McLaren Automotive COO to CEO: what does it mean?

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Mike_FlewittMcLaren has promoted current chief operating officer Mike Flewitt to chief executive officer: the new role is effective immediately and his old role now ceases to exist.

From COO to CEO… but what does it mean, and why does McLaren now deem the COO role redundant? Well, I wasn’t quite sure. So did some research.

COO and CEO: what’s the difference?

Firstly, let’s loosely define the roles. A chief operating officer is the day-to-day operations person, who helps rally the company’s employees to help achieve its senior execs’ vision. They make things happen.

A chief executive officer is more senior (which is why McLaren’s Ron Dennis describes this as a promotion). It is from them that they company’s vision will come (meaning it’s vital they are good communicators) and they’re also the person that will help obtain finance for the firm, seek out other talented execs and generally set the agenda for executive management.

Flewitt’s evolution from COO to CEO thus reflects the natural growth and maturity of McLaren Automotive. All the operational level work – rolling out core cars, setting up dealers, bedding in the McLaren Production Centre – is now complete: McLaren has a top-line factory producing thousands of Ferrari and Porsche-rivaling 12Cs, sold through a global dealer network that will total 50 by the end of the year.

Now, the company must focus on the next stage of its development. That means strengthening the executive leadership, growing from a startup into a sustainable and stable car firm – oh, and helping finance its future growth plans. This is what Flewitt’s job will be: make McLaren Automotive into a car firm for the long term.

McLaren: rewriting executive convention

The interesting detail here is that McLaren’s done it the other way around to most startup firms. Usually, a CEO is recruited first, whose sheer will and force of vision drives through the company’s growth into a stable platform that, in time, needs the logistical and minutiae of management a COO brings. The COO is usually recruited after the CEO – McLaren doing it the other way around AND abolishing the COO role is thus interesting.

But then, not many startups have a Ron Dennis to provide the vision. McLaren Automotive is very much his company: a CEO from the start simply wouldn’t have worked. There would have been a clash. Maybe Flewitt’s promotion thus marks an opportunity for Dennis to step back (maybe getting more involved in F1 again?).

What will be interesting is what Flewitt’s going to do about the operational elements of the company. He’s not got a COO to work with, so what form is his executive leadership team going to take? Time will tell: look out for the McLaren releases for more clues as to the company’s future vision.

More on McLaren boss Mike Flewitt from the BBC

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