Proof positive: Interview with Millbrook's new CEO Alex Burns

Written by: Paul Fanning | Published:

The new man in charge of Millbrook Proving Ground is overseeing some major changes for the company. Paul Fanning finds out more.

Millbrook is a name synonymous with the cutting edge of test and development in the automotive sector. There are few vehicles – be they road vehicles, commercial vehicles or military vehicles – that have not been put through their paces on its 45 miles of on- and off-road test tracks, variety of surfaces, features, terrains and extensive test and validation facilities.

Given this, it is no surprise that the new Chief Executive Officer of Millbrook should be a man well-versed in automotive expertise. Alex Burns, who took the helm at the proving ground in February this year, was with Williams F1 for 11 years, first as COO and then CEO for the last three years. During this tenure, he established Williams Advanced Engineering, which brought F1-inspired low carbon technology to the commercial and passenger vehicle markets, and led the design and manufacture of five hybrid supercar prototypes.

Even so, however, Burns admits to being overwhelmed by the sheer variety of vehicles and technologies that pass through Millbrook, saying: "The opportunity that Millbrook represents is one of the main reasons I took this role. So much happens here that I find I'm learning all the time."

The big reason why there is such an 'opportunity' at Millbrook is the fact that the company recently changed ownership. Having previously been owned by General Motors, the facility was purchased by Rutland Partners in December 2013, a move that was swiftly followed by Burns' appointment. Indeed, on the day Eureka visited Millbrook, the signage was being changed to incorporate the company's new logo.

Asked what customers and potential customers are likely to see as a result of this change, Burns is clear. "The new ownership is clear that it wants to release business value from Millbrook," he says, "so that's going to mean an increasing focus on serving external business."

By way of confirmation, Millbrook recently made a planning application proposing the development of 24,900m2 of office/research development space on the site with the aim of creating a significant number of highly skilled jobs within the automotive engineering and technology sectors.

Of course, Millbrook has been undertaking non-General Motors business for a number of years, but certain aspects of the company's capabilities are now available more broadly that had previously been exclusive to GM. One example of this is Millbrook's Vehicle Engineering Centre. Previously known as The General Motors Engineering Centre, this facility is now available for hire to all-comers who wish to take advantage of its vehicle design and modification capabilities.

Says Burns: "One of the most impressive things about Millbrook is the 'can-do' attitude. With increased investment in the business, we are looking to integrate that more and more into our test offering. We're aiming to offer much greater co-operation between engineering and test for the overall benefit of our customers."

Investment, says Burns, is a key ingredient of the new regime, with the 'lab' side of the business likely to see a considerable amount of expansion, particularly as regards to powertrain and emissions testing facilities. Equally, he says: "We can make much greater use of the site as a whole – not just on the tracks, but in terms of other facilities. At the moment, our lab side is constrained by the facilities that we have. We're known for real-world testing and we don't want that to change, but we want people to know that there's a lot more to us than that."

One aspect of Millbrook's capabilities that Burns is keen to emphasise is its usefulness as a partner throughout the design and development process rather than just a facility for testing a prototype or near-finished product. He says: "Our knowledge of technologies and testing is such that our ability to develop an effective test programme for vehicles is obviously second to none."

So what should customers expect from the new Millbrook? Says Burns: "You can expect to see a broader service, with an increased emphasis on customer service. Ultimately, I want people to see Millbrook as an enabler – enabling our customers to arrive at the best possible end product."

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