Zak Brown named executive director for McLaren F1 team

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Zak Brown, who founded Zionsville-based motorsports marketing firm Just Marketing International in 1995, is taking a job as executive director for McLaren Technology Group. He will begin his new job next month.

Brown’s hire will be a significant part of restructuring McLaren’s Formula One operation, company officials said.

“To work at McLaren, one of the greatest Formula 1 teams in the sport, has been a long-time ambition and I am honored, humbled and immensely excited to have been given the opportunity to do so,” Brown, 44, said in an email to IBJ. “It will be an incredible challenge, one that I relish and am prepared for.”

Brown, a California native who moved to Indianapolis to be closer to racing businesses more than two decades ago, made JMI one of the biggest motorsports marketing firms in the world, representing various companies and brands including DeWalt Tools, Subway and Verizon to name a few. Under Brown’s leadership, JMI was credited for getting NASCAR’s ban on hard liquor deals lifted in 2004, putting sponsorship agreements for Crown Royal and Smirnoff Ice in place. 

In 2013, Brown sold JMI to London-based CSM Sport & Entertainment for $76 million and subsequently became CSM’s CEO, leading its push into North America. Brown left his post as executive chairman of CSM and JMI in September to take on a role of non-executive chairman for both entities.

Brown told IBJ Tuesday that his departure from the company he founded, as well as the firm that acquired it, is now complete. He is no longer a non-executive chairman for JMI and CSM, he said.

In September, Brown told IBJ he wanted to pursue an undetermined role within F1. Many assumed Brown, who had been rumored as a replacement for F1 czar Bernie Ecclestone, would take an executive role with the F1 organization. Brown had also been tabbed by Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles years earlier to be an executive within the IndyCar Series. And though Brown told IBJ in September “I love IndyCar,” he said he was not considering a role with the series.

“I will definitely stay based in London, and I plan to be heavily involved in F1 in some way, but that could be one of several paths,” Brown told IBJ in September. “I have some good ideas of what I’ll be doing, but I can’t sit here today and tell you I have anything definitive.”

Reporting directly to McLaren Technology Group’s executive committee, Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Neale and Brown will jointly lead the businesses as part of the first step in the group’s transition to a new structure. 

McLaren officials said they are continuing to search for a new group CEO.

McLaren, once an F1 powerhouse, has struggled in recent years. In 2013, the team failed to achieve a podium finish for the first time since 1980, and the struggle continued in 2014 and 2015. 

“I am fully committed to seeing McLaren return to the very front of the grid, winning grands prix and world championships,” Brown said in his email.

Brown is no stranger to McLaren, having worked on several sponsorship deals with the team, including those involving Johnnie Walker, Hilton Hotels, Lenovo, GSK and Chandon.

“I’ve often worked closely with McLaren … I’ve developed some excellent relationships across the company,” Brown said in a written statement. “Best of all, in my new role I’ll be able to combine my absolute passion with my unparalleled area of expertise—respectively motorsport and marketing—while ensuring that the two stay totally aligned.”

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