Ronan McGrath's penchant for fast cars took off with his career and for the past decade he's been a bona fide Porsche collector and driver.
McGrath loves the sports cars so much that he not only went to the Porsche family estate in September (as part of a Porsche Club event), but he also got Wolfgang Porsche – the youngest son of founder Ferdinand Porsche – to autograph the hood of his latest purchase, a lava orange 2016 GT3 RS.
“It was sensational,” said McGrath, principal at Ronan McGrath and Associates, which specializes in strategic turnaround and technology consulting.
McGrath is part of an elite group who collect Porsche. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld recently sold 15 from his collection for about $22 million. The high-performance sports cars appeal to celebrities and executives alike.
“These executives are looking for high-adrenaline properties,” said Margareta Mahlstedt, the Mississauga, Ont.-based marketing director for Porsche Cars Canada. “Many like to push themselves and redefine their limits… looking for a physical challenge – like running a marathon. I think there's a lot of that in that personality.”
For Toronto-based McGrath the appeal is speed, performance and innovation. His newest Porsche can break through the 100 km/h mark in 3.3 seconds. He likes the idea that it's a track car that's also street legal.
“This is not the fastest Porsche,” he said. “It is, however, the best-handling, and to drive it – it's surgically precise.
“I always liked fast cars, always — but, I couldn't afford them,” said McGrath, who previously held senior positions with CN and Rogers Communications for about 20 years. “Then, as my career took off, I started to buy them, and I went through a series of a faster and faster cars.”
In addition to his latest Porsche, he also has a 2008 997.1 GT3 RS, and a 2008 Cayenne S, the latter being useful in Canadian winters.
McGrath originally bought BMWs and got his first Porsche in 2007, when he was working as the executive vice president and chief information officer at Rogers.
Nürburgring race tracks
He went to the legendary Nürburgring, the Nurburg, Germany-based motorsports complex, which is home to one of the longest, most challenging racetracks in the world. He saw other drivers there with “this edgy car, and I thought: ‘I just gotta do this.'”
McGrath bought his first Porsche in Toronto and had it shipped back to Germany just so he could drive it on the Nürburgring track. “I had tires delivered to the ring, because I knew I'd wear them out. I had to change them before I shipped it back.”
The drive along the lengthy, narrow track, with hairpin turns and dramatic ups-and-downs is one he's subsequently done many times with different GT models, as the so-called Grand Touring cars built for racetrack driving are known.
“If you can drive the Nürburgring you can drive anything,” McGrath said, adding that it's a sublime experience. “I'm able to drive at a level where the feedback is perfect and the car – you become unified with the car – it's an extension of you.
“It's not so much the speed as the difficulty — it's narrow, and there's nowhere to go if you make a mistake.”
McGrath's passion has also led him to write about high-performance vehicles for the American publication Autoweek, the British Total 911 magazine, and Porsche magazines Provinz and Panorama.
“I've written extensively about cars… and I do get to test them periodically,” he said. “I've tested everything — Bentleys, Audis, BMWs, you name it — but the Porsches became central to this, because the community is so inclusive. It's not about having the latest, or the best car, it's about having the most enthusiasm.”
Part of McGrath's attraction to the Porsche brand is related to his days working around innovators at Rogers.
“I had sat down many times with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and everybody else making the world change,” he said. “I was always more interested in people who are innovators. And Porsche are innovators and engineers. They keep changing stuff and keep on finding extremes of performances. I like the fact that so much thinking goes into every new car.”
Porsche makes both GT and special edition vehicles. The latter ranging in their track use.
“The people buying those [GT] cars know what the range of that vehicle is in terms of how far they can push it, and a lot want to explore that — which ties into the adrenaline thing,” Mahlstedt said.
Phil Downe, president of Relations Management Group, a Toronto-based firm that helps companies negotiate high-end technology deals, agreed.
Downe is also a high-performance driving instructor with the Upper Canada Region of the Porsche Club of America and a co-founder (with McGrath) of the Yorkville Exotics Car Show in Toronto. He said the cars keep his adrenaline high.
“When we were young business people, it was what you aspired to own,” he said. “It wasn't the family sedan… It was a car that said you've arrived at a successful plateau in business.”
Adrenaline is, Downe believes, hugely addictive for those deeply immersed in the business world.
“Business executives in high-pressure jobs need a high-intensity distraction from that kind of pressure, not something that you would get from reading a book, or fly fishing,” Downe said, laughing.
McGrath is quick to point out that collectors and drivers are, under the Porsche umbrella, essentially the same thing.
“Drivers are, fundamentally, people who want to experience the car at its limits… and that's me.”