Dennis at the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed
1 June 1947
|Employer||UK Trade & Investment |
Minsheng Investment Group
British East Asian Council
|Known for||McLaren Technology Group (Director & Shareholder) |
Summit UK (Chairman)
Absolute Taste (Majority Owner and Founder)
Minsheng Investment Corporation (Global Consultant)
British East Asia Council (Chairman)
TAG Heuer (Former owner)
UKTI (Official British Business Ambassador)
McLaren Automotive (Chairman, Founder and Minority Shareholder)
|Net worth||£450 million (May, 2019)|
|Spouse(s)||Lisa Dennis (Divorced)|
Ronald Dennis CBE (born 1 June 1947) is a British businessman and Official British Business Ambassador for The United Kingdom. Dennis is the Global Consultant for Minsheng Investment Corporation and also former owner of Absolute Taste. He is best known for his former role as owner, CEO, chairman and founder of McLaren Group. Dennis was removed from his McLaren management roles in 2016 but remained a director of the company and a 25% shareholder until June 2017, when his 37-year association with the company ended.
Between 1981 and 2009, Dennis was the team principal of the McLaren Formula One team, and was instrumental in transforming the outfit into a regular world championship contender. Constructors' and drivers' world championships were won with Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Häkkinen and Lewis Hamilton.
Aside from McLaren Group, he is also one of six British business persons to be an official British Business Ambassador for advanced engineering and manufacturing. Dennis is also a main trustee for Tommy's, a miscarriage help charity. He is the Global Consultant for the state owned China Minsheng Investment Group and also the chairman for the UK Summit. With interests in foreign trade, Dennis also became Chairman of the British East Asian Council in 2014. Before the merger with LVMH, Dennis was a major shareholder in the luxury watch maker TAG Heuer, along with his business partner, Mansour Ojjeh.
Dennis was born and raised in Woking, England, and studied motor vehicle engineering at Guildford Technical College. He began working for the Cooper Formula One team in 1966 as a mechanic at the age of 18 where he worked alongside lead driver Jochen Rindt. In 1968 Rindt moved to Brabham and took Dennis with him. For the 1969 season Rindt moved to Team Lotus; however, Dennis stayed on, choosing instead to work for Sir Jack Brabham.
When Brabham chose retirement in 1971, Dennis and his colleague Neil Trundle decided to start their own team. In 1971, Rondel Racing was founded in Dennis's native Woking. Money was at a premium though and Dennis was trying to find sponsorship. Through Ron's then girlfriend, who was the daughter of John Phelps, director of Phelps Antique Furniture in Twickenham, one of its regular customers Tony Vlassopulos, a barrister son of a Greek shipowner, was asked to sponsor Rondel. Vlassopulos asked his friend Ken Grob, chairman of Alexander Howden, insurance brokers in London if he was interested in joining in. Grob said yes on the proviso that his young son Ian Grob could be part of the team, which was agreed. From that moment forward, Vlassopulos became Dennis' first sponsor.
By the mid-1970s the team was enjoying considerable success in Formula Two. Rondel aspired to be more than a customer team, however, and Dennis soon managed to find an additional backer to Grob and Vlassopulos in Motul, to help fund a Rondel F1 car. For 1974, a Ray Jessop-designed F1 car was planned but the energy crisis affected Motul's backing. However, ultimately, Dennis didn't have the overall fund anyway and so Trundle continued with the already designed car from Jessop and Vlassopulos and Grob took over the ownership, with the car becoming the Token.
Dennis regrouped, forming a Marlboro-backed F2 team for two talented and well-sponsored drivers from Ecuador. In 1975 Dennis founded the Project Three team, and his cars once again became race winners. In the late 1970s, Dennis founded Project Four Racing. This team went on to great success in Formula 2 and Formula 3, winning championships in 1979 and 1980 with Philip Morris (Marlboro) backing. Project Four also participated in the build programme for Procar BMW M1 racing cars. As his business interests became increasingly successful and lucrative, Dennis aspired to return to Formula One, hiring talented designer John Barnard to spearhead the design and development of an innovative new F1 car.
Dennis's return to Formula One was well-timed. The recent poor performance of the former world championship-winning McLaren team had prompted Philip Morris executive John Hogan to initiate a takeover of the outfit by Dennis's Project Four operation. Effectively a reverse takeover, it heralded the arrival of the rebranded McLaren International operation and ultimately placed the thirty-four-year-old in full control of the outfit. In addition to hiring Barnard to begin work on the team's revolutionary new carbon fibre composite chassis, the MP4/1, Dennis also successfully recruited the Porsche automobile firm to build the cars' engines from 1984-87.
The 'MP4' designation originally stood for Marlboro Project Four (the MP4/1 design was complete before the merger). After the change of title sponsor in 1997, the same abbreviation was retained, with the 'M' now standing for McLaren. The numbering system was retained until 2017 when it was replaced with 'MCL' following Dennis' departure.
Prior to Dennis's arrival at McLaren in September 1980, the team was going through a particularly uncompetitive stint. The team had last won a grand prix with then defending World Champion James Hunt in 1977 and had finished a lowly seventh in the 1980 constructors' title with John Watson and Alain Prost. Even in those early days Dennis recognised the young Frenchman's potential but was unable to prevent him moving to the Renault team for 1981, a season that saw McLaren once again winning races. The year also saw many other teams struggling to duplicate Barnard's revolutionary carbon-fibre chassis.
In 1981 Dennis and his business partners bought out the other McLaren shareholders, Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander. In 1983 Dennis persuaded then-Williams backer Mansour Ojjeh to become a partner in McLaren International. Ojjeh invested in Porsche-built turbocharged engines which carried the name of his company, Techniques d'Avant Garde (TAG).
Dennis then persuaded the retired Niki Lauda to return to Formula One for the 1982 season and at the season opening South African Grand Prix the double World Champion lined up alongside Watson at the start of the season (only after an F1 drivers strike was averted). By the end of the year both drivers had secured two victories and 1983 began with more success with Watson's win in Long Beach. No more victories followed that year but Lauda debuted the Porsche-powered MP4-1E interim chassis at that season's Dutch Grand Prix. By the following race, the Italian Grand Prix, both cars were powered by turbocharged engines: McLaren-Ford had become McLaren-TAG. Convinced by his initial investment, Ojjeh became the major investor in McLaren, taking 60 per cent of the shares. By the end of the year, Alain Prost, who had finished second in the 1983 Drivers' Championship with Renault but was fired after publicly criticising the team following the loss of both the Drivers' and Constructors Championships, had been signed to replace Watson. With the experienced Lauda at his side, everything was set for a title challenge in 1984.
In just four years Dennis had turned McLaren from an also-ran team into a front-runner and in 1984, with Barnard's revolutionary MP4/2 car his work was rewarded with 12 wins from 16 races and both drivers' and constructors' titles. Lauda took the drivers' crown by a half point from his McLaren teammate Prost, with both drivers scoring more than double the tally of third-placed Elio de Angelis. While neither Lauda nor Prost were the fastest combination of the year, that title going to reigning World Champion Nelson Piquet in his BMW powered Brabham BT53 who claimed 9 pole positions, the McLaren-TAG's reliability was unmatched. As said by Clive James in commentary on the official video review of the Formula One season produced by FOCA: "Anything as fast as the McLarens fell apart, anything as reliable finished later." The following year the situation was reversed and Prost won his first World Championship while Lauda suffered multiple failures and only won one race. At his home race in Austria Lauda announced his permanent retirement from Formula One at the end of the season. McLaren finished eight points ahead of second placed Ferrari that year but the pack was closing and in 1986, McLaren lost out to Williams, although the consistent Prost won the drivers' title. Lauda's replacement was the 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg, who also retired from Formula One at the end of the 1986 season.
Dennis signed Stefan Johansson from Ferrari for the 1987 season to partner Prost, but it was clear that the TAG engine was no longer competitive in the face of increased manufacturer involvement, and so Dennis approached Honda, who were at the time supplying rivals Williams and Lotus. Williams' unwillingness to accept a Japanese driver (Satoru Nakajima) in place of Nigel Mansell, as well as their displeasure with Williams team management for losing the 1986 Drivers' title, led Honda to transfer their engine supply to the McLaren team. Dennis made no secret that Johansson's seat was only temporary as his intention had been to sign the Brazilian Ayrton Senna (who had developed a close relationship with Honda while at Lotus in 1987) to partner double champion Prost. Senna was under contract with Lotus for 1987 but Dennis got his man and midway through the year it was announced that Senna would be joining the team, along with Honda, for three years from 1988.
In 1988 McLaren was supremely dominant, even when compared to the superiority it had experienced in 1984, taking 15 of the 16 races and taking 15 of the 16 pole positions, and both the drivers' and constructors titles with no real opposition. The team won the Constructors Championship with a then record 199 points, 134 in front of second placed Ferrari while Senna won his first World Championship by three points from Prost (Senna won 8 races to Prost's 7). It was behind the scenes that Dennis's political manoeuvering was most required. Dennis masterfully kept the drivers focused on racing, yet it could not last. Prost was highly skilled, "the professor": Senna was volatile but brilliant. Their pairing had always been a recipe for conflict, despite it being Prost who first suggested to Dennis that he sign the Brazilian, and the sign of things to come made its first public appearance on the second lap of the Portuguese Grand Prix. Senna almost forced Prost into the pit wall at high speed as the Frenchman passed him and took control of the race, Prost going on to win while Senna could only finish sixth. The two had words about the incident after the race and while it all seemed settled, the die had been cast.
By mid-1989 it was becoming impossible to pacify the two warring drivers. Following a fall out in the aftermath of a broken promise between them at San Marino where Prost and Senna agreed before the race that whoever got to the first corner in front would not be challenged into that turn. After the restart following Gerhard Berger's crash, Senna outbraked Prost going into the Tosa turn and broke the agreement, something which angered Prost. Senna later denied making the agreement but Prost was backed up by Marlboro's John Hogan who had been with the drivers when the agreement was made. The result was that the two barely talked for the rest of the season. Prost angered Dennis when not only did he announce that he would be joining Ferrari for 1990, thus ending a highly successful five-year stint with McLaren, but also with his public comments about the team and Honda allegedly favoring Senna at the Italian Grand Prix. Dennis then showed his anger in public (a rare event) after Prost, who won the race following an engine failure for Senna, dropped his winners trophy from the podium to the Tifosi showing how unhappy he was despite the win. Dennis flung the Constructors winners trophy at Prost's feet and walked off the podium (Prost was later made to make a public apology over his comments about his unfavorable treatment under the threat of being sacked before the season ended). The "cold war" between the drivers came to a head at the Japanese Grand Prix when, at Honda's home track, Prost and Senna had their infamous collision while fighting for the lead late in the race which took Prost out and led to Senna's disqualification and gave Prost his third World Championship.
It was Prost's actions with the winners trophy in Italy in 1989 that prompted Dennis to rule from that point on McLaren had ownership of all trophies won by the team and its drivers, with the drivers free to have replicas made of their race winning trophies for their own collections if they so desired. Dennis reportedly made the decision in the McLaren team transporter within minutes of the episode on the podium at Monza. Even though Dennis is no longer the F1 team principal, this rule still exists at McLaren as of the 2012 Formula One season.
At the start of the 1990s, McLaren continued to dominate the sport with Ayrton Senna taking back-to-back titles in 1990 and 1991. McLaren signed the promising newcomer Mika Häkkinen as a test driver at the end of 1992, but by 1992 Williams was once more in the ascendancy. McLaren was not to win another title for seven years. With the loss of Honda power in 1993, Dennis was left haggling with Ford and Ford's works team Benetton for a supply of competitive engines. A disappointing partnership with Peugeot in 1994 failed to yield the expected results and left Dennis searching to find a fourth engine partner in as many years. In October 1994 he agreed terms with Mercedes-Benz to supply engines from 1995 onwards, an association that continued until 2014.
The first couple of seasons the McLaren-Mercedes relationship was difficult, teething troubles with the engine, chassis challenges, and the driver for 1995 was the ageing Nigel Mansell who did not even fit into the car so Mark Blundell deputised. When a revised chassis was produced Mansell's performances were not successful. Mika Häkkinen gradually assumed leadership of the team but suffered severe head injuries in a crash at the end of the 1995 season, from which he eventually made a complete recovery.
By the mid-1990s Dennis was once more guiding his team towards domination of the sport, and in 1996 he approached Williams's star designer Adrian Newey to become technical director of McLaren. Newey agreed, and in 1998 McLaren took both the drivers' and the constructors' titles with Mika Häkkinen. A second drivers' title followed in 1999, but Ferrari took the constructors' title.
In 2000 Dennis was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
In 2001 Jaguar boss Bobby Rahal attempted to lure Newey from McLaren. Details of how Dennis convinced Newey to stay have remained vague but rumours in the specialist motor racing press suggested a deal allowing the designer to work on racing yachts. In the same year, team leader Mika Häkkinen announced that he was to leave the sport. Faced with the loss of his double world champion star driver, Dennis signed Kimi Räikkönen.
In 2005 McLaren remained at the top of the sport following a poor year in 2004. Despite producing their strongest performance for several years and winning more grands prix than any of their rivals, McLaren were narrowly beaten in both championships by the Renault F1 team. A further blow was the announcement that Adrian Newey was to join Red Bull Racing from the start of 2006. In December 2005, McLaren announced a title sponsorship deal with Vodafone estimated to be worth £500 million and the signing of World Champion Fernando Alonso, both to begin in 2007. In the interim, McLaren had a difficult 2006 season, failing to win a race for the first time since the 1996 season. Halfway through the 2006 season, McLaren gave up on perfecting their current car and the team focused on the 2007 MP4-22 car.
The start of the 2007 season saw McLaren a strong challenger for the world championships. The McLarens became the cars to beat, with both drivers, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, in the race for the drivers' championship. However, throughout the season the team suffered from the in-fighting between Alonso and Hamilton; Dennis always advocated treating his two drivers equally, however after the Chinese Grand Prix, he said "We weren't racing Kimi, we were basically racing Fernando." The Times said his comments "made a nonsense of his claims to be treating his drivers equitably in the World Championship run-in" but the team's insistence on parity until the very final race in Brazil underlined Dennis's core philosophy even if it ultimately lost the team the world championship. The season was also notable for the 2007 Formula One espionage controversy, where the team was judged to have been complicit in the theft and use of Ferrari intellectual property, fined a record $100 million by the FIA, and stripped of all constructor championship points for the season.
Dennis announced on 16 January 2009 that he would be stepping down as McLaren's team principal on 1 March 2009, to be replaced by Martin Whitmarsh. On 16 April 2009 Dennis reportedly handed over complete control of the McLaren F1 team to Whitmarsh, citing a desire to pursue new challenges, especially focusing on McLaren's road cars.
On 17 November 2011 Prime Minister David Cameron formally opened the McLaren Production Centre, a new building that sits alongside the existing McLaren Technology Centre. Cameron said "McLaren, in breaking new ground, are a powerful rebuke to those who say the manufacturing base has gone. Visits to places like this make me optimistic that we can in time ride out this storm and come out stronger."
Final years at McLaren
On 16 November 2009 McLaren parted ways with Mercedes as it bought driver and constructor championship-winning Brawn GP. However Mercedes continued to supply engines to McLaren until 2015 when the team's Honda engine deal began. Dennis said one reason they had parted ways was because of McLaren's plan to become a car manufacturer. The company's first car since the 1990s was the McLaren MP4-12C, launched in 2011 and later the McLaren P1 was put into production in 2014. The company completed the buy-back of Mercedes's 40 per cent stake in 2011. On 16 January 2014 it was announced that Ron Dennis has returned to the role of Group CEO of McLaren, combining his current role as Chairman of McLaren Group. Following a two-year power struggle within the company, in November 2016 the majority shareholders of McLaren attempted to force Dennis into taking gardening leave until his contract was due to expire in January 2017. After failing to receive a court injunction against this decision, Dennis announced on 15 November 2016 that he was stepping down as the boss of McLaren after 35 years. He however was still involved in the company as he held a 25% stake in the McLaren Group and declared that he would use his influence "to protect the interests and value of McLaren and help shape its future." On 30 June 2017 it was announced that Ron Dennis was ending his 37-year association with McLaren by selling his remaining shares to the two main shareholders - Mumtalakat, the Bahrain sovereign investment fund, and Mansour Ojjeh. He also resigned from his position on the board.
Dennis has held shares and founded numerous companies other than his major commitment, McLaren Technology Group. In 1997, Lyndy Redding handed Dennis a three-page business plan to start their own catering company. In 1998 they formally founded Absolute Taste. Absolute Taste was acquired by One Event Management in December 2016.
Dennis is a business ambassador for the UK Government, working for The Department of International Trade. Dennis also holds the role as Global Adviser for Chinese investment group, Minsheng Investment.
Mansour Ojjeh, owner of TAG Group and Dennis' business partner at McLaren Technology Group and TAG Group purchased luxury watchmaker, Heuer, forming the present TAG Heuer. Ojjeh sold a significant stake in the business to Dennis, and both business partners sold the watchmaker in 1999 to LVMH.
In 2007, Dennis founded a charity, Dreamchasing, which aims to "help young people achieve their aspirations and, through their successes, to become inspirational role models for others". His charity's first operation was a sponsorship programme for families in Ethiopia, which, supporting the Fida International charity, has assisted over 40 families out of poverty, additionally paying education costs to some.
"Ronspeak" is the term coined for the style of speech used by Dennis, and has become a well-used phrase in the F1 paddock to describe sentences of unneeded complexity. Dennis is renowned for his excessively verbose, evasive and cautious answers to tough questions from Formula One journalists. It started about 1980, when sponsorship started to play a more prominent role in the sport.
However while acknowledging that the term has been used to criticise Dennis, the former editor-in-chief of F1 Racing, Matt Bishop, who worked for McLaren as Group Head of Communications and Public Relations, argues that "Ronspeak" is not a vice; rather, it is informative and accurate. Dennis, in describing Fernando Alonso's contribution to the McLaren team's development, said his experience and ability "[prevented] an F1 team from going down [time wasting] technical cul-de-sacs – and as a result, car-developmental progress becomes more linear." Bishop described this as a prime example of Ronspeak, hailing it as "logical, informative and insightful. [but also] careful... in that what it doesn't do is compare Alonso's exceptional all-round ability with that of his predecessors."
On 15 February 2008 Dennis announced his separation and later divorce from his wife of 22 years, Lisa, with whom he has three children. Lisa Dennis was the author of a series of illustrated children's books during the 1990s; they followed the Formula One adventures of main characters "Mac" and "Lauren".
He is a Conservative Party donor. In the period between 22 April 2005 and 16 June 2011 the Conservative Party accepted £126,200 in donations from Ron Dennis. During the 2015 United Kingdom general election campaign, Dennis was a signatory to a letter to The Daily Telegraph which praised the party's economic policies and claimed that "a change in course will threaten jobs and deter investment”.
Awards and honours
- 1996 De Montfort University Honorary Doctorate
- 1997 City University London Honorary Doctorate
- 2000 Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to motorsport.
- 2000 University of Surrey Honorary Doctorate
- 2001 British Racing Drivers' Club Gold Medal
- 2007 British Racing Drivers' Club Colin Chapman Trophy.
- 2008 British Racing Drivers' Club Gold Medal
- 2008 Royal Academy of Engineering Prince Philip Medal
- 2017 American Academy of Achievement's Golden Plate Award 
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- on YouTube
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Following the news that catering and hospitality company Absolute Taste has been acquired from McLaren Technology Group by One Event Management...
- Parkes, Ian. "McLaren's Ron Dennis admits he fell out with TAG Heuer chief". autosport.com. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
- "TAG Heuer accepts LVMH bid - Sep. 13, 1999". cnn.com. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
- "UKTI Business Ambassador Biography - Ron Dennis CBE" (PDF). www.gov.uk. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
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- "Posh Dosh for Posh Boys The Sunday Times Rich List And How They Support the Tory Party" (PDF). gmb.org.uk. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 July 2012.
- Dominiczak, Peter (1 April 2015). "100 business chiefs: Labour threatens Britain's recovery". The Telegraph. Retrieved 30 May 2020.
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- "BRDC Awards". crash.net. 2007. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
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- "Ron Dennis to receive Prince Philip Medal for lifetime services to engineering". Royal Academy of Engineering. 4 June 2008. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- "Ron Dennis Biography and Interview". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
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