You live and you learn: Martin McCourt

The recently resigned CEO of Dyson on switching from cartography, why you don't always need factories in Britain, and working with James Dyson.

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

I believe in following my instincts. Growing up sharing a small house in Glasgow with five brothers gave me a nose for survival and for keeping in with the 'in' crowd. You can't learn that at Harvard.

James Dyson is a brilliant engineer and technologist, but also a risk-taker. In 2002 I put three big proposals to him, including shifting our manufacturing to Malaysia. He agreed to all of them - in any other firm, I would have had to sell my socks off just to get one idea through.

My first job was as a cartographer at the MoD. I drew military maps to a very high level of accuracy - 0.02mm - and I still love detail. But you need to see the bigger picture too: who is going to be using the map, and what for?

People talk about a British manufacturing revival. If they mean we should be good at making things and encourage invention and brilliant ideas, I absolutely agree. I would love to see that encouraged. But if they mean it's important the factories themselves should be here, I disagree. It's the high value stuff that you should keep close to you.

Mistakes are underrated. They are a vital part of the upward trajectory, but people view them as part of the downward trajectory.

It's important for growing firms to hang on to their small company urgency and edge. Getting decisions made in the big corporate world can be like applying for planning permission, I hate that.

My mind never switches off. I might be playing tennis or out with friends, but thoughts about work are always going round in my head.

When I worked for Duracell, I was in the studio filming the Duracell bunny ads. The noise of 50 pink rabbits all drumming at the same time is quite something.

My kids are 19 and 16 and I'm not sure I'd want to be their age now. My advice is to stay in education as long as possible.

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