Mark Gallagher: The Queen’s graduate who found management success in Formula 1

Born and raised in Belfast, Mark Gallagher has played key roles in the success of Jordan Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing and Ireland’s championship-winning A1 Grand Prix team.

Now travelling the world as CEO of his consulting business, Performance Insights, he still attends a third of the Formula 1 calendar as a highly respected voice of the sport.

Gallagher’s big break came in 1990, when Dublin’s Eddie Jordan made the jump into Formula 1 forming the giant-killing Jordan Grand Prix team. Gallagher left his role as Marketing Director at Jordan in 2004 to join another new team, Red Bull Racing, before co-founding Status Grand Prix, the team responsible for running Ireland’s A1 Grand Prix team. His final executive role within the sport was to head Cosworth’s return to Formula 1 as an engine supplier, supplying one-third of the teams from 2010 onwards, and working within the FIA to develop the hybrid engine regulations used today.

Upon graduating from Queen’s University Belfast in 1983 with a BSSc in Economics, Gallagher’s first working weekend was the Dutch Grand Prix in the same year. Gallagher wasn’t the only Belfast native at Zandvoort that weekend, Northern Ireland’s John Watson finished the race in third position in his McLaren MP4/1.

“After graduating from Queen’s in June I travelled to London to meet with the major accounting firms,” said Gallagher. “But thanks to a twist of fate, I was diverted into a job working in the marketing department of Autosport Magazine – which at that time was the major motorsport publication.

“It was a formidable opportunity to get to know the industry and meet a terrific network of contacts.

“I continue to work in Formula 1 today through the work I do with former drivers including David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen and Jacques Villeneuve, plus the media and corporate work which keeps me busy.

“My first roles were in media between 1983-87, I then became a media consultant to Marlboro (Philip Morris) and Canon, which were very large sponsors at the time, and that led to me joining Eddie Jordan in the launch of Jordan Grand Prix.”

During Gallagher’s time with Jordan, the team would win four Grand Prix races gaining the reputation of being able to punch above its weight. Drivers to race with Jordan would include Michael Schumacher, Eddie Irvine, Rubens Barrichello and Damon Hill.

“Eddie was regarded as something of an upstart; this Irish guy daring to enter Formula 1,” explained Gallagher. “But it was a classic start-up, very lean, entrepreneurial with a great culture and family spirit.

“It was special because we questioned everything, did not stick to normal ways of working, and disrupted the sport by setting out to do a giant killing act.

“That was made possible by the people and the culture, which was to experiment, try new things, and avoid becoming slow-moving and bureaucratic.

“This inherent agility meant the team was able to make the most of every dollar we raised in revenue. We didn’t waste anything.”

Gallagher believes creativity and innovation were key to the successful engineering projects he witnessed during his time in Formula 1.

“At both Jordan and Red Bull Racing there was a tendency to innovate by reading the regulations in two ways; one way was the read what they said, and therefore ensure the car was fully compliant.

“The other way was to read what they did NOT say, as this is where we have so much scope for innovation.

“Engineers should be creative, they must innovate; so while there are of course basic operational and regulatory requirements about anything you engineer, always make room for considering alternate ways of approaching a problem and developing a solution.”

Innovation is key to standing out in a world that is fast becoming so closely aligned to programming or software perfection. Formula Student’s rawness leads to a wide range of designs each year but it’s the management experience gained through Formula Student that Gallagher points to as being crucial in an engineer’s development.

“Formula Student has already been proven to help develop team skills, and act as a decent incubator of talent for motorsport organisations.

“It helps open people’s eyes to the complexity of managing a project, and a Formula 1 team is really a big project.

“It is all about managing compliance, quality, performance and a long list of deliverables against a set of non-negotiable deadlines.

“To work in F1, graduates need a strong work ethic, a willingness to work in different areas in order to develop a range of relevant skills and experiences, plus a real desire to work collaboratively in teams.

“To be successful as a team in Formula 1 we need people to share information, to be open, honest, drive a sense of urgency, and recognise that if we are to have continuous improvement, we need to be very open about issues whenever they arise.

“It is not a culture for poor communicators or those who might hide their mistakes.”

So what advice does Gallagher give to somebody looking to make a career in motorsport?

“If you know where you would like to end up, go for it by creating and taking opportunities wherever you may find them.

“Creating a network of contacts is vital, and so too is being prepared to undertake temporary internships or part-time work to start with.  Sometimes your route to the top may be indirect.

“It did not seem obvious to me that taking ‘any job’ at Autosport may have been the correct thing to do on leaving QUB, but ultimately one stepping-stone led to another, and within three years of leaving Belfast I was working at Formula One races and enjoying the career I most wanted.”

Queen’s Formula Racing is proud of Northern Ireland’s heritage and continued presence in the top levels of motorsport. As the team continues to grow and develop who knows what future paths lie ahead of the current team members.

Adam Hall

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