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Meet the ex-Goodyear worker now sponsoring one of F1's biggest teams

By Mark Andrews | Telford | In-depth | Published:

As a teenager with no qualifications, Jonathan Kendrick got a job at Goodyear in Wolverhampton selling tyres to the motor racing industry.

Jonathan Kendrick, chairman of the ROKiT group, which sponsor the Williams F1 team

When he was a little older, he had a job in the pits, adjusting the tyre pressures for some of the big names in motorsport of the time.

Now, 40 years on, his company is the main sponsor of the Williams Formula One team.

The Wolverhampton-born businessman has come a long way since he left school as a 15-year-old boy.

Today he splits his time mainly between his bases in Los Angeles and Albrighton, although his company also has a presence in Mexico, San Jose, Delhi, Bavaria, Brazil and Japan.

His ROKiT group now operates in the drinks, telecommunications, film and mobile phone industries, but it is his involvement in Formula One that has catapulted his brand onto television screens around the world.

It was something he would never have expected as a teenager growing up in the Bradmore area of Wolverhampton in the mid-1970s.

"I was expelled from school when I was 15, and I'm slightly dyslexic," says Mr Kendrick, now 62.

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"I've got no qualifications, but when I was 17 years old I managed to blag myself a job in the accounts department at Goodyear.

"A job then came up to assist the sales manager. I worked my way up, and in 1978 I was sent to South America to look after the Williams racing team.

"I went to work on Formula Three, in those days you set up the cars by by taking tyre temperatures, to see how the tyres were performing, and adjust the tyre pressures accordingly."

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Rising F1 star and Williams driver George Russell in the ROKiT-emblazoned Williams team kit

While Formula Three was very much the poor relation to Formula One in those days, the job allowed him to build up an encyclopaedic knowledge of grass-roots motorsport.

When the company closed its UK competition department in 1979, the 23-year-old set up his own business importing tyres from the little-known Yokohoma company in Japan to supply to the motorsport industry.

"At the time, their tyres weren't very good, so I took on my old boss, Derek Williams, who had been the chief compounder at Goodyear before he was made redundant, and Tony Chatterton, the chief designer, and we re-engineered them."

The Goodyear site in Bushbury Lane, Wolverhampton, pictured here in 2015

He later moved into the financial sector and the emerging mobile phones market, but in 1998 he decided to retire at the age of 41, although boredom soon set in.

"My wife said you have got to get back out," he says, and in 2001 he set up in business with American billionaire John Paul DeJoria ­– co-founder of the Paul Mitchell hair-care group – under the Rok brand, which he says stood for 'Return of Kendrick'.

Now branded ROKiT, the company's latest venture is ROKiT Cities, which Mr Kendrick says will revolutionise telecommunications in developing countries by providing cheap mobile internet access through wi-fi transmitters installed in lamp-posts.

Russell in action for Williams during pre-season testing (David Davies/PA)
Russell in action for Williams during pre-season testing in Barcelona (David Davies/PA)

"For just two dollars a month, you can walk around the city confident that you will have a reliable internet connection wherever you go," he says.

"My belief is that cellular calls will not be around in 15 years time."

This month he will begin the process of connecting the Indian city of Jaipur to his wi-fi system, which he says will be fully up-and-running by June, and then it will be followed up by similar schemes in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad.

"We will be doing the 27 largest cities in India, it's not that difficult to do."

But while Mr Kendrick says his new system will change the way people communicate in developing countries, it would be difficult to replicate in the First World.

"In developed countries, the governments make billions from selling the licences, whereas the Third World countries just want to get connectivity at an affordable price."

Mobile phone handsets are another area Mr Kendrick is involved in. He produces a phone, which at first glance does not look much different from any other modern smartphone, but then proceeds to play a video in incredibly sharp 3D resolution.

"There's no need for any glasses, and the pictures just come out the phone at you," he says. The company's ROKFLiX 3D app offers a choice of 3D films to watch on the move, and Mr Kendrick says thc company is also developing a 3D tablet computer.

"Anything much bigger and it gets distorted, so you would need glasses," he says.

Mr Kendrick adds that his group has also set up the ROCKiT Studios in Provence, which makes films with mobile phones in mind.

"Kids today are watching all their entertainment on their mobiles," he says.

In 2013 the group acquired a controlling interest in the ailing German brewer Aktienbrauerei Kaufbeuren, which had been in Bavaria since 1308.

“When we get into anything, we always like a great story," says Mr Kendrick. He says that while the product was first-class, using only natural ingredients in keeping with historic purity laws, the brewery was only operating at half capacity due to a combination of a lack of investment and declining domestic demand.

"There are about 1,400 small breweries in Germany, all within a 50km (31-mile) radius," he says.

"The problem was you couldn't export it, because nobody was going to go into a pub and ask for a pint of Aktienbrauerei Kaufbeuren, I can't even pronounce it, so we shortened it to ABK.

"It's now being sold in 1,000 pubs in the UK," he says. "We're selling it all over the world, the biggest market is the US."

Mr Kendrick says the brewery now produces 200,000 hectolitres – or 35 million pints – every year, but this is nowhere near enough to satisfy demand.

"We need to increase that to a million hectolitres (175 million pints), so we're building a new brewery at a cost of £80 million.

"We will still keep the old one, but we need more capacity."

ROKiT co-founder and chairman Jonathan Kendrick

Three years ago they entered into a partnership with the Humphrey Bogart estate, led by the actor's son Stephen, to produce the Bogart's drink brand, comprising of vodka, gin, American whiskey and rum.

"We built the distillery just outside San Jose, we built it from scratch, and it's been super-successful," he says.

The company now invests millions in corporate sponsorship, particularly in relation to sporting events.

As well as sponsoring the ROKiT Williams Formula One team, represented on the track by drivers Nicholas Latifi and George Russell, his business also sponsors the ROKiT Venturi electric motor racing team, as well as touring car drive Nic Hamilton, half-brother of Formula One champion Lewis.

"We also sponsor the LA Chargers NFL team in the states, as well as the Houston Rockets National Basketball Association team," he says.

"We're spending tens of millions of dollars, but it's made a massive difference.

"We're now extremely well known, all over the world."

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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