After studying and working in hospitality for eight years, a passion for the ultimate hospitality experience led Chief Steward Stig Spiessens to pursue a career in yachting. Having worked on motor yachts Tatoosh, Dilbar and Aquila (ex-Cakewalk), Stig talks about the growing trend for continual professional development and the importance of understanding your own leadership style to bring out the best in your team.
How did you get into the yachting industry?
I studied for eight years at a hospitality school where I learned to become a chef, waiter and sommelier and I also learned about hotel management. During that time had several internships at Michelin starred restaurants where I got the feeling for what high-end hospitality really is.
But I wanted to be able to deliver the ultimate experience so I decided to join yachting. At the time my brother had a friend who was a dive master in the industry and he helped me to find my first job as a Steward.
I started work on M/Y Tatoosh and gradually worked on all the yachts in the Vulcan Maritime fleet. After three and a half years I moved to M/Y Dilbar as on board Butler and after that I worked as Chief Stew on the 85m M/Y Aquila (ex-Cakewalk).
Is it how you expected it to be?
Now I have adapted myself to the industry but it was absolutely not as I expected it to be!
What do you love most about your job?
That it gives me the chance to work with outstanding products and great people. I love wine as I'm a sommelier and I have had the opportunity to taste a lot of great wines that otherwise I wouldn’t have had the chance to experience.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned?
To live with, and respect other cultures and nationalities on board.
There's a growing trend for continuous professional development (CPD) - what's your view?
I am convinced that you have to keep doing courses so you can adapt to this quickly changing industry, and I've just finished the Luxury Hospitality Interior Yacht Management Course with Interior Yacht Services. A lot of different aspects of managing an interior team are discussed in this five-day program so the whole package was very complete.
The individual profiling analysis was the best part of it for me. You also get to know your own leadership style better and learn how to adapt to different profiles within your team to get the best out of people.
What is the single biggest issue affecting crew at the moment?
The yachting industry has become so popular and so many people now want to work on board yachts. Increasingly you will have to stand out and make the difference by investing in your career through education and professional courses.
What does the future for yachting look like for crew?
The yachting industry will have to invest more in interior training, just as Officers and deck crew need to have certain certificates before the can do particular jobs. For interior crew it is different. They are the first and last faces guests see, so maybe the most important people on board, so I think it's very important to have a professional crew. Owners and charter guests expect the very best service, as they do when they stay at a top hotel.
What would you change if you could?
I would like to see a change in the mentality of interior crew. Don’t look at it like traveling around the world having a well-paid job at the same time. Take a more professional approach to it. I have a lot of respect for my job because I look at it as a career.
Who do you most admire in the world of yachting?
I have had the chance to work with a lot of great crew and meet inspiring people so it would not be right to pick one individual. But I like the professionalism of the Vulcan Maritime Group I have worked for. I have not seen it anywhere else in yachting.
What was your greatest experience on a yacht?
I was once on board a yacht in St Martin and the owner asked us to go to Zanzibar, so we did this trip in about 30 days and it was a great experience to travel to a place where not a lot of yachts have been before. Working with great products in such a great location and giving the owner and his guests a unique experience was definitely satisfying.
What was your worst experience on a yacht?
It was the worst and maybe also the best. We were once three days out of Cape Town on a yacht and we hit very rough seas. I have never been as seasick as then… but the reward was worth it as we arrived in Cape Town and found authentic African supplies for our upcoming guest trip.
Which nationalities tend to be the best bosses?
I don’t like to put people or owners in a box. I just like people that have respect for your work and are reasonable.
The best charter guests?
The ones that leave the biggest tip. (joke)
Which is your favourite yacht and why?
Obviously I have my own taste in yacht design but I don’t have a favorite. I just hope that every yacht I step on in the future is professionally managed.
Which is your favourite port and why?
I had a great time in Cape Town but I also love Venice and Trieste.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Reading, walking, hiking, running, going for a nice dinner.
Which three objects would you take to your desert island?
A bottle of nice wine, sunblock and sunglasses!
What will you be doing in five years?
I hope to be successfully leading an interior team to give the owners and guests a truly unique experience.