Mercedes shuffles management structure

James Allison

Perhaps it is a case of people being mis-cast for the play or maybe it’s a simple issue of having people deployed in the wrong roles. It’s an interesting issue given today’s results from Mercedes versus their past eight seasons.

I suspect that James Allison’s role as CTO was a move made to accommodate his work/life balance and deploy his skills in a different way that retained his insight but also elbowed out room for his desire to not travel as much and work on other projects. There was a time when Adrian Newey asked Red Bull to consider that as well.

In that, there is an interesting juxtaposition. You see when Adrian was getting restless with designing F1 cars and his contract was up for renewal, Red Bull agreed to let him work on other projects such as super cars for Aston Martin and such. I think, after decades of designing racing cars, Adrian wanted a new challenge and Red Bull made that happen.

I could be wrong but I get the sense that’s what James was seeking to at Mercedes and they made room for that when they moved him into the CTO position. For Mike Elliott, this meant taking on the technical director role while James filled a special CTO role and worked on the America’s Cup project.

It now seems that Elliott has come to a conclusion, at least that’s what Mercedes says, that he is better suited for the CTO role and James would be best deployed int he technical director role. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said:

“What Mike’s assessment was, and the introspection is really admirable, is that with James we have a gladiator on the field and the troops are going to go through the fire for him and with him,” added Wolff.

“Mike came to the conclusion that the way he approaches things, his skill set, is best utilized in developing the organization going forward: from technical capabilities to human capabilities and putting together the structure that can be successful for many years to come.

“It’s about creating a structure that can be sustainably successful going into the next generation. We’re seeing huge changes in the technical developments, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“And at the same time, looking at how is a modern Formula One team going to be organized and structured: what kind of innovation can be brought in.

“Mike sees himself very much in his sweet spot there and obviously he’s a super capable engineer, very credible and respected in the organization. He is going to be a coach and sparring partner for the most senior people.

“And I’m actually very happy that Mike took this decision by himself to put himself in this role, with both him and James coming to this conclusion, as we are having both of them in their genius.”

That all sounds great when put like that but I suspect there is more to the story and if we see a departure of either of them in a year or so, I think we’ll know what the real story was. In fairness, it may simply be as Toto Wolff explained it.

There are other changes within Mercedes as well and it would seem that the team are trying to move the technical talent into roles that exploit what they are best at. This is a good move. I’ve often explained that instead of obsessing over what an employee is weak at and dog-piling on them for their lack of, say, Excel Sheet skills, you would be better to exploit what they are really good at and simply provide some help of assistance on the elements they are not as skilled at.

If the reality is, Excel spreadsheets are 80% of a particular role and you have a person who doesn’t do well with Excel, then you have to make changes. If excel spread sheets are 10-20% of the role but building an entire new sales channel, sales distribution program or project management team is the prime focus, then get a sales admin person to help this person with the Excel spreadsheets needed. Let them shine and focus on the primary work for which they were hired.

Perhaps Mike is best at building teams, creating business models, talent assessment, technology adoption assessment while James is best at designing cars. It could be a move to re-align those skillsets more effectively.

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