Transcript: Matt Humphries – Morgan Motor Company, Head of Design (Max#21)

Welcome to another transcript of the very inspiring interview with Matt Humphries, Head of Design at Morgan Motor Company as he shares his journey on how he maximised his potential by becoming one of the most respected automotive design engineers in the industry.

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Kevin: Welcome to Maximise Potential the podcast to educate and motivate through a range of original interviews designed to help you maximise your potential.

Welcome to the first Maximise Potential podcast of 2011. Morgan Motor Company is Britain’s sole surviving car manufacturer yet far from just surviving the car is currently experiencing one of its most successful ever commercial periods and is being increasingly seen as one of Britain’s global success stories. I recently recorded this four part interview series at the Morgan Factory in Malvern with key personnel from the company starting off with Morgan’s Head of Design Matthew Humphries. I interviewed Matt because of the way due to his innovative and proactive personality he became Head of Design for Morgan whilst also rapidly becoming one of the most respective automotive design engineers in the industry.

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So Matt I have got to start with the main question which is how does someone go from an undergraduate who is doing a work experience project with Morgan to now being Head of Design for the company launching your own car the EvaGT within America just within a few short years? I mean that is a hell of a story to tell so go on please share it.

Matt: Well I mean it all started when I was on work placement. I like all my other peers at Coventry University were asked to send folios off to different companies and I thought well why not send it somewhere different so I sent it to Morgan. Luckily Charles Morgan picked my folio up, he loved the type of, the way I designed and the type of drawings I was doing. I came in a work placement. I designed the Aeromax and then actually went back to University. And then in September I popped back in to see a couple of the chaps who were at the factory, some of the guys and girls that I had met and made friends with and one of the guys said well come round the back of the factory and I have got to show you something. So I went into this little shed out the back of the factory and there was sat my little clay model which I had made and they had started to scale it up in to the full size car. So from that point on I used to come down here in the mornings to Morgan back up to University in the afternoon when my friends were just getting up and just having a cup of coffee and then we launched the first pre production concept car at Geneva 2005.
It was all, it was grasping the opportunity and saying okay yep we can build a car we can do this between us and it was a very small team that did it. So we did that and then I went back to University finished my degree off and ended up starting as the well Chief Designer when I left Uni in the September.

Kevin: I mean what is phenomenal about this story is the fact that you have literally created this department within Morgan. Morgan did not have this before did they?

Matt: No I mean the challenge was, for me was actually to set up a design capability within the company. I was on a KTP scheme with the government and the point of it was to establish design capability to be able to go from a sketch all the way through to a final model that you could take into the engineering department and finish off as a production car. So for me the challenge has been setting up and actually getting an old traditional company to understand that having aesthetics and design can vastly improve the time capability you can come up with something and the end product is 50 times better because the old fashioned way of doing things here was to literally knock something up in one of the sheds bring it out and the Directors standing around and go oh I don’t like this bit, I don’t like that bit. And now we are able to sketch something out in ten minutes, draw it up so it looks like it is semi realistic, give them five different options. From that you do get a more refined and actually an aesthetically pleasing product as well.

Kevin: How do people react to your approach here? I mean obviously you were shifting the boundaries a hell of a long way from what they had been used to for coming up for a hundred years.

Matt: Well I mean it was just a challenge walking through the workshop when I first started. Seeing some short guy with long blonde hair walking through the factory was, I used to get wolf whistled every time I walked through that place. But no I mean it was, I mean here it is one of those places you have to earn the respect of everyone around you to be able to get on. And it was a real challenge for me coming from that student at University all of a sudden I am thrown in here into a factory environment. It was a case of actually going around and making sure I listened to every single person that was involved in those products. To go into the guys in the workshop, go into the tin shop, say to the chaps okay hang on a minute how would you do this if you were doing it what is your suggestion. And as soon as you had that buy in from that, that sort of mutual respect has come because obviously I understand you know how hard their jobs are and the skills that they have that are involved in doing it.

Kevin: Well this is something that I was going to touch on because I have been fortunate enough to have a lovely in depth tour around the Morgan Plant and what I have noticed is and I said this to a couple of the members of your team everybody is a craftsman here. And that’s what I think; I mean it must be very interesting from your perspective that you are actually getting a real craftsman’s view on absolutely everything and all the elements that you are bringing to the table.

Matt: Yeah I mean that is the nice thing so now we have got this, what we see is a really beautiful mixture of craftsmanship, technology and aesthetic design all mixed in there. The nice thing is that in actual fact all Morgan’s are all based around this concept of functionality. And what we can do now is we can have these craftsmanship skills, these wooden you know forms that have been handcrafted by someone but give them an aesthetic twist. By doing that you end up with something that is beautifully functional but it is the functionality which makes it aesthetically pleasing. So within the Aeromax you expose the wooden frame and then you stretch the aluminium over the top. And it is those forms the aluminium naturally lies in is actually probably the best solution to it anyway. And that is how all Morgan design philosophy comes around.

Kevin: I think that is what we are touching on to now which is the influence that you are bringing on to Morgan which probably leads me nicely into my next question which was very much taking a brand perception from a very traditional historical GB brand to something that really is pushing out innovation, design boundaries or that is how it looks from an aesthetic perspective and it will be interesting to get your take on that because I know that you consider the two concepts aren’t actually that far removed although when you look at them cars that you are bringing to the table now look incredibly different in some regards to what they were before.

Matt: I think that is partly brand perception. I think the point of every single Morgan is that you can sit a classic car next to a EvaGT, you can open the doors and you will see a wooden frame in there. You will see true real materials. You will see leather, wood, aluminium. It is those DNA qualities that mean that you can sit both cars together and they are truly Morgan and they could only be Morgan. The classic car has had this bad perception of, well I would say it is bad, but of this you know pipe smoking old man for many years. But actually I think Morgan’s are, you know the classic ones are fantastically interesting and very individual and if you take them as a bespoke individual product and think of it more like a tailored suit, think about tailoring it never goes out of fashion. Okay you get someone like Oswald Botang come in and he will storm his way into a very traditional Saville Row, he will bring new designs and new elements of design to it but at the end of the day he is still tailoring, still making a crafted product there and I think it is all to do with brand perception. So we take a Morgan with all the glitz and all the chrome bits on it strip it right down, make it a pure simple sports car again, put it in some interesting colours and natural leathers and you have a very cool simple but British tailored product. And that is the Morgan DNA. The Morgan DNA is about real materials. It is about mixing craftsmanship, technology and aesthetically pleasing design all together to give this functional real sports car.

Kevin: And how far do you think you can keep pushing this grand perception and keep broadening it and keep if you like introducing new touches, new ideas and a new audience to the Morgan brand. How far could you go with this?

Matt: Well a good example of how far we are pushing it is this weekend we are going to, we are doing the Lord Mayor’s Parade and we have got quite a controversial artist he is going to hand paint a Morgan as he drives through London. It is pushing the boundaries; he is actually calling it ‘The Sacrifice of the Morgan’. This thing is opening up to a completely new marketplace and making Morgan something to look at and watch out for instead of just going ah that is Morgan they have always made those things. Now we are stamping the ground and going now we are doing some bold new things here come on everyone wake up and watch us.

Kevin: I think what is lovely to hear and I know for a fact that this is going to come over on the audio as well is the passion enthusiasm and the energy that you are speaking about this. I mean you are absolutely loving it. It is like speaking to you know someone who has come down on Christmas Day and opening up their presents. But I mean how much fun is this for you?

Matt: It is a great challenge, it is brilliant. I mean that is part of the point that is that if you can’t challenge things like that all the time and constantly change people’s opinions then I don’t think you are designing properly. So I think it is not just about, it is not for me just about sketching new cars out it is also about the whole brand behind it and it is about building something and changing people’s opinions all the time by one changing the design and secondly putting it in different places, exposing it to new people.

Kevin: I love that line that you have just used about changing people’s perceptions. Is that what drives you all the time?

Matt: My drive is that I am never content. I constantly have to change things. You know a vintage sports car that I have always dreamed after within six months I became oh this bit isn’t quite right; oh that bit isn’t quite right. Even when we did the Aeromax you know or the EvaGT I am constantly changing things I am never happy with what that final piece is. You get to the point in the design process you have to swipe the pen down and go that is it we are going with that one. But I know within six months I will be back and I will be changing my mind and I won’t be happy with this but I think that is good because I am constantly challenged to strive forward and keep on moving things in a new direction.

Kevin: Absolutely and speaking of driving things in a new direction whereabouts do you get your ideas from I mean because it is a big wide world out there but you are bringing some lovely creative flare into the Morgan’s you are designing where does that come from?

Matt: I think you just have to keep your eyes, as a designer you have to keep them as open as possible. I mean I look at everything from fashion, music; I go on countless blogs and different things on the internet, constantly hunting down new trends across the world. I have been to some crazy car trends that are happening out in San Francisco and California at the moment that okay that is a car trend but then also I will relate that back to fashion. I will look at advertising that is going on within the world. If you can just pick different things from different elements that actually just the bits that you like put those in a big pile, keep them in the back of your head, and then when you are coming down to designing a new product or thinking up a new marketing campaign something will pop out and you will go that’s what I am saying that is what I remembered it for that is where I it is going next.

Kevin: It is funny that is what I noticed from your office because on your office you have literally got just swatches of all sorts of stuff just pinned up on walls and it looks like a real scrapbook.

Matt: It is a bit like a cave yeah. I mean we just anything that is exciting or interesting pin it on the wall and keep it there. I mean I am not a hoarder and I cant stand things like that normally I like big clean white walls but I think everyone has to have somewhere where you just throw all the idea out and like I said when you are sketching if they up on the wall you go ah that’s why I remembered that for.

Kevin: Do you think that is one of the keys for anybody who is looking to constantly drive themselves forward which is thinking outside the box constantly looking for stuff from left field that could inspire them?

Matt: Definitely it doesn’t have to be designer I mean it could be anything. Why be the norm? Why constantly tread that route. It might sound slightly cheesy but you just have to just you know wind your own route through I suppose.

Kevin: And that brings me on nicely to a lovely phrase that you used in an interview which I found particularly interesting and it is how you say Morgan’s have to be automotive theatre.

Matt: I mean all Morgan’s have to have this concept of what we call automotive theatre because if you imagine seeing in the 1930s a coach built Lamborghini Falaschi body which is one of my favourite coach builders from the period car go down Hollywood Boulevard people would have literally been, their jaws would have been dropping and they would have been going oh wow what is that thing I want to know what it is. Now that sort of theatrical side of the design every Morgan has got it. You drive a classic Morgan down high street in any single city people go wow what is that thing, what is it, how do I get to know what it is. It is that theatrical element to it. It is not actually designed into it either I mean the actual theatre is something that comes around from aesthetics and functionality. But it is just that concept of exciting people and having it different on the road it is not just your normal Astra or something that people as just a fridge this is an piece of automotive theatre that is exciting and different.

Kevin: I am going to pull you just a bit down to earth now just um pull you away from the design ideas and I am going to bring you back from where you have come from which is undergraduate putting yourself out there. There is huge competition for graduate jobs right now. What would your advice be to graduates, regardless not just design graduates but people in any discipline to help them set themselves apart and find that job of their dreams just the way you have managed to do that?

Matt: I think it is actually about not closing your barriers down as much. People who went on my design course when I instantly said that I was going off to Morgan some of them put their noses up because they thought well that is a traditional company you are not going to be designing modern cars there. But why do that because five days down the line we are doing modern cars here. I have established a design community within the company so what I would say is don’t close your boundaries down. Think okay where could you go that may give me a different opportunity and in actual fact I think when people do that they find their own little niche and their little market that is more them. I will always be designing you know high end luxury products. If it is watches, cars, houses it will still be within that high end network and that is my niche now. You know I have found my little area. When I was at University I didn’t know that was me you know I was designing a Fiesta Van one day and the next day it would be this and you are constantly hunting for which area to go into so just keep completely open mind and if there may be an opportunity that arises that you question then go for it and grasp it.

Kevin: I think you have summed it up there which is just go for opportunities don’t wait for them to come to you.

Matt: No go and get those opportunities. If I hadn’t sent my folio to Morgan and hadn’t said to Charles look I will come here just let me sit down at a desk and come up with some ideas for you I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing today.

Kevin: No nor equally then juggling an actual job with your studies.

Matt: Why not push it. You know you are only here once so give it a go.

Kevin: Yeah and that is a lovely attitude to take. So keeping on the personal questions I am going to put you on the spot a bit now and we love to ask people actually what drives them.

Matt: I think it is the thing that I said earlier on about never being content. I am never going to be content with anything I do and it is a good thing, and also just being positive about everything. You know some people go oh I am never going to be content and then get in a big dull about it. Turn it around be positive about the fact that I am never going to be content and go brilliant okay well it pushes me. It makes sure that every single morning when I get up if I am not happy with something I change it. That is the attitude to have about things.

Kevin: Who has been the greatest influence in your life so far?

Matt: Probably in a very corny fashion it is my father. He was someone that came up and built quite a large company, an architects practice from nothing and he, I always seemed growing up, I didn’t actually see my father much growing up but that was because he was constantly pushing the boundaries all the time in architecture and design. He is the one who has actually said to me push, push, push keep on going without even telling me to do it because I have seen him going for it. And he has given me the passion to still drive and I think in actual fact there is something in me that says I have to try and achieve more than my father did. I don’t know why and he says, he is not like this in any fashion he would never tell me to do that, but I feel for myself I have to achieve that.

Kevin: And I am just going to finish off for people out there who still think of Morgan as being this classic sports car company how would you summarise what Morgan is now and what they might be missing out on?

Matt: Well from my point of view I would say that Morgan is now a design lead company. It is something that is taking influences from all around the world but it is also you could say that in actual fact Morgan has stayed where it is but now we are exposing the true qualities of Morgan. In actual fact the whole world has come completely in a circle and now all the qualities that Morgan’s have always had are very of the moment and we are a modern forward thinking company these days that is challenging different boundaries, painting cars in the streets, pushing things forward every single day.

Kevin: Matt Humphries thank you very much for your time today.

Matt: Thanks very much.

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Kevin: I would like to extend my thanks to Matt for sharing so much with us in this interview and also to our sponsors the Jenrick Recruitment Group for setting up this interview series. The next interview within the series is going to be with Steve Morris, Operations Director for the Company and I hope to have that one released before the end of January. There are several links on the webpage for episode 21 for you to learn much more about Morgan cars so feel free to click through those and explore more. A quick thank you before I finish to everyone who has downloaded our last episode which featured an interview with Kos Lesses. This episode reached number one in the ITunes charts over the Christmas period so if you haven’t managed to catch it I would recommend that you go back and have a listen.

I will leave you with some music from Xerxes to finish and this track is called ‘Sub Zero’. I look forward to you tuning in very soon. Thank you.

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We hope you enjoyed reading this transcript of the motivating interview with Matt Humphries.

You can listen to more inspiring interviews with inspiring people on the Maximise Potential Podcast.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Tom Burkinshaw, I co-produce the Maximise Your Potential Podcast and Website and my goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximise Your Potential!