Inspirational, Interview, Women In Motorsport

Jess McFadyen: “Sometimes, you have to take risks to get rewards.”

Okay, hey, everyone! It’s Evie. Today I have a very special post for you all – an interview with Jess McFadyen.

I first heard about Jess at a Women In Motorsport Clubhouse in March. It was International Women’s Day, and a variety of inspiring women were speaking. When it got to Jess’s turn, I was awestruck that someone could do something as incredible as her job for a living. Her story motivated me to keep networking and working hard, and I hope it touches you all as well.

Director of Digital Strategy for Motorsport Network is Jess’s current title, but she gathered much attention from her previous role as Head of WTF1. Jess told On The Pit Wall that when she joined WTF1 her goal was to take it from being “a meme page to an official media outlet”. They unquestionably succeeded at their mission, and their site now amasses over 12 million readers per month. Jess played a huge part in this change. In our interview, Jess also discussed her thoughts about leaving WTF1, her favourite stories from her time at the brand, and her advice to young women wanting a career in motorsport.

Enjoy, and make sure to follow On The Pit Wall on Instagram to catch our latest updates and interviews!

Photographer: Phil Franklin

Like many other F1 fanatics, Jess grew up surrounded by family members who were avid watchers of the sport and described her love of F1 as “family-driven”. Jess told me that she has “an older brother who’s sixteen years older than me, so from the moment I was born, he sat me in front of the TV on Sundays in my rocker!” Jess’s childhood home was in Brixworth, the village that currently supplies the powertrains for the Mercedes F1 team. When Jess lived in Brixworth, the customers in F1 of the powertrains were the McLaren-Mercedes team.

“Everybody in town had a connection to Formula 1. I think I was either going to love or hate motorsport, and I feel very thankful that I ended up loving it.”

Despite her early love of motorsport, it was never Jess’s dream to work in F1. Jess remarked that “I’d never considered it an option as it always felt out of reach.”

“I was definitely someone who had no idea what they wanted to do when they grew up. I’d flirted with journalism, working in advertising, all different things. I did English Literature as my degree subject because I had no clue what I wanted to pursue, but loved reading.”

Jess’s route into F1 came in 2013 at Haymarket Media, a publishing company. While still studying at university, Jess applied for the role of Media Sales Executive. Despite not knowing what she wanted to pursue, Jess loved media and saw the role as a way into the field. She hoped that she might find a speciality she both excelled in and enjoyed.

“At Haymarket Media, it was my job to call up companies to sell the adverts at the back of magazines. The brand that I worked on was a business brand, so my job had nothing to do with motorsport, but we sat next to Autosport. I would spend so much of my time talking to those guys and girls. I just wanted to be part of their world.”

Not long afterwards, an opportunity surfaced at Autosport, and Jess became an Agency Sales Manager.

“I sold adverts on their website. You know those annoying banner ads that everyone sees when they head to websites? That was me!” Jess joked.

“That was my first job in motorsport. It was definitely opportunity hunting, but never with an active mindset of ‘I want to work in motorsport’. Once I got there, I realized how great it was to have a job in an industry that is your passion or hobby.”

Jess and her good friend Alex Thomson. You can find my interview with Alex here.

When Jess joined Autosport, she started to see opportunities for the company, such as incorporating social media into their marketing strategy.

“At the time, we weren’t doing any social media because my bosses were like, ‘no, it’s just a phase. F1 doesn’t even do social media, so why should we?’ I thought that was the exact reason why. It was a massive opportunity.”

Even in the early days of its popularity, Jess felt very strongly that social media was the future. So much so that Jess quit her job and went to join a car-based company named Car Throttle.

“Everything they did was social media, and I just felt so passionately that that was the future. I didn’t want to get left behind. I joined Car Throttle, and luckily enough for me, six months after working there, they bought and acquired WTF1. I thought, ‘this is everything the motorsport industry needs.’ WTF1 was, in my opinion, the best brand on social media.”

“Even though I hated working in sales, it was crucial for me to do because it meant that I understood business and money. Eventually, I pestered my then-CEO and said, ‘I need to move to WTF1. I can make it successful and into a business.'” After several heated discussions, including one that almost lost Jess her job, her boss relented. In 2017, Jess became Head of WTF1. 

Jess worked in that position for about three years and looks back on her time at WTF1 fondly. As for stories from her time at the company, Jess has her fair share, including some fun ones she told me;

“I got to experience some amazing things with the team. Hanging out with Daniel Ricciardo in Baku, I never in a million years would have imagined that to happen. Getting that level of access to a sport I have loved my entire life and getting to call it my job was incredible.”

“Another crazy story I can tell happened after the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix. Charles Leclerc asked me for a picture, which is just one of the most bonkers things that I can say! I was with Alex [Thomson] at a party, in a queue to get a drink, when I saw Carlos Sainz, Alex [Albon], and Charles [Leclerc] were standing to our left. Talk about a ‘pinch me’ moment! Charles saw me in the queue, gasped, came running over to me and was like, ‘We have to take a selfie! We have to send it to Matty [Gallagher, who worked at WTF1 with Jess]!’ I said something like, ‘Sure, cool. Whatever’, trying to stay calm and not freak out in front of him! We messed it up and couldn’t get it to work anyway, so I don’t have the picture as proof. He ended up sending just his face to Matty!”

“It was one of those ‘what is life?’ moments! Definitely one of the coolest stories I can share!” Jess laughed.

Jess with Tommy Bellingham (Founder of WTF1) [second to the left] and Matt Gallagher (Presenter for WTF1) [furthest to the right].

Jess’s decision to leave WTF1 was clearly a tough one, and she described to On The Pit Wall what it felt like to “break up the group”.

“It goes without saying that what I miss most about WTF1 are the people. When you work with such a small company or a startup, you become like family. We cared about the brand so much, and I believed in it so passionately. After you leave, it’s not the same anymore. Sometimes you have to make decisions that are in your best interest, and for me, coming back to Motorsport Network (the company that owns Autosport) and being able to prove that I could build it up as I did with WTF1 was really important. It wasn’t an easy decision, and I cried when I sent over my contract to join Motorsport Network. It was an emotional decision, but I knew for my own sake that I had to do it.”

“Sometimes, you have to take risks to get rewards.”

If I may butt in, I’d say this is what makes Jess so inspiring. Her willingness to treat risks as what they are – a normal part of life. At WTF1, Jess had a job she truly loved but accepted the challenge of starting all over again with Motorsport Network. They asked her to build what she had done with WTF1 with them. Jess acknowledged that choosing to move to the Network would be more difficult, yet, she still decided upon the risk. That’s something I deeply respect about Jess.

As Director of Digital Strategy at Motorsport Network, Jess “makes sure that our [Motorsport Network’s] racing channels are maximising their potential across our [their] fan facing properties (social and video) as well as identifying key areas the company can grow into in these areas.”

Photographer: Phil Franklin

At the end of our interview, I had one final question. It has always been my favourite because I’ve always sought out the input of others in the industry. It is, what is your advice to young women who would like to work in the sport? I loved Jess’s interesting yet important take on the matter;

“I think the biggest thing we need to teach young girls is to have self-confidence because – and there’s a reason for this – many girls feel like they won’t belong in motorsport or that it’s scary because there are lots of men and they won’t fit in. There’s a lot that needs to be done by motorsport bodies in terms of making the sport an environment where women feel welcome.”

“The one thing I’ve found is that if you are good at what you do, your gender tends not to matter. That’s just my experience, and of course, there have been instances where I’ve been treated differently because I’m a woman. However, on merit, I have got to where I am now because I’m damn good at my job.

“Everybody thinks that success is like a straight line, but it’s really not. It’s up and down and moving to the side. It’s a series of highs and lows and plateaus. Most people don’t see it – they think you started at a certain place, and now you’re here in your current position. According to Jess, the key is to “be confident and true to who you are.” 

These are wise words for us all to remember.

Huge thanks to Jess for our interview – I loved speaking to you and hearing your incredible story into the industry.

All images are from Jess’s Instagram, which you can find below.

Follow Jess on Instagram and Twitter.