In November 2016, Julia Schumacher became the Director of Business Growth for the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA). The MIA is the world’s leading trade association for the motorsport, high performance engineering, services and tuning sectors. Its role is to globally represent the specialised needs of its members. GridPasses caught up with Julia for an interview about her new roles and responsibilities.

There are only a handful of female directors or team principals in motorsport, each with a unique path to their roles. What was your path to Director of Business Growth for the MIA?

JS: I have always been inspired by the engineering world and although I am not an engineer myself, I grew up in an engineering family and I naturally gravitated towards the industry.  My career began in manufacturing and then progressed to working closely with a range of high performance engineering businesses in and around the Midlands.  Prior to joining the MIA, I led the development of the ‘Northamptonshire High Performance Technology Network’, an industry network comprising of over 1000 engineering businesses within the fields of motorsport, automotive, defence, aerospace and rail.  During this time, I was fortunate to build many strong relationships with some of the UK’s most innovative engineering firms and enjoyed facilitating a number of successful partnerships and project opportunities.

In addition to the Business Development Director role, you are also a Governor at Silverstone University Technical College. What does each role entail and do they complement each other?

JS: Through my work in Northamptonshire I had always worked closely with the MIA, many of the companies I supported were MIA members, it seemed a natural progression for me to take the opportunity to join the team and continue my business development work on a broader scale.  I have always been passionate about supporting businesses and helping them to grow, it was important to me to continue this work.  I joined the team in November 2016 as Director for Business Growth, my role is to work closely with member companies, partners, stakeholders and government agencies to identify and drive forward business growth opportunities across the industry; it’s an exciting position to have! There is always a new project or initiative to work on to benefit the industry and I enjoy the challenge of finding new creative ways to do this.

My role as governor for the Silverstone University Technical College (UTC) stemmed from my work in Northamptonshire, I was involved from conception, before the UTC was built.  I worked closely with OCR (the examination awarding body at the time) and Tresham College (Tresham are a sponsor of the UTC alongside the University of Northampton and Silverstone Circuits), to help ensure local engineering employers had the opportunity to influence the curriculum and equipment requirements and ensure the young people leaving the UTC would have the skills required by the industry. 

I was appointed to the board by Silverstone Circuits when the UTC opened in 2013 and my role is to work with the other directors to oversee the management and finance of the organisation. It is the most inspiring educational environment to visit and I would encourage all engineering companies to make a point of getting to know their local UTCs, the ethos and work ethic instilled within these establishments is exceptional.

I would encourage all engineering companies to make a point of getting to know their local University Technical Colleges (UTCs)

It seems the battle to get more women into STEM jobs is never-ending. Are there any programmes at the college to encourage more females into STEM subjects?

JS: The Silverstone UTC specialises in High Performance Engineering and Business and Technical Events Management.  16% of current UTC students are female, of these, one third are undertaking engineering studies and two thirds are undertaking Business and Technical Events Management. So 7% of the engineering cohort and 55% of the business and technical events cohort are female.  Sadly, we know the gender balance is a fundamental industry issue with currently less than 10% of the engineering workforce being female in contrast to 46% of the workforce nationally.  It is great to see the work of WISE, Engineering UK, The Royal Academy of Engineering and local schools, colleges and universities all doing their bit to encourage more girls into engineering, not to mention employers such as JLR and Rolls Royce who regularly hold events aimed specifically to attract more females into the industry and breakdown misconceptions.

The Silverstone UTC is an advocate for encouraging more females into engineering, all UTC marketing material is aimed equally at males and females and careful consideration goes into how this is presented.  One of the key marketing activities for the UTC is the regular Open Evening inviting prospective students to view the college and the facilities, the UTC invite alumni to speak to prospective students and females always feature strongly in the presentations.  It is rewarding to see that 100% of the UTC Year 13 leavers (2016 alumni) have gone onto either university or employment, with female students securing work at Towcester Racecourse, Mercedes Powertrains, Mercedes AMG F1 and one leaver working on the HS2 project.

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In your time in the motorsport industry so far, what has been the biggest change?

JS: Firstly, the exceptional global reach of the sports entertainment which all kinds of motorsport has become. Initially, in response to the popular transition from terrestrial TV to satellite TV and then onto many other forms of engagement – online, pay-TV and still free-to-air as well. Motorsport entertainment now reaches into societies all over the globe and this has brought exceptional financial reward to those involved in the industry – whether in supplying the engineering needed to feed each event or the multitude of services which are vital to delivery of this entertainment ‘product’.

The biggest change is where technologies, developed for success in motorsport, are increasingly adopted by other industry sectors – automotive, defence, marine etc. This change in customer base for motorsport suppliers has steadily increased over the past 15 years. Motorsport’s historic and continued focus on maximising the efficient use of energy from whatever source, to bring victory, has been at the heart of this change. Building on this, the motorsport industry is now more closely linked with OEMs than for many years and is directly addressing a wide variety of technical challenges and has become an integral part of the R&D development stage.

In your opinion, what are the main threats and opportunities to the motorsport industry e.g. Connected and/or Autonomous Cars, eSports etc?

JS: Wherever one person sees a ‘threat’ to some sports entertainment activity another sees an opportunity – and this has been true for decades. For example, soccer in the USA initially was a costly failure, but now, through the determination of entrepreneurs, is a success and the highlight is the huge popularity of the women’s game! There are countless other examples – perhaps drone racing is the latest.

Image from @ManCityWomen Twitter

Since the days of chariot racing in Roman times, humans have always enjoy competing in whatever means of ‘transport’ was in popular use. On the sea, in the air or on land – where before cars were horses and they were, and still are, ‘raced’. On this basis, whatever lies ahead can be seen as a threat or an opportunity, and to grow one’s business, it is best to focus on the latter. It’s hard to be specific as to how our industry, and the entrepreneurs whom we attract, will create entertainment for our audiences from future transport technologies but the initial success of Formula E shows what can be done.

I am heartened by the instant popularity of drone racing on TV which seemed, at first, highly implausible but has proved a success. I am confident all future forms of transport will, in some way, be used to entertain and that engineers will be needed to provide winning solutions – whether this can fully claim to be MOTORsport if there are no ‘engines’ is a moot point! However all systems will need some form of ‘power’ and this suggest the use of energy and so we return to the capabilities of our current industry.

It was reported that the Motorsport Valley® generated £9 billion in revenue and employed 41,000 people in 2012. How has this changed between 2012 to 2016?

JS: There are no precise statistics but estimates suggest that Motorsport Valley® companies have increased their sales turnover by approximately 4% per year since 2012 and employment by circa 500 per year since 2012.

Pretty impressive numbers, but looking ahead, has or will the British High Performance Technology and Motorsport sector experience a Brexit or Trump effect?

JS: Our industry is not immune from the effects of politics but the impact of both these changes is simply unknown. Brexit negotiations have yet to start, all we read or hear is soundbites which the media seize and adapt to create stories and denials or agreements keep these alive.

The UK motorsport industry is resilient and used to adapting to rapid change, rule changes and customer requirements and will continue to produce world leading products and services.

The effect of this period of uncertainty is probably affecting decisions on long term investment plans, but in the next few years, most are getting on with doing business and there is plenty to find due to the helpful exchange rates for high value engineering goods or services. The UK motorsport industry is resilient and used to adapting to rapid change, rule changes and customer requirements and will continue to produce world leading products and services. The Trump effect has not damaged the enthusiasm for motorsport in the USA, our single largest market, and it is hard to see how even Mr Trump will find time to ‘damage’ this sector – he has more significant matters to keep him occupied!

Julia Schumacher was interviewed by Bunmi Ade of GridPasses. Follow on Twitter at @JSchumacher1, @GridPasses and @MIAMotorsport. Other links: Motorsport Industry Association or the Silverstone UTC