My engineering journey: Tharsus Head of Design Rob Thompson

Professional Engineering

Rob Thompson
Rob Thompson


Born and bred in North East England, I had little exposure to engineering as a youngster. The discipline entered my life more indirectly; my father supported friends at race events, taking me along for the ride from nine months old. This sparked my interest in many an invention to replicate the race car, prompting daredevil childhood antics. 

2002-06  University of Hertfordshire

I briefly enrolled in the RAF pilot division before stumbling across the option of an automotive with motorsport degree… engineering suddenly became incredibly interesting and I went on to graduate with first-class honours. For me, academia was not just about technical scope, it was about diligent delivery. My studies were key to creating focus and setting personal targets, which I’m still striving for to this day. 

2007-10  Powertrain systems development engineer, Bentley Motors

I landed my first position at Bentley in Crewe, at a time when opportunity arose in their new venture into Volkswagen platforms. I was soon overseeing the development and implementation of powertrain technologies into the Continental Supersports and Mulsanne platforms. Engineering was no longer just about calculations, it also landed me a maximum-velocity test licence (at 22 years old!).

2010-13  Lead vehicle test engineer, McLaren Automotive  

In going to McLaren, I took the move that would have the greatest influence on my career to date. I got to work alongside world-class people, learning at an incredible pace, bringing extensive skills and making me the professional I am today.

I joined as a test engineer for the first McLaren road and race car programme, MP4-12C. I quickly gained experience of a range of skills, culminating with the delivery of the fantastic P1 Hybrid sports car programme. It was here I learned the ‘fail but fail fast’ mentality, establishing the backbone of momentum required to deliver.

2013-14  Senior development engineer, McLaren  

I led a team of test engineers to complete the design validation on future model introductions. I gained exposure to budgets linked to high-level business imperatives and coordinated a brilliant team to engineer a fleet of complex prototypes.

2014-15  Chief engineer, McLaren  

For my age, the position of chief engineer was a huge opportunity to take the lead on the definition and execution of brand-defining vehicle attributes. I was entrusted with defining McLaren’s reputation for great drivers’ cars in the release of the LT platform, something I’m exceptionally proud of. I worked with fantastic engineers, collating and coordinating the delivery of McLaren’s flagship platform for customer engagement. This role created the springboard for my career as it is today, in design. When I reflect on this move, the best advice I’d give to others is to ‘make it happen’. Opportunities are everywhere but they are only realised when taken; they are not given.

2015-18  Senior manager, vehicle engineering, McLaren

Having delivered the LT, McLaren enlisted me to replicate that learning across all of their vehicle product lines. I managed the vehicle development engineering department with over 80 individuals. I was focused on the management of a team of highly skilled engineers and technicians and given the freedom to set the vision for important projects. This role developed my leadership skills and taught me that a key point in designing and delivering a product is to bring together research from as many sources as possible. A successful team delivery is a design in itself!

2018-Present  Head of design, Tharsus

After enjoying more than 11 years in a youthful automotive sector, I was ready for my next big innovation challenge. I joined the executive team at Tharsus, which creates advanced machines and robots for companies looking to solve automation challenges. The job offered a complex challenge. I’m passionate about building innovative products that can be commercial game changers, and Tharsus do that well. We’ve got ground-breaking projects and the company is growing rapidly. It’s an exciting organisation to be part of.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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