Ken Pastenak's journey into Formula 1 began when he was hired to design a two-day seminar based on F1 with the goal of teaching business acumen to international law firm's lawyers. Since then Pasternak has travelled the globe speaking to audiences about the key take-aways executives can learn from F1 teams.
Finland has a long history of car racing dating back to the early 1920’s when the Automobile Club of Finland held races on the ice that attracted 10 000 spectators. From 1932 to 1963 the Eläintarha Race was held in Helsinki. In the 1960’s Rauno Aaltonen and Timo Mäkinen were successful rally drivers and Finland can boast three multiple World Rally Champion Drivers winners - Juha Kankkunen, Tommi Mäkinen, and Marcus Grönholm - between 1980-2000. But around the world Finland is best known as the small country that has produced great Formula One (also known as Formula 1 and F1) drivers.
Number one country
Finland’s list of F1 Driver World Champions includes Keke Rosberg (1982), Mika Häkkinen (1998, 1999), Kimi Räikkönen (2007), and while technically he is German, Finn’s have included Keke’s son, Nico Rosberg (2016) as well.
Other Finnish F1 drivers in recent times include Valtteri Bottas, Heikki Kovalainen, and Mika Salo. Relative to its population, Finland is the number one country in the world in motorsports driver success. Just why, no one is certain, but their podium finishes always give Finns a reason to celebrate.
Interest growing in the USA
The United States also has a long history of Formula 1 racing. In fact, there have been 70 F1 races in the US since 1950. The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) a purpose-built track in Austin, Texas is the location of the US Grand Prix since 2012.
Interest in F1 is growing in the USA and since Liberty Media purchased the business for $4,6 billion in 2017 they have been looking to hold a second race on American soil. That will now happen with the announcement that Miami will host an F1 Grand Prix in the second quarter of 2022. It has taken five years of planning, community dialogue, and one change of venue working closely with the city of Miami on this ten-year agreement. The track will be laid out around the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins football team.
These two US races are part of a planned 23-race calendar from March to November covering 22 countries on 5 continents. It is surprising for many to learn that Formula One has the largest viewing audience of an any annual sport with over 400 million unique views in 2020. The average viewership of each grand prix last year was 88 million.
Towards a net-zero carbon footprint
Formula 1 is the pinnacle of technology in motorsports. Not only do F1 cars reach speeds of close to 250 mph (=400 km/h), F1 innovations have inspired many technological developments in energy recovery systems, navigation tools and composite materials that have been adopted by the road car and other industries.
An important initiative announced by Formula 1 in 2019 is to have a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030. This drive towards sustainability will cover the Formula 1 cars and on-track activity and the rest of the operations as a sport.
My F1 journey
My journey into Formula 1 began when I was hired by a major international law firm based in London and teamed with two experts, to design a two-day seminar based on F1 with the goal of teaching business acumen to their lawyers.
We created a behavioral simulation where I roleplayed the Vice President of Volkswagen trying to determine how we should enter F1 under the Audi brand. The lawyers were transformed into business consultants whose brief was to advise me on how it should be done.
We ran the workshop fifty times, most often at the Williams F1 Conference Centre in the UK, for 1200 of their lawyers. After three years my collaborators visited Finland to celebrate and on a warm summer afternoon while sitting on the terrace at our family summer cottage, we decided to write a book about what we learned from the experience.
“Performance at the Limit, Business Lessons from Formula 1 Motor Racing” (PATL) was published by Cambridge University Press in 2005. Two revised editions followed in 2009 and 2016. Also, in 2007 we made an 8-part series with the BBC inspired by the book, titled “Formula for Success.” PATL is also available in Japanese, Turkish and Mandarin Chinese.
Since its publication I have travelled the globe teaching seminars and speaking to audiences about the key take-aways executives can learn from F1 teams. Here are a few:
•Focus, Focus, Focus.
When Sir Frank Williams was running the team that carries his name, he would ask one question of his colleagues when they requested money for various projects, “Will it make the car go faster?” I often ask executives, “How focused are you on your purpose? What question are you asking when allocating scarce resources?”
•Make quick decisions and learn from the results.
Like all businesses, F1 teams must Plan and Implement. But what they do better than others, is Review, systematically and often. They are agile organizations, measuring performance, getting the right people in the room to review results, extracting the learnings, and making decisions on what to do next.
• Isolate the problem, not the person.
A pitstop crew leader shared this phrase with us when describing a disastrous pit stop. Rather than put the blame on the person who had trouble securely fixing the tire, they studied the mishap to understand what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. Organizations that create a safe environment for people to make mistakes and learn from them, build confidence, and enable creativity and innovation.
• Real gains come at the boundaries.
A Formula 1 car is a complex piece of equipment. Its components – power unit, aerodynamics, gears, brakes, electronics, etc. – must work in harmony to enable the car to attain its peak performance. This requires open and honest communication across organization boundaries where colleagues in different functions constantly share knowledge and experience. This in contrast to companies where we often see walls form between different functions – finance, marketing, manufacturing, etc. – which leads to a fractious work environment.
I have had several adventures attending Formula 1 Grand Prix and visiting team headquarters. A few of these have been included in my new book, “Exploding Turkeys and Spare Trousers, adventures in global business.” The book includes fifty-three stories from my business travels, and each includes a business or life takeaway.
One F1 experience I described was when I visited Ferrari F1’s headquarters at Maranello, Italy. It was the day before Midsummer, I was confident that I would catch my Finnair flight from Milan to Helsinki in time to celebrate with the family in the evening. However, I did not anticipate being invited by Ferrari to a full Italian lunch at Michael Schumacher’s favorite restaurant. Afterward, I had to invoke that great driver’s skill to make it to the airport on time, arriving just as the door of the airplane was closing.
Ken Pasternak has lived in the USA, France, Finland, United Kingdom, Turkey, and Belgium before returning permanently to Helsinki in 1996. He has held leadership positions at Citibank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. As an author, consultant and keynote speaker Ken focuses on building high performance organizations through visionary leadership, team effectiveness, creating a winning culture, and improving cross-cultural understanding. He is a graduate of Yale University and is a dual Finland/US citizen.