Welcome to Moments That Matter, a series dedicated to the seemingly small steps that, when combined, have a major impact. We don’t often look back on our day-to-day, but it’s these very moments that ladder up to something more. Here at SafetyCulture, we’re grounded in practice — the details that go into the doing. Join us as we chat to those at the top of their fields about the moments that helped make them.
Meet Rich Millener, Team Principal at M-Sport Ford World Rally Team. Rich Millener’s career has taken him all over the globe – from icy tracks in Sweden to the searing heat of Greece. He’s steered the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team through the highs and lows of the pandemic, landing some pretty impressive victories along the way. Most recently, M-Sport claimed first place at Monte Carlo Rally, winning the toughest rally of the year with Sebastian Loeb.
As M-Sport’s official Workplace Operations Partner, we chimed in on the road to the World Rally Championship and chatted to Rich about what it takes to make the podium in the rally world.
Take us on your career journey to becoming Team Principal at M-Sport Ford World Rally Team. Have you always been a speed demon?
It all started with tractors, actually! Before I was at M-Sport I was working on my uncle’s family farm. My only interaction with Rally was as a keen fan after my dad took me to watch Rally GB as a surprise. The first proper rally car we both ever saw was that of Colin McRae. The speed was incredible, we laughed at each other about how crazy it was.
I went to university to study Sport and Exercise Science and it was here where I joined the local Motor Club and competed in my first event as a co-driver. After university, I saw a job advertised at M-Sport, picking and packing parts for the Rally customers. I decided to make the biggest move of my life and moved seven hours north to take up the role. The rest as they say is history….
Since then, I’ve worked my way through the company — from parts ordering to championship coordination and more recently, the WRC team. To lead the WRC team is a dream come true, something I never thought possible from watching that WRC rally with my dad over 20 years ago. Work hard, chase your dreams and you can get there.
Since you took on the role of Team Principal, the world has changed — a lot. Getting WRC off the ground looks pretty different to what it did pre-2020. What new processes did you create in Covid that will continue long after the pandemic?
COVID-19 was a challenge for everyone, especially as the core business activity of M-Sport heavily involves global travel. But it also prompted us to really look at our processes. For example, we had to look at how to remove excessive contact while keeping communication lines open. A lot of things were achieved by placing information online so staff could easily access it, such as event info and COVID regulations. It also made us realise there were lots of manual processes happening that could be optimised. SafetyCulture’s platform allows us to create bespoke checklists tailored to our build and preparation processes for WRC and Rally2 activities, streamlining our operations along the way. Even as rules have relaxed, we have kept most of our new processes because it has streamlined our work and allowed us to work more efficiently.
Efficiency is important. And so, I imagine, is keeping on top of safety and quality.
Absolutely. Safety and fault prevention are two fundamental factors that are significant contributors to our performance. We are constantly looking for opportunities to improve safety standards, which in turn gives the entire team more confidence to push the performance boundaries of the car.
With the introduction of Hybrid vehicles, it’s essential for us to find new and interesting ways to have personnel as highly trained as possible, whilst keeping safe around the new High Voltage energy systems. The way to win a championship is to not only be fast, but reliable as well. This means keeping up with safety, training, and quality is all key. If any of these three elements are missing, then it affects your reliability and ultimately your performance. SafetyCulture allows us to do exactly this.
DID YOU KNOW each one of M-Sport’s high-performance vehicles is checked by SafetyCulture? The team uses our operations platform to monitor those crucial behind-the-scenes variables to help maintain the safety and quality of their vehicles. Read more here.
Speaking of winning championships, what are your strategies for pushing for better in each rally M-Sport competes in? How do you maintain your edge?
There are a lot of traits you need in order to be successful in rallying, and some of these take time to develop and hone. Not only do you need to be fast, but you also need to be practical and able to think on your feet. For example, you might be called on to repair cars while on the road for events. You need to be a strong team player and you need to be confident — if you don’t believe in yourself you’ll never be the best.
In terms of maintaining your edge, if you think there is nothing that you can improve on then you will never get better. You should always be looking for things you can do, no matter how small, to improve. We also need to start thinking outside the box. For example, how can we get better environmentally? Not everything can be focused purely on performance – we should be looking at how we reduce our carbon footprint and using new tech to do this. Quite often, a by-product of these new technologies in this sector actually gives you ideas on how to make your team better… so it is a win-win situation.
What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities coming up for the year ahead?
Quite often, our biggest challenges are ones that we cannot predict – but that is what makes this sport so exciting! Rallying involves large numbers of people visiting many different countries throughout the season. Post-COVID, the world’s cargo capacities are still highly stretched. Finding cost-effective, efficient ways of getting around on a tight schedule is very tricky for us. Sometimes we only have 1-2 days to prepare the cars from one event to the next. This means that we have to make sure we can rebuild and be as prepared as possible for any eventuality, such as an accident or damaged cars. We have to think on our feet and work out how we fix or build another car before the next event.
SafetyCulture supports this by providing a transparent timeline of car builds, accessible from anywhere in the world. Rather than waiting for an update from a member of a build team, I can just check on critical development work via the platform on the road between events.
Rebuilding a car on the road — now those are seriously high stakes! I’m sure you have plenty, but what’s your craziest rally story?
There are probably too many to remember and probably some that cannot be told! But the obvious one is where we recovered a Fiesta WRC from the bottom of a lake, where it had come to rest after a crash. Three hours after getting the car back, we had it started again and it was back out rallying. There was also the time that we forgot to take a car to an event. Believe it or not, there was a miscommunication and the car remained in the workshop instead of in the truck! The crazy stories often lead to us finding crazy solutions, which is what makes the job more fun! And maybe SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) can help us with a checklist to ensure we put the cars into the trucks from now on.
Watch this space — we’re on the case! On the topic of things ending up in lakes…. what was the temperature of the water in Monaco when you jumped in to celebrate your win?
I regularly compete in Triathlon and train in the Lakes around M-Sport HQ, these are never particularly warm so actually, the temperature wasn’t so bad! The bigger issue was not checking on how to get out of the harbour… luckily some of the guys pulled me back onto dry land!
Our Founder and CEO, Luke Anear, is no stranger to the world of rallying. Can you tell us a little bit about how you two met?
I met Luke by chance during Rally Australia in 2017. We had a couple of beers amongst friends and I was interested to know what he did for a job. That is where I started to learn about SafetyCulture and I have kept an eye on it ever since! We had an incident internally where our paperwork systems had let us down, so I contacted Luke about using SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) and so our partnership was born!
What’s the best thing about rallying? And your least favourite?
The best thing for me is taking some of the world’s best cars into the countryside and watching them tackle all different kinds of terrain with only the co-driver to tell the driver how fast to go. I love the nature element of the sport alongside great cars. I also love the opportunities it has given me as a person to see the world and meet so many interesting people. As for the least favourite, now that’s easy – losing!
Fair enough! You’ve been with M-Sport for a good while now — do you have any stories from your career about when a small decision or moment really mattered?
There are too many instances during my career where small moments and decisions have really mattered to single out just one, but I think there is a trend that I have come to learn in my time in motorsport. When you really want to achieve something, you have to fully focus on the end goal.
This isn’t for everyone as it can take a lot of sacrifices, both personally and professionally. But when you are committed to making something happen, then always saying yes and being involved as much as possible will make all the difference. It’ll help you achieve goals that, at the time, you may think are unachievable.
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