5 Business Lessons from Bruce McLaren

By John Allert

Bruce McLaren, the founder of the Formula 1 team that bears his name, is the ultimate business role model. His achievements prove that determination, innovative thinking, belief, and a passion for what you are doing can create success. In a short space of time, he achieved what most could not do in multiple lifetimes, successfully building what was to become a globally admired brand synonymous with the highest levels of performance.

There are many lessons to be taken from Bruce, and nowhere is that more true than in the world of small business. Future leaders, thinkers, innovators, and trendsetters who want to follow their dreams and realize their ambitions can learn from this great New Zealander. Here are five reasons why:

1. A drive to overcome any obstacle

When he was nine years old, Bruce was diagnosed with a hip issue that confined him to bed for three years, with his legs encased in plaster. It was a devastating experience, and unable to play with friends and learn in a normal school environment, he showed a real determination not to allow his problems to hamper his dreams. During his rehabilitation he worked closely with a tutor to further his education, and he spent hours discussing motor racing and his love of cars with his garage-owning father. He was 12 when he was finally allowed to walk on his own again.

The resilience Bruce showed is something that any entrepreneur or aspiring individual can learn from. In both life and business, there will always be challenges to overcome, but with the right mental attitude, it is possible to emerge stronger than before. In Bruce’s case, it was his response to his condition that would define him, not the condition itself.

2. A fearless pursuit of innovation 

Growing up, Bruce spent a great deal of time challenging himself. He mechanically improved old cars, learning how they worked, and what was required to make them faster. As a teenager, he developed his humble Austin Seven into an increasingly competitive machine.

For Bruce, a car was never perfect. There were always changes that could make it faster, handle more responsively, or be safer – it just required an innovative and inquisitive mind to figure out how. This is a fantastic lesson for those in the small business world. The service or product that you offer probably won’t be perfect the first time around, but with the right mindset and approach, it can be continuously improved, tightened and refined.

3. An unlimited vision

From a young age, Bruce showed that he was a brilliant driver, but it became clear very quickly that his vision extended far beyond the cockpit. He became the engineer, the inventor, the maker, the tester. He was never afraid of the unknown, and showed a determination to push boundaries, both personally and technologically. Bruce shared this trait with the co-founder of one of McLaren’s technology partners, Michael Dell, whose fearless pursuit of innovation and seemingly prophetic vision played a critical role in guiding his company through the world’s largest technology merger, worth $67bn.

This is something that both entrepreneurs and aspiring individuals can take inspiration from – good things happen when you are outside your comfort zone. It’s important to never be afraid of the unknown and to always dream big, think outside the box, and push boundaries.

4. The bravest of outlooks on life 

Perhaps one of the most poignant lessons from Bruce McLaren is how important bravery plays in creating success. In 1958 and aged just 21 years he left everything he knew in New Zealand and moved to the UK in pursuit of his dreams. He won his first Formula 1 race at the age of 22, and started his own racing team at just 27. He took a bold risk with little more than a fierce determination not to fail. The words that Bruce wrote after the death of team mate Timmy Mayer in 1965 encapsulate his bold outlook on life:

“To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one’s ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.

Those words proved to be very prophetic and befitting of Bruce himself when he tragically lost his own life in 1970 while doing what he loved most – testing the limits of his latest racing car.

5. A natural ability to attract the best

Bruce was an innovator himself, but he also knew how to build the perfect team, pulling in those with the correct 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 1 World Championship. Twenty titles, 182 Grand Prix victories, and over 700 employees later the organization he founded is still going strong. And drawing on Bruce’s long-held ambition to produce a road car, the McLaren brand has diversified into luxury supercars and a cutting-edge technology business with over 4000 employees.

This is a key lesson for any SME or aspiring entrepreneur. Truly great success is never achieved alone. Whether competing in the most technologically advanced sport in the world, or in the small business arena, it’s important to know that there is someone to call on when an issue arises. This is why having the right partners is so critical. It’s just one of the reasons we work so closely with Dell, to help us optimize performance, spot marginal gains, distribute data and make better decisions faster. By optimizing our own IT performance with the correct technology partners, we are able to enhance our Formula 1 performance.

The world of racing and small business have a lot in common. They are both extremely fast paced, require dedication to succeed, are exciting to watch, and are prone to the occasional setback. The next time you are presented with a challenge or opportunity, ask yourself – what would Bruce McLaren have done if he were in your shoes?

In his role as Chief Marketing Officer, John Allert leads the overall McLaren brand and the marketing and partnership activities of the iconic Formula 1 team and McLaren Applied Technologies division.

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