18 June 2010
Richard Noble's Bloodhound Project diary
I apologise – my web updates always seem to be late and I feel I am letting you down! The reality is that with a team hell bent on achievement, Bloodhound moves at a massive pace and we find ourselves working all hours.
Emails at 5am on Sundays are not uncommon – but make no mistake this is absolutely not a driven organisation at the mercy of some manic taskmaster – this is a project driven by its team all determined to beat the British system and somehow drive Bloodhound through to completion against all the odds. And the achievement is very very real: I am Hells proud to be a part of Bloodhound.
You will have read elsewhere of how the engineering team finally achieved the aerodynamic solution for Bloodhound in March (see Config 10 - the Holy Grail). Up until then, somehow we had been supporting a fullscale research team for 34 months of absolute hell. How can you fund and support a team for such a long period of time while the team is still searching for the aero solution which will only then make the project viable? Not with any level of comfort! A practical accountant would have scaled down all the non aero engineering work and just concentrated on trying to achieve the aero solution in isolation. But Bloodhound is not about being conservative – it's about getting the whole job done. Disbanding most of the engineering team to concentrate on the aero work alone would have lost us the key team members and meant that all the rest of the work would have to carry out in sequence most probably extending the project by another year. That's unacceptable; Bloodhound is about getting the job done quickly and smartly, never about taking the comfortable option. It's about team trust - and it has worked – we have a great deal of the design work accomplished, we have a really outstanding engineering team and we have the aero solution. It's a safe stable solution and as Ron Ayers says: "This was never an aero solution which could have been achieved by a conventionally trained aerodynamicist, it's an amazing IT derived solution which I would never have believed possible."
Of course when you develop a project like Bloodhound, absolutely nothing is predictable and you have no God given right to existence. There is no precedent for Bloodhound – neither the aerospace industry nor the race car industry build Mach 1.4 cars and there is no one to guide us or for us to learn from. Similarly with the education team, nothing like this has been done before and again we have to innovate all the time to survive. Around this time the Science Made Simple team who run the Bloodhound schools roadshow achieved its first 10,000th pupil – that's 10,000 in just 18 months, this is an enormous achievement. About the same time, Bloodhound recorded the 10,000 pupil-made Bloodhound balloon car – and the total of the schools colleges and universities involved shot up to 3620. There doesn't seem to be a standard way of calculating the number of school children involved but some say that we must have the better part of a million families involved one way or another.
Of course nothing is that simple and absolutely nothing is predictable. Bloodhound hit the wall in early April. Back in December at a meeting with the then Government's BIS agency, they explained that they were experiencing a problem with the number of graduate engineers not getting their first jobs. Could we find a solution for them – after all there are 205 companies involved in Bloodhound? We made it clear that if we were to do this we would be glad of help in the form of a loan (absolutely never a grant) which would help us through the rough seas of the build programme by helping smooth the critical build cashflow. We went away and fixed a truly amazing deal – we could help big time – we got it financed and signed off. We went back to the BIS and they were delighted with the 110 jobs but they no longer wished to go through with their part of the deal. Bloodhound was in big trouble. All the financial eggs were in one basket ... and the basket was in freefall from the 18th floor.
I went back to our partners who had put such an effort into the deal to bring them the bad news and ask them whether they now wanted to switch the budget for use elsewhere. To my great surprise and absolute thrill, they explained that it was such a radical deal with such huge benefits for them that they wanted to keep the budget and the option open. We now had to find another way to partner them and then restart the deal. I won't go into this further because there is a chance we can now recover the situation and if we can then this extraordinary deal should to be credited to the new partners.
Bloodhound had to change big time – one moment we had achieved a momentous engineering achievement, the next we had to scrap our carefully craft plans. We would never be able to carry out the ultimate car design we had planned for with every issue, concern and analysis locked off with testing and yet more analysis. We would have to take pragmatic decisions and design a pragmatic and safe car – we would not be able to afford perfection. At this point John Piper left the company – he had done a great job taking us through difficulties and discipline of the early programme but now the working relationship was at an end and we parted company amicably and with everything paid up. I asked the Engineering team who they wanted as Chief Engineer and they chose Mark Chapman.
Human dynamics is quite beyond me, but under Mark's leadership the Engineering team gathered pace in the most extraordinary way – it seemed to come together with an almighty bang and start delivering quickly with great confidence. An intense replanning programme went ahead: we now have high quality plans and key decisions which we had fretted over were made quickly and almost without opposition. I can't explain all this – but suddenly we have a truly outstanding engineering team and this team has every chance of seeing Bloodhound through to an incredible success.
But Bloodhound is growing fast, it's almost as if the aero solution had unleashed a huge level of interest and support. There's always a lag with these things but as I write this we are experiencing a huge surge. But of course this comes at a price – an increase in activity means a massive increase in working capital and also you have to restructure for the future. Failure to restructure means that your organisation is eventually going to suffer hugely painful growing pains because key changes had not been made. One of the key changes was to replan the education team. The original concept as thought through by Lord Drayson was to focus the appeal to UK school age groups of 5-19. But that didn't cover the Higher Education and University activity, nor did it cover international activity and the essential Further Education interest.
The answer was staring us in the face, INTEL Corporation to take over the International activity to include Bloodhound with their SKOOOL programme , The HE STEM team of Birmingham, UWE, Swansea and Southampton to take on the HE sector and our brilliant sponsors Protocol National to take over the FE colleges activity. This seems to be working well and INTEL is to take Bloodhound to 6 million teachers in Q3, and a new deal, which is not announced yet, brings in a further 165,000 teachers.
But, I hear the accountants amongst you cry – if all the financial eggs are all in one basket and the basket is freefall – what is happening about the cashflow? Well there was nothing for it – this is a totally brilliant project team and a unique opportunity for us all to achieve something mighty. I took on a NatWest Offset mortgage and together with help from others, we got the company unstuck and on the move again. Not much fun taking on a mortgage in your sixties but this is special and the bullet has to be bitten hard. We can do this now.
The summer is on us and with that comes the huge pace of exhibitions and shows. We usually do around 100 of these a year: essential to build up the grass roots support for the project and to meet teachers and school kids – essentially to keep in touch. Tony Parraman was finding difficulty juggling his personal life with the needs to be continually on the road so he switched into building up the education satellites – there are now nine sites under discussion. At this crucial time we were found by the amazing Jo Finch who descended on the unsuspecting Bloodhound with a whirlwind of charm and activity. Before long, she has turned the entire roadshow machine into a thriving hugely exciting and stimulating activity. Jo is one of these wonderful people who fearlessly chats up everyone and delivers the most amazing deals. It's a huge and tough assignment as it means living on the road and planning all the next events while still working on the current ones. She brings a huge sense of fun and commitment to a very demanding job and quickly has become a key team member.
This is the moment to report on the amazing Lockwoods. Graham and Julie run a trucking company G + J Lockwood and all was going well until they met up with Andy and Emma Green. Emma is our greatest salesperson having single handed sold 75 club memberships in one day! It was our good fortune that Andy and Emma and found themselves sitting next to Graham and Julie at a dinner...
"What do you do?" Emma asked Graham
Graham: "I run a trucking company"
Emma: "We need one of those!"
So Graham and Julie joined the project – and as the business began to grow Graham painted a huge Bloodhound on his 40 ft artic. This has resulted in such a huge level of interest and increased business that Graham has had to buy more trucks. Bloodhound sponsorships really deliver! There are now a whole group of spotters looking out for the truck on the motorways! (see Be careful whom you have dinner with)
So after a rotten May, Bloodhound has turned a corner just at a time when the economy is going into shock again. The deals are flowing faster than I can deal with them and it looks as though June is going to be a record month. There are huge changes afoot and of course this is how we have to work. If Bloodhound is to succeed, we have to change fast and we have expect these rapid changes. But most important we are building up an amazing cadre of very capable people.
July 19-25 are critical dates in our calendar – the dates of the Farnborough Air Show. The aerospace industry is critical to our country and they are aware that 60% of the skilled workforce will be lost to retirement in 20 years. So there is a crash effort to encourage the school kids and the students to take an interest in the industry. Well Bloodhound is halfway between a car and a missile so why not use it to bring in the target audience? So a deal was done and we have a 6,000 sq ft pavilion in the middle of the Farnborough Air Show where we will show the complete fullscale Bloodhound show car for the very first time!
So, please make a point of coming to Farnborough on the Futures or public days and come and see Bloodhound and bring your children and grandchildren – it's the first time any of us will see the whole car fullscale. Of course, it's essential we can show that Bloodhound delivers the goods – that there is real schools interest in the programme. This is our chance.
Another element of Bloodhound that is beginning to move fast are the SME sponsorships. If you think about it, the country is in trouble and it's the small fast growing companies that will bring in the next generation wealth. But large projects such as Bloodhound tend to be sponsored by the large companies which have the promotional budget mass capable of funding such a project.
But we need the small companies and they need the global exposure – they also make decisions quickly! So why not provide a sponsorship deal for the smaller companies?
So now we have an SME sponsorship so the smaller companies can have their logos on the Bloodhound car for £10,000 a year. The logos are not big but the companies can use our logo and call themselves Bloodhound Sponsors. We can only take 100 of these with 50 logos on each side of the car so if you think your company might be interested please make immediate contact with us and we'll see what we can do! (see BLOODHOUND Innovation SME Sponsorships for more info).
So now we are into the battle to get Bloodhound built –it's going to be a massive fight as all this comes together, but thanks to the huge effort put in by the education team it's quite clear that we are really making a sizable impact already.
But as ever – talk is cheap – it's the delivery that counts!
Richard Noble June 2010