Daniel Gallo – Keeping McLaren in pole position for Formula 1 and beyond

The Formula 1 leader board may be dominated by rivals, but McLaren Racing is accelerating up the employer standings, thanks to people lead Daniel Gallo, says Jo Gallacher

Few HR directors can say they’ve previously had Ayrton Senna, James Hunt and Lewis Hamilton on their payroll, but for McLaren Racing, these names are just a chapter in the brand’s formidable 60 years at the forefront of motorsports.

It’s a global name, with fans across the world clad in orange caps, hoodies and t-shirts to support not just its F1 team, but also its Indycar, Formula E and Extreme E teams.

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It’s fitting therefore that its Woking HQ is as impressive as its racing accolades: a vast lake, floor to ceiling glass windows, glass elevators and swooping curvature all confirm McLaren Racing as a market leader in an extremely competitive space.

And that’s before you’re greeted by a line of some of the fastest (and most expensive) cars in the world.

A brand of such stature needs a leadership that doesn’t just uphold a strong past but progresses at great speed.

On the HR side, this falls on the shoulders of Daniel Gallo, chief people and sustainability officer, who has been managing the complex network of employees for over four years.

His previous role as HR director of Liverpool Football Club has meant Gallo is well-prepared for the extreme highs and crashing lows of professional sports.

“My focus is on ensuring McLaren is competitive. I’m not out there attracting athletic talent, but the success of the car they get to drive is determined by the people who work in this factory.

"I have to make sure I can attract the very best talent in all disciplines on and off the track.”

Gallo admits that the draw of the brand means McLaren does not fall victim to the recruitment woes facing many HR directors up and down the country, but he’s adamant the organisation’s recruitment strategy should not solely rely on this to source top-level recruits.

He says: “We have spent a lot of time looking at our employer brand and how attractive we are as an employer, so not just relying on the sporting brand, but on the authenticity of us as an employing entity.

“We are a business that genuinely wants people to come here and have a fulfilling experience, whether that’s for three years or 30.”

The organisation is growing, and quickly. Its multi-series motorsports team now totals 1,100 people – 400 more than when Gallo first joined in 2019.

A busy race calendar means some staff are required to travel across the world as part of McLaren’s race team, flying from Azerbaijan to Miami and then onto Monaco – and that’s just May.

Does this mean burnout is an inevitability within the organisation?

Gallo says: “Work/life balance is hard and it’s certainly something we spend a lot of time looking at, thinking about and trying to act on. In a sport we don’t dictate the calendar, it’s dictated by F1, but it’s about influencing what’s in our control.

“We put in huge investment for our travelling race team to give them physical and psychological wellbeing.

"We have a chief medical officer, physios and sport psychologists.

"We put in a huge amount of focus in making sure they are physically fit for the job they do.

“Even though we have two athletes [in F1], the men and women who work in and around the drivers often work in very physically and mentally demanding roles where there’re long hours and sleep deprivation.

"They have access to state-of-the-art gym facilities and we even have training programmes while they’re away so they can get structured sleep advice wherever they are to manage time zone transitions.”

Gallo admits that by the end of the F1 season in November, the team are tired.

Yet there’s a reasonable off-season period of three months and halfway through the season there’s a mandatory shutdown for two weeks so people can recharge.

The high-pressured environment of sport, Gallo argues, is what keeps the team going.

He says: “While we’re all humans and people get tired, it’s not like you’re going into an office nine-to-five.

"There’s an adrenaline and an energy that goes with it where people are happy to give that discretionary effort which we do need.

"But we are very focused on making sure we give people the best support so they don’t burn out.”

McLaren Racing may never struggle with recruitment, but like the rest of motorsports, it does have a diversity issue.

Gallo says: “When I first joined, we were at 12% female representation, which is low.

"We are now sitting at 16%, which is an incremental movement but it’s a positive movement.

"The most important thing for me on how we diversify is making sure the engineering and manufacturing parts of the organisation are diverse.”

And McLaren Racing is not alone in the challenge.

In 2021, the Hamilton Commission, set up by Lewis Hamilton to improve representation of black people in UK motorsport, uncovered instances of racial banter, multiple barriers to STEM careers for ethnic minorities and those from a lower socio-economic background, and a lack of gender diversity across the industry.

Gallo says: “We have to be representative as organisations of the wonderful diversity of the countries we race in and the diversity of fans that follow us.

"Engineering is at the heart of what we do, but the profile of graduating engineers is still way too heavily dominated by white men.”

McLaren Racing agreed with all 10 of the recommendations from the Hamilton Commission, and had already created five-, 10- and 15-year strategic plans for diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) a year before the report’s publication.

It has also set up an industry-first social impact working group, Engage, which works with external stakeholders to promote STEM and F1 as an accessible vocation to under-represented groups.

“A lot of our focus and effort has gone into engaging with kids at their academic level to open their eyes to STEM, engineering and F1 and to use our drivers and our brand to excite these kids into the art of the possible,” Gallo says.

“Doing that now is a long burn, I’m not going to see any benefits of that walking through this door for many years to come, but you have to start somewhere so we’re hitting it all the way along.”

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The organisation has also developed a ‘returnship’ programme with Entain, a back-to-work programme in which people can return to their careers without having to start from entry-level positions.

McLaren received an overwhelming number of high-quality applications, proving the value of creativity within recruitment processes.

Gallo adds: “There are women who have left the workplace, many of whom have come from STEM careers, who are an untapped talent pool. We’re asking how we can get them back and what can we do to help them?”

Sustainability is also a key priority for McLaren, and interestingly falls under Gallo’s remit, part of a growing trend of HR leaders overseeing environmental commitments.

He says: “People assume that sustainability is just environmental but they forget about the societal side. It’s been a very steep learning curve, but the curiosity was there for me.

"I work really closely with our sustainability lead Kim Wilson, who brings the deep technical expertise, and it’s been a really fun and rewarding collaboration.”

Flying across the globe and fuelling cars may not contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions, but Gallo is adamant that F1 is changing for the better.

He says: “We are a sport that has to travel in order to do what it does, we can’t avoid it, it’s the nature of the beast. But Zak [Brown, McLaren Racing’s CEO] is passionate about this and understands its importance from a shareholder, partner and fan perspective.”

F1 has grown a younger audience since Netflix’s hit documentary Drive to Survive, which Gallo says has put a welcomed pressure on sustainability targets.

He adds: “Our younger fans do have high expectations of the companies and brands that they want to support.

"It’s important to us and our people, we have the agenda, we have the roadmap, and are transparent through our reporting of our CO2 emissions which says a lot about the intent in this space.

"Sustainability is a complex topic and it’s not something you can just do overnight.”

The challenge of change is a theme frequently found in Gallo’s two decades in HR.

From starting at Asda HQ not far from his family home in Sheffield, Gallo has consistently sought high-pace, change management roles in all manner of industries.

While McLaren may not be winning F1 races as frequently as it has in the past, its determination to improve employee experience may well mean Gallo and the team could be seeing that chequered flag very soon.


This article was first published in the May/June 2023 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.