Friday 15 March 2019 4:12 pm

Formula One legend Bruce McLaren is a racing role model, but what can business leaders learn from his life story?

Follow John Allert

When Bruce McLaren, the founder of the motor racing team named after himself, was just nine years old, he was diagnosed with a hip issue that left him bedridden, with his legs encased in plaster for three years. This devastating experience left him unable to do what every youngster should be doing: playing with friends, and learning in a normal school environment.

But as if often the case, this torrid experience had its silver linings. McLaren was 12 before he could walk again, and spent much of his time discussing his passion for cars with his garage-owning father, and envisioning a future in motor racing.

Read more: New kids on the grid: Norris and Russell set for Formula One debuts

Budding business leaders can learn a lot from this anecdote. In both life and business, meeting challenges with resilience and determination makes it possible to emerge stronger than before. For McLaren, it was his response to his condition that defined him, not the condition itself.

With the 2019 Formula One season starting in Melbourne this weekend, it’s worth looking back on McLaren’s life to find out what other leadership lessons we can learn from this racing role model.

Fearless in the pursuit of innovation and success

Like all successful business leaders, McLaren could never rest on his laurels. At age 21, he left everything behind in New Zealand to move to the UK and become an acclaimed racing driver. By operating outside his comfort zone, he achieved his first race win by 22 and was running his own team at 27. He took a bold risk with little more than the fierce determination not to fail.

But it’s not just his conviction that small business leaders should try to emulate. His inquisitive nature and willingness to improve existing models and processes was infectious.

Growing up, Bruce would try to mechanically improve old autos. He operated under the mantra that no car was ever perfect. There would always be changes that could make it faster, handle more responsively, or be safer – it just needed the right approach and mindset to figure it out.

Business leaders should take heed here. McLaren taught us that the service or product that you offer is unlikely to be perfect the first time around, but if you approach the problem in the right way and with the correct mindset, it can be improved, tightened, and refined.

Leading by example

McLaren was an innovator himself, but he also knew how to build the perfect team, pulling in those with the most suitable expertise around him.


Over 50 years ago, he gathered a small group of like-minded individuals – mechanics, engineers, and racers – and inspired them into creating a racing team that would eventually win the Formula One World Championship. With 20 titles, 182 Grand Prix victories, and over 700 employees, the organisation that he founded is still going strong.

This is a key lesson for any aspiring entrepreneur. True success is seldom achieved alone, so having the right partners to support you is critical.

Read more: Book now to be part of the Formula for Success Motor racing dinner

The McLaren of today works so closely with technology partners such as Dell Technologies for this reason, as they help us optimise performance, spot marginal gains, distribute data, and make better decisions faster. By optimising our IT systems in this way, we can also enhance our racing prowess.

Full throttle

The worlds of racing and small business have a lot in common: both are fast-paced, require dedication to succeed, are exciting to watch, and are prone to the occasional setback.

So the next time you are presented with a challenge or opportunity, ask yourself: what would Bruce McLaren have done if he were in my shoes?

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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