|Riad Asmat- CEO, Caterham F1|
|Profile of the week|
Friday, 14 December 2012 14:16
A Western Michigan University graduate, Riad first venture into sports business was with the world's premier sportswear company, Nike. Based in Malaysia, he joined the public relations division, where he worked closely with the various government agencies, sports associations and sports officials to enhance the brand’s image and position in the Malaysian sports market.
His keen interest in motorsports developed when he joined the Sepang International Circuit and became further evident when he was with the courier company UPS, where Riad developed a sponsorship programme for several racing drivers.
In 2006, Riad joined Proton in 2006 and was soon able to help the national car company further develop its motorsports programme. Riad played a central role in Proton's motorsports programme, which included R3 and the Proton Axle Team. He was in charge of overseeing the various motorsports programmes and managed, from Proton's end, the company's involvement in A1 Grand Prix.
Riad's expertise in operations has resulted in Proton's motorsports programmes being developed to a fairly successful level. Under his belt, new Malaysian-managed motor racing teams have been created and young potential Malaysian drivers have been given the opportunity to race.
As Caterham Group CEO, Riad provides the sort of dynamic and success-oriented leadership that the parent company and the Anglo-Malaysian team requres to keep progressing to the next level. His knowledge of motorsports, coupled with his vast experience, contributes daily to the success of the team.
What skills did you pick up during your time with Nike’s public division and how have they helped you in your career?
One of the visions I had after graduating was to learn as much as I could and apply what I had got from my degree in the real world. What it really taught me was that in reality, a lot of things are much more different than what is presented to you theoretically as a student, so you adjust accordingly.
During a time when there were no emails, you had to manually understand what technology you had. Learning how to conduct oneself professionally in that particular environment was important. From there, it’s just pure experience that has helped me a lot, in terms of how I negotiated, how I discussed clients, how I managed situations, both negative and positive.
When you were with the courier company UPS, you developed a sponsorship programme for several racing drivers. Could you explain a bit more about this to our readership?
During my involvement at UPS, the only motorsport involvement they had in Asia was NASCAR and apart from the Olympics, they weren’t doing much on the sponsorship side when it came to sports. What happened in Asia was basically we had one particular driver at the Porsche Cup Race who was much more entrepreneurial [than other drivers] and approached us for sponsorship. In lieu of our experience in NASCAR, we were able to emulate as much as we could and apply it to the Asian market perspective. From there, it developed into a proper sponsorship and we had our brown and gold running around a few races and achieved a different amount of success. UPS, at that particular point, was very conservative about how they would approach the sport in terms of sponsorship money, it was sort of a new thing in Asia for them to do, but again, based on the experience they had, it would be too difficult to apply a similar program in Asia.
At Proton, you helped the national car company develop its motorsport company. What needed to be done?
I was lucky enough to be invited by the then Managing Director to revive the company. Obviously, when you try to revive a company, all manners and areas need looking into. A lot of things needed to be analysed, reviewed and new processes or steps were put in place. With regards to motorsports, they actually had a motorsports division, called the ‘R3’. The only problem with that was that it wasn’t making enough ground locally or regionally. We got together and we were able to harness all our resources. The thing I had there was conducive and very focused on making the brand and motorsport a force to be reckoned with.
We then developed the motorsport area a bit more, we went into regional areas with our products and from there it slowly developed into other motorsport involvement, firstly the A1 Series. That ran for a few years before the unfortunate demise of it. But from there, not only did we sponsor, we got our people involved, similar to what we have done here at Caterham. My engineers at Proton would be involved with the team directly throughout the season, so there was a lot of technical sharing, knowledge, enhancement with the people from Proton and we considered it as a success.
Last but not least, obviously having Lotus helped us, in view of the projects when it came to motorsports. We had particular models that were tailored to certain competition levels and those were then used in a regional series. We actually achieved a number of successes in those attempts.
You have worked your way up the company ladder, how pleasing is it to see your efforts finally rewarded by your appointment as Caterham F1 CEO?
It’s always been a team effort, but it’s very humbling to see what has been developed over the three years. I remember when we first started the Formula One project and it was just literally four or five of us doing it. Now, with the Formula One team being three years old, a year ago we bought the car company and with the more recent signing with Renault in a joint venture partnership to produce a sports car in 2015, I think it’s like the icing on the cake. But the journey has not ended, there’s a lot more to look forward to! I think everything is stabilised. It’s just a matter of pushing ourselves and taking the next step.
Caterham have been towards the backend of the grid, does moving up the grid bring that all important success financially?
Just on performance, we must remind ourselves that we are only three years old. To a certain degree, we have overachieved for the first two years. I’ll be honest, this year was a little bit of an off and we should not have put ourselves in the situation we found ourselves in at the last race (Caterham had to finish atleast 12th to claim a crucial 10th place in the Constructors’ Championship). But, it’s a matter of learning from the good and the bad. We came out from a very tough year and we’ve learned a lot.
We are prepared for 2013. Obviously, with the changes in regulations and engines for 2014, that will be a challenge as well. It’s ok, we have done the best we could with the limited resources we have had, considering that we’ve only been around for three years, it’s an achievement within itself, but obviously the tenth position [in the Constructors’ Championship] does help us a lot. It gives us some breathing room, but as I highlighted earlier, it’s not the end. There’s a lot more for us to do and achieve from a Formula One point of view, as a car company or anything else we are delving into.