Getting time in Chris Angell’s diary is no mean feat, especially after three o'clock. He’s the Head of Systems Engineering who is in demand, not only from colleagues, but also his kids. In this Q&A, he discusses how flexible working at McLaren Applied allows him to achieve that all important work-life balance. From leading a team of 35 people, to raising a young family and always being on time in the race to the school gates.
Q: What is your role and what does it involve?
I head up the Systems Engineering function at McLaren Applied. It means that I represent system engineers, business analysts and functional safety managers within the company. I also define what systems engineering is at McLaren Applied, what it means for the company, and how it fits into what we do.
Furthermore, I’m heavily involved in the performance management side of things, ensuring that we meet necessary quality standards, and I determine what a systems engineer at each grade should be capable of and what they should be working on next.
I am the technical authority of McLaren Applied’s connected fleet – ensuring it is compliant and an effective use of technology, and establishing what the future roadmap should be, as well as the technology we should be investing in.
Finally, I’m also part of the Engineering Council which is a group of senior leaders within the business that steers the technology side of the company. It involves design reviews of projects and determining whether something is fit for purpose.
Q: What is systems engineering?
Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary approach to delivering successful systems and products. We tend to get involved in the early stages of projects by talking to customers, finding out what they need. We shape the design; assist other engineering disciplines to build it; and then prove we’ve done what we set out to do.
Q: Why do you work part-time?
The decision to work part-time is motivated by the desire to spend more time with my children. My eldest is 10-years-old and the youngest is six. I work 32 hours a week and this means I can spend more time with them before they grow up and fly the nest.
Flexible working at McLaren Applied gives me the chance to leave work at three o'clock in the afternoon four days a week so I can be on time for the school run. Then, on the one day a week when I work later, my wife works from home and is responsible for the school run.
For four days of every week there are big chunks blocked out in my calendar in the second half of the afternoon. When colleagues see me eager to leave work as the clock is about to strike three, it’s not because I’m disinterested or not enjoying the task at hand. I’m just keen to ensure I pick the kids up on time and ready for their extra-curricular activities.
Q: How did working part-time at McLaren Applied become a reality?
I was very clear in my interview that I could only work on a part-time basis and McLaren Applied were flexible in accommodating that based on my family’s needs. I could justify this request as I had been part-time at my previous company for eight years. I was able to demonstrate everything I had achieved while working part-time and prove that I could meet the requirements of the role at McLaren Applied.
I’m proof that it is possible to achieve an excellent work-life balance at McLaren Applied. It certainly takes some compromise on both sides, but it’s more than achievable. The key is flexibility. McLaren Applied helps you by being flexible. This might be with regard to working hours or location. For example, I’ve never been told I cannot go home at a particular time or that a meeting is more important than my kids.
Q: What attracted you to McLaren Applied?
You don’t get bored! It comes down to a combination of the brand and the variety of projects we work on. I wanted to experience new things and that’s something McLaren Applied encourages. I’ve also got several friends who joined the company and they were very complimentary about all the projects they were working on. Since joining, I can see why!
There is plenty of opportunity to move around within the company. The diverse and varied nature of the work not only motivates me, but also my team. McLaren Applied is about so much more than motorsport, it’s possible to develop and grow while working on projects across the business units, from health to public transport.
This variety goes further than just the business units however. McLaren Applied has offices around the world, beyond the McLaren Technology Centre. There is a new office being built in the heart of Woking town centre, and we already have established offices in London, Singapore and the US.
The ability to work on a project in Singapore for six months for example, and then return to the UK is very attractive to many people who join. It’s a chance to be immersed in a different culture and is highly motivating.
Q: What is the culture at McLaren Applied?
The culture at McLaren Applied is very different to McLaren Racing or McLaren Automotive. It’s akin to the leading engineering organisations out there. It is very project and goal oriented. New starters will not be in for a culture shock when they join.
There is this belief that because Applied is part of McLaren and has obvious links with Formula 1, that we all constantly work in a high-pressure environment. We’ve got to get away from this misconception. McLaren Applied is like any other engineering company – there isn’t any extra pressure just because it’s McLaren.
Out of all the CVs that come across our desks, very few are from people with Formula 1 experience. Those who apply have worked at a range of companies, many of them general engineering firms.
Q: What type of person would fit into the team and what skills do they need?
They need to be a systems engineer for a start! The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) identifies key competencies that McLaren Applied looks for. We also look for relevant experience. Mathematical degrees and systems thinking are important too.
We’re looking for graduates who are motivated by working on a breadth of different projects and areas. They’ve got to be willing to push themselves and learn new things. For more senior roles, we usually look for more experience in the specific area relating to the role.
For example, we’ve got a new Principal Systems Engineer starting in a month who has a wealth of demonstrable experience having been a systems engineer throughout their career, with none of this in motorsport. In their interview, they were more than capable of showcasing their experience in effective customer relations, as well as scoping, designing and building those solutions. They were clearly ready to hit the ground running and that’s a key attribute.
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