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[NEWS] What motoring's great minds do now after a life in cars

What motoring's great minds do now after a life in cars

40 David pook a110
Alpine A110-tuning is how Pook now earns his bread

Working in the car industry has real appeal, but eventually the time may come to move on. We spoke to those who left to find out what they're up to now

The lure of the major automotive companies is obvious, but what tempts some people to leave, can they apply what they learned to their new role, and do they live to regret it? We spoke to some ex-engineers and former PR gurus to find out.

David Pook Then: Dynamics specialist at Daewoo and JLR Now: Self-employed dynamics specialist

“At Daewoo, I was very lucky to work with an experienced dynamicist who had come from General Motors. This grounding and the wider application of problem-solving and methodology is something that I still use today.

“In 19 years at Jaguar Land Rover, I maintained this career direction, but as I aged, the interest in the business and people side grew. There was a big itch I needed to scratch and, to be honest, I was worried about what JLR’s future looked like.

“So I went from heading the vehicle dynamics team at SVO, took a voluntary redundancy package and set up on my own. I planned multiple avenues, from consultant engineering to Alpine A110 tuning and private set-up work. Things never go completely as intended, so I now concentrate on my Life110 business and tuning of the A110, and I even have a social media business developing on the side. You can’t be too rigid with plans.

“I would say that I was utterly unprepared for the realities of your own business and how to make money. I’ve had some good mentors and friends with experience help me through it, and I’ve learned fast. But, retrospectively, I would also say that JLR taught me a depth in engineering that you wouldn’t get in many places. The technical expertise and knowledge I have is something that I’m extremely grateful for.

“Of course, all this comes with the anxieties of where your income will come from and when. I can see now how entrepreneurs can be driven by fear: if I stop working, the money will dry up. But this is tempered with ownership; I can do what I want, how I want, and the success is down to me.

“Would I go back to the corporate world? The answer is yes, but not at the moment, and only for the right environment, which is categorically not what I left. I’m a big believer in how [Mercedes-AMG F1 team boss] Toto Wolff operates and leads, and that’s the total opposite of what you find in JLR engineering. Now I’m focusing on growing my own business in the same philosophy.

“I used to think that success was measured by what was written about the dynamics of a car I was involved with. But actually, if you have a great car that no one buys, what’s the point? I’ve built Life110 from nothing in just a year and sell around the world with customers across Europe, Japan, Australia and more.”

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Gareth Dean Then: PR and marketing with Honda, Nissan and JLR Now: Owner, Non Plastic Beach

“I co-founded Non Plastic Beach with my wife, Nicola, in October 2018. We sell our own branded alternatives to plastic, from bamboo toothbrushes to shampoo bars, toothpaste tablets and washing-up bars. We’ve literally gone from a kitchen table to our own business unit, with employees and sales to 91 countries.

“Our inspiration came from seeing plastic pollution while scuba diving and then struggling to find ways to cut down our own use of it. Every product we sell must meet our mantra of being effective, affordable and sustainable now.

“We’ve worked with big brands, like Etihad Airways on the world’s first plastic-free flight and skiing brand Salomon on a global competition. When we worked with Etihad, we were still working from our single garage and dining table; that was a huge thrill.

“Working for myself has been amazingly different to working in the car industry. Most notably, the speed of decisions is a huge plus; I can’t imagine that calling our silicone food covers Boll**ks to Cling Film would have survived many big corporate meetings!

“There are downsides, though. I definitely miss having a Jaguar I-Pace to drive home, and when I see an event like the Geneva motor show or a media test-drive event somewhere glamorous, I get pangs of jealousy. Would I go back? Not likely any time soon, as Non Plastic Beach is growing fast, but never say never. I do still dabble with some consulting and advising.”

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Guy Burden Then: Marketing for Jaguar and car retail Now: Self-employed consultant

“From car sales, I joined British Aerospace in 1990 as a technical salesman and went on to sell private jets in Brazil. I left to start my own aircraft-trading business in 1994.

“I moved into planes because I met John de Havilland, who’s part of that esteemed aviation family, and he told me to go and sell planes and see the world. So I did. I had to learn the technical side and how to fly, so it was a huge challenge, but I travelled the globe, learned so much and met some extraordinary people, from heads of state to film stars and big-name financiers.

“My automotive experience stood me in good stead. Private jets and luxury cars are essentially the same: high-value capital goods with long sales cycles and usually a single decision-maker. It’s just the numbers that change.

“I’m still a car guy at heart; private jets are interesting, but they’re essentially fantasy products, whereas I get misty-eyed about all kinds of wheeled vehicles, from the new Ford Transit to the latest JCB.

“Today, my consultancy business covers everything from cars to planes, airlines, hotels, farms and agricultural machinery, but it’s still cars that make my heart skip a beat. Ridiculous, isn’t it?”

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Neil Patterson Then: Chief engineer at McLaren for the 12C and 570 ranges Now: Principal at Silverstone University Technical College

“I was thinking about my next moves when I got a call, asking if I was interested in setting up and running a brand-new technical college based at Silverstone Circuit. I actually thought they had rung the wrong Neil Patterson, because I had no education experience!

“But the opportunity was evident: I could work in support of the high-performance technology industry that I love, starting young people out on their careers to solve the problems of tomorrow. Silverstone UTC opened in September 2013, and all of our students are aged 14-18. We teach them everything that normally happens in schools but with a focus on engineering and business management, because that’s what the companies around us are looking for.

“There are aspects of working for a manufacturer I miss: the monthly trips to test drives near Barcelona, the cut and thrust of a challenging design review and the opportunity to invent things, mostly. Oh, and knowing what I was up to might annoy the hell out of my counterpart in Maranello! But now there’s the thrill of seeing students achieve things they wouldn’t have done in a traditional school. Every year we send students to work in Formula 1, for instance, and those teams now come to us asking for our pupils.

“I could be tempted back to the automotive industry for a lot of money and the right role. I’ve been keeping my hand in with a very exciting project that I’ll be able to tell you about in due course. For now, though, I’m very happy seeing more young people find their niche in technology and proceed to greatness in an industry that served me very well and is incredibly rewarding."

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James Coates Then: Battery engineer at JLR Now: Mobile EV mechanic

“I loved working at JLR. I had been around cars as a child, then I was there for three years and they put me through all the training and certification I needed to work on electric vehicles. In the end, I was working on some exciting prototype developments.

“I had a good salary and a great pension – but also an itch to do something for myself. Matt Cleevely approached me and asked if I wanted to work with him setting up a mobile repair company specialising in EVs, and initially I turned him down. But then a voluntary redundancy offer came up and, while it wasn’t huge money, it made it possible.

“At JLR, I was working purely on the powertrain, but we never really got to see the finished cars. That’s how it had to work, but I love working on cars full stop. The specialism was limiting, the focus was quite stifling and I like talking to customers. I like being on or ahead of the whole curve.

“So far, I’ve loved being mobile. I’ve driven three hours each way for some jobs yet enjoyed them all.

“EVs actually tend to be simple to fix, because there’s far less to go wrong, and we have some exciting projects on the go, such as upgrading early Nissan Leafs to take the newest 40kWh battery packs. There are slight differences we have to modify for, but it’s a relatively simple job that of course transforms the way the cars can be used.

“When I do that work, I do get drawn back to what JLR taught me. They never ever compromised on safety, and that ethic of never patching up a job lives with me: it has to be done right or not at all.”

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Andrea Marques Then: Colour and materials designer at Nissan Now: Self-employed designer with specialism in sewing

“I worked in purchasing, studied hard to progress and always wanted to work in automotive, so when a chance to join Nissan in Cranfield came up, I was really keen to take it.

“It was a culture shock, going from being in a three-person team with almost full autonomy to being part of a team of around 80 with decisions made in conference calls. Some of the skills I had developed around legal knowledge, contract negotiations and more weren’t needed. The singular focus was a shock. I loved the give and take of negotiating, but in the car industry it’s very much about the take.

“Some people love it, and I certainly learned a lot and list it as part of my life journey, but it wasn’t for me. I was headhunted by a former colleague to go back to a role that used all my skills, and I took it.

“Not long after my mum died, I became burnt out at work and then was made redundant, and all that led to mental health issues. I reappraised my priorities, and that’s why I sew now. I love it, enjoy seeing people’s reaction to my work and have control of my workload. It’s a very different but very happy life.”

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