SEARCHING FOR THE BEST
A recent interview for Black Book Motorsport 2018
Established 25 years ago, Alexander Associates Motorsport Recruitment has developed a reputation as a leading consultancy specialising in recruitment for the motorsport and performance technology sectors, with International clients ranging from Formula One to NASCAR.
Stephen Bailey, founder and managing director of the Midlands, UK-headquartered firm, explains how Alexander Associates utilises its decades of experience and in-depth knowledge of the motorsport industry to fill specialist and senior roles in the sector, and how it seeks to provide tailored solutions by building long-term working relationships with its clients.
Who are Alexander Associates Motorsport Recruitment and what do you do?
The business is 25 years old now. It started as a recruitment and HR Consultancy, where the focus was on the automotive, engineering and manufacturing sectors. Over time, it’s become totally centered on motorsport and that’s really as a direct result of client demand. We’re not a recruitment agency – we’re a consultancy and we specialise in recruitment. The roles we fill tend to be very specialist, senior or confidential. We tend to work at senior engineer/specialist, manager and director level, with most roles having a technical bias, but we also have experience of recruiting into senior commercial sales and marketing positions.
All our work is retained so we never take on an assignment unless we’re contracted by a client and most of our work is extremely sensitive – we’re under non-disclosure agreements for a lot of the work we do. Consistently 85 per cent or more of our work is outside of the UK, mostly in mainland Europe and North America, so we have a truly international reach in that respect.
So what first drew you to the motorsport sector?
I’d always been interested in cars and in motorsport. I’d worked in the automotive industry as an HR manager and then as a management consultant so it grew from that really. Along the way I raced in a number of UK Championships so have sat behind the wheel too! I say to people it is fortunate that I am seriously interested in motor racing otherwise this would be the worst job in the world! Basically where we are is a combination of a personal interest, practical consultancy skills and market forces.
As a long-established consultancy, where do you position yourself within the wider motorsport ecosystem, in relation to perceived competition?
There are competitors but I don’t believe that they carry out their business in exactly the same way that we do. If they have jobs to fill, they usually place vacancies on LinkedIn, Job Boards or their own Websites, whereas we start with a bespoke tailored approach that usually starts with reference to our extensive network. Another thing that differentiates us is that we go about our work in a low profile manner- we’re headhunting, targeting people who are in a job and usually not actively looking to move jobs, so confidentiality and discretion are vital from the outset.
Also, we’re an out-and-out specialist, with excellent sector and industry knowledge; we’ve done this for a long time. My colleagues and I have got to know many people within motorsport over a long period of time, so we really know our stuff. I don’t think a lot of other people have the combination of motorsport experience and the ability to carry out the kind of highly specialised search that we do as part of our normal recruitment activities.
Building relationships and trust is the key to our success. We have worked with some of our clients for a really long time – 20 years or more in some cases, and it’s a really close relationship. They will share things with us that I don’t believe they would share with many other external suppliers, so it is definitely about trust. It’s all about making sure they’re comfortable with you, so you have to be able to demonstrate professionalism, ethics, morals, value for money.
What would you say it takes to fill a highly specialised role in motorsport, both from engineering and technical standpoints?
You need to have knowledge of the sector, good consultancy skills, determination, flexibility and the ability to think on your feet. You also need to be prepared to work all hours – I regularly answer my phone until ten o’clock at night and my research colleagues have regularly made calls to candidates while they are on holiday. It is part of what we do to deliver the best service to our clients.
Motorsport is all about speed, after all it’s going to take long enough to get top people in motorsport to move jobs anyway, as they usually have a fixed term contract or a long period of notice, so the sooner we can get hold of them, the better.
How do demands on talent in motorsport vary between roles and between different series?
Nobody ever asked us to fill an easy job – it’s usually about how difficult they are. No matter what area of motorsport you are in, by the time you come to an organisation like us for assistance, it’s going to be difficult. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working for a Formula One team or a UK national team, getting hold of the best people is a hard task, and we enjoy the challenge
A successful motorsport team is not just about the technical aspects, the car or the driver, or the budget it’s about having the right people in the team. Unless you’ve got the right people in the right job, you’re never going to maximise your potential and be totally successful.
Often the hardest vacancies that we have to fill are for the smaller teams or the ones that have not recruited before. In these cases we have operated as an extension of their own HR or support functions.
As a company working across borders, how do you adapt to meet demands in North America and Europe, and do you operate very differently there than in the UK?
Motorsport is now a truly international sector. Every Formula One team, every WRC team and so on, have all got people from many different nationalities so it’s become usual for us to operate similarly across countries. Most of our work is outside of the UK, and English tends to be the language of motorsport so the only challenge we really face is the time difference.
Are there any new markets you’re seeking to reach?
We are always interested to talk to new clients, or for them to talk to us. We’re always developing: we have recently been working in Formula E so we’re moving with the times in that respect. Most of our work comes from referrals or direct contact, so we have to be highly responsive.
Do you perceive an evolution in the motorsport industry’s talent pool with the onset of both power-train hybridisation and the movement into full electrification?
Electric motorsport has got a further evolution to go through. We already have Formula E, which is quite tightly controlled in terms of what you can do with the cars at the moment; there is the Jaguar I Pace Support series and the prospect of Electric WRX in 2020. Hybrid Power Units are with us in F1 and LMP, but it has probably not gone as far as it will go over the next few years.
Consequently, there has been an increase in the market for people with electrical/electronic backgrounds, but that’s not to say that people with mechanical backgrounds or those who are aerodynamicists or commercial will not still be in demand. These changes don’t alter too much what we do in respect of our recruitment activities.
What is in the pipeline for Alexander Associates’ future?
We need to continue to understand what our existing and prospective Clients want from us. We want to differentiate ourselves from other recruiters and get this message over more effectively. Most of our work is on the technical or engineering side of things and we would like to see more on the commercial side, which has already started happening.
How do you see the motorsport landscape in ten years’ time?
The top level of motorsport needs to be more cost-effective. It needs to be more interesting and exciting and it needs to engage with its fan base in different ways. Recently there has been a decrease in TV viewing figures both for Formula One in Europe and for NASCAR in the US, which is worrying.
I believe more young people need to be encouraged to follow the sport and also make it appeal more to the casual fan. People want to see shorter, more exciting races, with better competition – so NASCAR, for example, has already changed its race format and Liberty has come up with its Blueprint for the future of F1. Motorsport is changing and whether it’s changing quickly enough to retain or increase interest in it remains to be seen.