Meet The Crew: Jim Wright, Chief Commercial Officer
Posted on: 13 September, 2017
An offer you can’t refuse
Finding the right partners to contribute technology expertise and budgets to Formula E is an extremely crucial (and sometimes, the most difficult) part of the sport. Enter Chief Commercial Officer and passioneer, Jim Wright. In a career spanning almost 40 years, Jim has worked with some of the bigwigs in the industry, including Williams F1 Racing, Virgin F1 Racing, ATS F1 Racing, among others.
In this edition of Meet The Crew, we discuss Jim’s first job, his adventures on an ageing moped, the most challenging aspect of being in motorsport, and what he loves to do when he’s not convincing companies to sponsor the Mahindra Racing Team.
How did you venture into motorsport?
I had identified at a very early age (about 10 or 11) that I wanted to work in motor racing. As a school kid, I used to send my designs to the Formula 1 designers. But when my grasp of Science and Maths proved inefficient, I turned my attention to the commercial side, sponsorship and team management.
Whilst at university, I started to go to Silverstone every weekend and I began to work on a voluntary basis to represent some F3 drivers – Thierry Tassin, a Belgian driver was one of my firsts. Then, in the summer of 1979, I got a job with March Engineering in Bicester, England. March, then, was the world's foremost racing car constructors making cars in F2, F3, Formula Atlantic and some sports car projects. This was a great experience for me career-wise, but I also gained a good lesson in perseverance. The 70-mile daily journey to the office proved demanding for my ageing moped. With no public transport, my commutes were often interrupted to make repairs to the engine by the roadside!
But the job led to my first proper role in motorsport in 1980 when I was given the task by an Iranian entrepreneur to bring a set of designs for a Formula 3 car to fruition – the Magnum F3. Through contacts made at March I recruited two people and the three of us built F3 and Formula Atlantic versions of the Magnum cars and we raced the F3 car in the British F3 series. This led to a career in motorsport spanning 37 years and counting, including 16 years in F1, twelve of which were spent working for Frank Williams when Williams was at the top of F1, winning many Grands Prix and World Championships.
What does the Chief Commercial Officer for a racing team do?
My focus is on bringing new partners to the team and finding companies that can contribute to our technology and budgets. This enables the team to move forward and compete for victories.
Do you have additional responsibilities during race weekends?
Race weekends are quite busy. I host new prospects, meet with team partners, arrange meetings between partners and FIA/FEO personnel. I also work with Team Principal Dilbagh Gill in terms of representing Mahindra Racing in the Formula E Teams' Association which meets at every Formula E event – there’s always much work to be done then.
You’ve worked with numerous F1 teams in the past. How is working with a Formula E team different?
In many respects, it's the same challenge of convincing a company to spend a part of its marketing budget on sponsoring the team. The major difference is that Formula E is a relatively new motorsport, so there is an element of educating the prospect first. I also enjoy the fact that a Formula E team is very small (30+ personnel vs a mid-size F1 team of 600+). This means each person has to multi-task and carry a greater responsibility.
The most challenging bit about working in motorsport?
The amount of hours that you have to put in at the top level, especially when you have a family. But I enjoy the commitment, the professionalism and the drive to improve and learn new things.
I enjoy the commitment, the professionalism and the drive to improve
You’ve been with Mahindra Racing since the beginning of this year. What do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy working with Dilbagh and the team. Mahindra Racing has a very good group of experienced and dedicated personnel from diverse motorsport backgrounds. They are all extremely focussed on achieving success and I like working with these guys. I also had the pleasure to work with Anand Mahindra in New York and this was a truly great and inspiring experience.
A moment of ‘high’ your job gives you?
I really enjoy that winning feeling, whether it's landing a new partnership deal or winning a race, it cannot be beaten, especially when you start from a lower level and climb up to achieving strong success.
I really enjoy that winning feeling…it cannot be beaten.
A couple of high points in your motorsport career?
So far, it's my contribution to winning the F1 World Championship titles with Frank Williams between 1994 and 2006. And also helping to build Formula E from a concept to its present position in just a few years. I'd like to think that I've contributed to that through my work with the Formula E Teams' Association. Our win in Berlin, my first in Formula E was also a very special occasion which I will always remember.
Let’s go ‘off-track’ for a moment. What do you do when you’re not working?
My principal interest outside of motorsport is my family. I have a wonderfully supportive wife, Anna who understands the industry and who helps me enormously, and four great kids who keep me young! I also love football, I'm an avid fan of the English Premier League team, Watford and now, my two sons are have also become fans.
Any words of wisdom for ambitious, young people out there who see working with a racing team as a potential career, and hope to become ‘Chief Commercial Officer’ one day?
I would first ask them to reach inside and question their dedication and stamina for such a role. It's tremendously demanding and competitive, and these are just the first requirements for anyone contemplating my role. I also think that any candidate would need to combine a good understanding of sponsorship and commercial marketing with a sound knowledge of the motorsport scene. I've seen many people fail because they were strong in one area but not in both.
It's tremendously demanding and competitive
We couldn’t agree with you more, Jim. But it’s also tremendously thrilling and rewarding. Something passioneers live for.
Share this article if you know anyone looking to make a career in motorsport racing.