, two of which are open. The main building is the McLaren Technology Centre (Home of McLaren Group). The Norman Foster designed building was short-listed for the 2005 Stirling Prize. About 1,000 people work at the Technology Centre. It is home to the McLaren Racing Formula One team and McLaren Automotive, as well as other companies of the McLaren Group.

So there we have it as they say: straight from the horse’s mouth.

At the beginning of this year long time supremo Ron Dennis was ousted and a new regime, headed by Zak Brown, installed to lead the organisation into the future.

Whatever the case McLaren appear to have much more than problem an engine change from Honda to Renault on their plate and begs the question: What’s really going on inside McLaren?

It would be unfair to blame Brown for what appears to be dissatisfaction among some of the troops in the trenches as he may have inherited the rot, nevertheless it also suggests that Yamamoto might have a point.

King Arthur summed it up in the movie: “Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot!”