Days before our interview at Dyson HQ in Malmesbury, Sir James Dyson celebrated his birthday. While touring the 129 on-site research and development laboratories, virtually every one of the 3,500 engineers and scientists he employs reminds me to wish him many happy returns.
Meandering our way along an almost military eight-hour tour through the sprawling maze of motor manufacturing rooms, electromagnetic chambers, and specialist “hair laboratories”, people with impenetrably complex jobs introduce themselves and begin to describe their specific role in the creation of the 13 million machines Dyson sells each year. Again, almost everyone cites a different workplace philosophy that they ascribe to their leader, Sir James Dyson, and which they call ‘The Dyson Way’.
These are often variants on a theme, such as “there’s no such thing as a bad idea” or “we don’t like to think of Dyson as a brand” — and the employees appear to believe whole-heartedly in this way of both work and life.
And the deification of Sir James doesn’t stop there. There are monuments celebrating and saluting him everywhere you look. Just 20ft away from the main reception, in a visitor’s car park, is an enormous Harrier fighter jet sprawling across two parking bays. It’s as though somebody flew the commute to Malmesbury this morning. Similarly, dangling over the heads of diners in the ‘Lightning Cafeteria’ is a 6.5-tonne BAC Lightning F.1A. For his 70th birthday he was also given a Bell 47 helicopter. Upon seeing his present, Dyson is reported to have immediately said: “Great, let’s get it flying”.
When the great and powerful wizard finally appears in the flesh to have his picture taken, he’s sat next to one of the enormous engines from Concorde, which has been rolled into a large, empty room for our shoot. Every inch of Dyson’s Malmesbury-based ‘campus’ is infused with the DNA of its founder, owner, and leader — and this multi-million-pound hunk of aeronautical history? “James just loves great examples of engineering.”
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