Locals reflect on Mansour Ojjeh — former Montecito resident, McLaren shareholder, competitive racer
Mansour Ojjeh, a driving force behind the British motor racing team McLaren and a main McLaren shareholder since the early 1980s, died Sunday at the age of 68.
The McLaren team confirmed the news Sunday morning, saying the former Montecito resident died peacefully in Geneva surrounded by family.
McLaren described Mr. Ojjeh as a visionary, whose oversight of the company over the decades expanded it “far beyond its roots as a Formula One team,” according to a company press release.
“The passing of Mansour Ojjeh has devastated everyone at McLaren Racing,” McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown said in the news release. “Mansour has been etched into the heart and soul of this team for nearly 40 years and was intrinsic to its success.
“He was a true racer in every sense. Ultra-competitive, determined, passionate and, above all, perhaps his defining characteristic: sporting. No matter the intensity of the battle, Mansour always put sport first.”
The French-Saudi billionaire and Formula One racer owned a 3,500-acre California coastal ranch just outside of Santa Barbara for nearly four decades called El Rancho Tajiguas. The secluded property on the Gaviota Coast was listed at $110 million in 2019, deeming it one of the priciest properties in the region.
Figures from Formula One worldwide issued statements and tweeted about Mr. Ojjeh, paying tribute and reflecting on the “real gentleman” he was. In addition, local celebrity friends expressed their sorrow and fond memories of him.
“He was a very elegant man, and my wife Carolyn always said he was the most elegant man, gentleman, that she had ever met,” actor, talk show host and comedian Dennis Miller told the News-Press. “Mansour had an unquenchable zest for life, an unwavering loyalty to his friends and an unquantifiable love for his family.”
Mr. Ojjeh was born in Syria on June 24, 1952, and won a physical education scholarship in France. He was then granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia and awarded the Legion d’Honneur by France. In 1975, Mr. Ojjeh founded TAG Group — Techniques d’Avant Garde — as a holding company for his investments, following in the entrepreneurial footsteps of his father, Akram Ojjeh.
“He was an astute businessman and loved car racing,” movie and TV actor, producer and UCSB graduate Michael Douglas told the News-Press. “You know, he’s been an owner of the McLaren’s Formula One racing team for a long, long time. My life is certainly, certainly better for having known him.”
Mr. Ojjeh studied at the American School in Paris, earned his business degree at Menlo College in Northern California and studied law at the University of Santa Clara before switching routes and earning his master’s in business administration. The year 1978 marked the first year the Ojjeh family and TAG Group entered the world of motor racing.
That year, Saudia Airlines sponsored the Williams team, and the next year, TAG Group became a main Williams sponsor. The TAG logo saw its first world championship in 1980 with Alan Jones and second title victory in 1982 with Keke Roseberg.
But Mr. Ojjeh didn’t stop there. He created TAG Turbo Engines, which led to more success and another world championship by Niki Lauda and Alain Prost in 1984.
The critical investor continued to support the expansion of McLaren’s interests.
He founded TAG Electronics (which was renamed to McLaren electronics), which became a leading supplier to the motorsport and motoring industry.
He created the McLaren F1 road car, which won Le Mans in 1995.
And Mr. Ojjeh founded TAG Aviation, which became a major supplier of charter jet services worldwide.
The businessman then underwent a double lung transplant in 2013 as he suffered from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, but still took on an executive role at McLaren in early 2017.
Mr. Ojjeh is survived by his wife Kathy, and their four children: Lana, Lia, Sara and Sultan.
“His loss is really one of those questions of, ‘Why?’” Mr. Douglas said. “He’s been suffering in his health for a number of years now, and we tried to find a reason why, because he was just such a spectacular person and made everybody else’s life better by being around him.”
When asked about some of his favorite memories with the racer, Mr. Douglas said he threw “some great parties,” particularly at his Gaviota ranch. In addition, a couple of his daughters got married on the property, and Mr. Douglas attended the receptions.
“I’ve been around the world with him in many, many different places, and he always just had a positive note about him,” Mr. Douglas said. “I really, really feel the loss, and my heart goes out to his wife, Kathy, and his kids, because he just did not deserve to leave this early.”
Mr. Miller pointed out that Mr. Ojjeh was a “humble guy who always seemed as interested in your happenings as his.”
When asked about a favorite memory, the actor couldn’t seem to narrow them down.
“My favorite memories of him are all my memories of him … It’s just one big, joyful blur. Every time I was with him … he was always so effervescent, funny and he loved to laugh too. We just always had fun,” Mr. Miller said, adding that he got to see Mr. Ojjeh during his daughters’ weddings, where he was “just over the moon.”
“He was in full bloom,” the actor said. “He was one of the most memorable characters I’ve met in my life — for all the right reasons.”
Mr. Ojjeh was the godfather of one of News-Press Co-Publisher Arthur von Wiesenberger’s sons, and he and the publishers had been “dear friends since the early 1970s.”
Mr. von Wiesenberger said of Mr. Ojjeh, “Mansour was so special there are insufficient words to adequately describe his mark on his family, his friends and so many people he knew. Santa Barbara and much of the world is a better place thanks to him.”