Daniel Ziriakus is not someone you forget in a hurry. Besides his physical stature, you cannot fail to notice his energy and drive; this is a man on a mission.
His first marketing role was with Estee Lauder in Munich before joining Bridger Conway, a Miami-based agency specializing in branding and communications for luxury brands, and it was here that he first encountered the yachting industry. Following a rapid ascent, Daniel is now Chief Operating Officer at Northrop & Johnson in Fort Lauderdale, where we caught up to get his take on the trends currently impacting the industry.
How did you get into the yachting industry?
While I was working at Bridger Conway I managed a number of accounts in high end real estate, property development, hotels and luxury residences. One day I met Patrick Coote, who came to the agency to discuss a rebranding project for Fraser Yachts. I didn’t win the pitch but, as a result of that meeting, I ended up coming ‘in-house’ to work with Patrick on the Fraser Yachts project in 2007.
When did you join Northrop & Johnson and how did it come about?
I first joined Northrop & Johnson in 2010 as Director of Marketing to develop the company’s marketing, evolve the team, and build out the brand on an international level.
After finishing my MBA I was then offered a position as Head of Marketing with CNI in Monaco, which I took for various personal reasons at that point in time. It was a fantastic experience to be back in Europe for a while and to be immersed in the European side of our industry.
In 2014 I re-joined N&J as COO to head up the company globally under Kevin Merrigan, the CEO. I had stayed in touch with Kevin over the years and we just have a fantastic working relationship. He is one of the industry’s greats – I have yet to meet a better deal-maker and negotiator. A lot of things aligned with Kevin’s operation, which prompted me to rejoin forces with N&J and move back to the US with my family.
What is Northrop & Johnson’s corporate vision?
N&J’s corporate vision is to build the most efficient, service oriented brokerage company the market has to offer. We’re really strong on brokerage, that’s what we know, so we’re going to stick to our core values. We may continue growing a little, but it’s not about size, I want the company to be profitable, our brokers to be happy, and our systems to work. I’m a firm believer in sticking to what we do best.
In your view, what are the most important success factors in today’s market?
As a brokerage I believe it's client service, intermingled with forward-thinking technology. Most of all, it’s about having the right team and developing that team to its fullest potential. At N&J we develop our business around our core departments to ensure they have everything top notch to perform at their best.
What are the most significant changes you’ve seen over the past 10 years?
More, bigger, faster - technology driven. The brand plays a huge role and the industry is shaping up to 21st century standards after a long lag time of staying niche. The superyacht industry has adjusted very late and it’s still behind the curve compared to many other industries.
The internet is hugely changing how the industry works and I think many companies are only just learning how important their brand and their technology are. Also, you can now find information online for just about any yacht so, by the time a charter client comes to us, they’re already very informed, they self-educate. Think of the travel industry, now you can see the pictures, the ratings, the reviews. Things are moving extremely fast and behaviour is changing. For the newer generations coming up online is huge.
More generally, what are the challenges facing the yachting industry today?
Firstly we need to attract more clients to this industry, there’s a lot of untapped wealth and potential out there that no one is able to reach. Online helps, but there are thousands of UHNWS out there who could afford a yacht, but the idea is very far removed from their everyday life and thinking.
Secondly, listings are becoming more competitive. Between 2008 and 2010 the builders were decimated so, right now, it’s hard to find a 60-80m yacht that is three to five years old. Now the builders are cranking and they’re building, but there’s a lag in used inventory.
Many people expected the Chinese market to be further ahead by now – what’s your view?
If we look at Asia in general, not only China, it’s a very important market is for us, and we continue to invest in the region. We’ve had an established operation there since 2007, with a sales force on the ground in 10 countries – we’re the first full service brokerage in Asia with brick and mortar offices. Under the leadership of Managing Director Bart Kimman, we sold the first Royal Huisman superyacht in Asia and we’re the first MYBA member in Asia. We’ve also been awarded the ‘Best Charter Company in Asia’ two years in a row, as we continue to push the market and introduce new Asian clients to the world of yachting.
If we look specifically at the Chinese market, it’s true that most people expected the appetite for luxury brands to translate more readily and more quickly than it has. To a large extent, creating interest in chartering or owning a yacht depends on exposure, and there’s still a way to go. There are also important cultural factors that play a part, for example around the relationship with the sea and exposure to the sun. But it will happen, which is why we continue to invest and develop our presence in the region.
What do you foresee in the next 10 years – what does the future of yachting look like?
Access to data and client information will be getting more transparent, the internet will evolve and the players, I believe, will shift from the 'old-schoolers' to the new kids on the block. Some of our top heavy, global competitors will have to learn to adjust or the digital age will swallow them up.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned during your career so far?
Move out of the comfort zone; comfort zones are traps. If one stays in his or her comfort zone, one can never really grow.
What would you change if you could?
I wouldn’t change anything about the business right now but if I could change anything in today’s world that would impact on my life? Someone needs to sort out transportation in our day and age. I wish I could get to Hong Kong in two hours for meetings and then get back to headquarters. Travel just sucks up so much of everyone’s time; I wish there were some shortcuts. My wife and my two year old daughter would enjoy that as well.
A lot of work can be done remotely, and we have video conference facilities, however, it’s different if you’re there, seeing the boats, meeting the people and shaking their hands. We learn a lot from face time and we get a lot more done.
Who do you most admire in the world of business/yachting, who has inspired or influenced you?
There are two individuals who have had a huge impact on my career. The first is Patrick Coote. He brought me on board, believed in me and pushed me to other horizons. The second one is Kevin. I get to work with him every day, work on strategy, deals, negotiations – I am getting 30 years of knowledge pressed into my head which never makes for a dull moment.
Which is your favourite yacht and why?
I don’t have a top favourite yacht or builder to be honest. I enjoy learning about yards, new techniques and every key player’s strength. There are so many new and cool projects out there it would be hard for me to pick out one. I do like SAVANNAH, which I think is quite revolutionary in design and use of materials. I think we will see a lot more glass on yachts in the coming years. I also quite like VANISH, a project which we just delivered - Eidsgaard Design did a fantastic job on her. SUERTE is also a very cool project by Tankoa Yachts, I enjoy her lines and interior décor. I also like MOGAMBO by Nobiskrug.
Which is your favourite maritime destination?
Honestly – the Bahamas. Quick access from Miami or Fort Lauderdale. I can be in paradise in a short trip via yacht or in approximately 45 minutes to an hour via helicopter or small plane. Nothing beats the turquoise waters of the Bahamas. If you go to Nassau it’s pretty touristy and you have the cruise lines and the jewellery shops, but we like Eleuthera – bad roads, but cool homes and seafood in abundance. You choose your fish from the local fishermen and take it home on a twig to the open fire.
Which three objects would you take to your desert island?
Water, Sat phone and fishing gear. I don’t do well remotely for very long, I need to be in the mix and in the thick of things!
What is your motto?
Make your future bigger than your past.
*All images by Shawn McCutcheon