The Professionals: Tim Maccabee - Ducati UK Managing Director

He's the man who's in charge of Ducati's UK day-to-day operations, so what's it like dealing with the Italians?

How tough were the last three years for Ducati?
Well it's been interesting for sure! Last year, looking from the outside you would have said it wasn't a good year for Ducati at all, but behind the scenes we were restructuring the company internally. We put a lot of building-blocks in place so that when the 1098 and the other new generation of bikes came along we would be much more prepared and ready to grow when the bikes were released. We are now well-poised to take advantage of the up-turn.

So was Ducati in need of a proper shake up?
When I took over in February 2005 there were a lot of things that we needed to put in place. An Italian company is run on passion and when applied to cold, hard business the processes don't necessarily follow. For example, there weren't even staff contracts in place until last year. We had lots and lots of passion, we still do, but now we have the routines in place so the company runs on a more efficient keel.

Who actually owns Ducati now and how financially stable is the company?
The major shareholder is an Italian company called Invest Industrial, and the company is much stronger now. All the things that we invested on during the tough times started to come to fruition last year. We had been investing heavily in product development at the expense of other things such as  dealer development. Our belts were very tight, Texas Pacific Group knew they were going to sell and so didn't want to invest any more, but Invest Industrial came along and put Û80 million in. That's a big chunk of cash by anyone's standards.

How much of a sales flop was the 999 after the glory days of the 916? Be honest, now!
Look, when you launch a new bike you hope it's going to be strong, and the 999 wasn't as strong as we hoped it would be. With hindsight, we should have launched with the improved 2005 version of the bike back in '02, but hindsight is always 20-20, isn't it! Last year was particularly disappointing, you could tell the 999 just wasn't capturing the imagination of riders. The 1098 is where we should be and is now out-performing anything I've seen at Ducati.

Your bikes are bloody expensive. Is the UK market strong enough for premium priced models such as Ducati?
The Japanese volume manufacturers are producing bikes at an incredible rate, Yamaha make more R6s in a year than we make bikes! But if someone is looking for individuality then they look at manufacturers other than the Japanese four, be it Harley at one end of the spectrum or us at the other. More riders are gravitating towards the niche brands as many now want individuality.

For years, Ducati have been Championship winners. Is success in racing still important to sales for you?
'Race Sunday, sell Monday' just doesn't happen anymore but racing success builds up an aura in the company and a buzz. The fact is that if we stopped racing, that buzz around the company would die away. And that would never happen because Ducati love racing, it's in the blood here. Also Claudio Domenicalli (head of product development) is also in charge of Ducati Corse, and if he wants a product on a road bike that is developed for a race bike he just says so and it happens!

What's the worst thing about your job?
It's funny, people think it must be one of the best gigs in the industry and expect it to be a holiday everyday, but it's suspiciously like a normal job here. I have to do budgets, administration, insurance, all the stuff that you have to do in any company. I don't just ride bikes all day, as much as I might sometimes wish that was the case. 

And the best thing about it?
People think it will be frustrating working with Italians, but it isn't. There is  a lot less bureaucracy here than at my previous employer, Ford. With Ford you needed 17 signatures just to get a flight, Ducati is smaller and things happen.

What was the last competitor's bike that you rode that you really enjoyed?
I can tell you what it wasn't, an R6. The engine got to such a pitch that it reminded me of a dentist's drill. The thing was absolutely frantic. I rode a Harley Fat Boy a few years ago, and that was a completely different thing. I could understand cruising around on that and really enjoyed it.

A Harley-style Ducati - is that the sort of bike you'd like to see Ducati build, then?
Can't really see that happening, but I'd really like a 1098 with a smaller engine for the UK market. Something with the torque of the V-twin engine, but with less power so you can use it more, something you can ride and feel like you're getting near the edge of its capabilities. What UK riders aspire to owning isn't necessarily the best bike for them to ride. There is a big culture here to own the fastest sports bike, but riders should try something different, a Triumph, KTM or Ducati. You can get your kicks below 120mph on a Hypermotard and have much more fun.

And finally, when was the last time you were scared like a little girl on a motorbike?
Cadwell Park, last week. I tried to get past a Fireblade on a Monster 695, got it completely wrong and ran across the grass. After I finished crapping myself I got past him next lap. And the other day I decided to let a 1098 run and saw 165mph. I can't say where, but I can tell you it was plenty fast enough for me.