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Leadership Ashore - Captains of Industry

Last month the team at Luxury Hospitality answered some common leadership questions faced by yacht captains in relation to their crew.

Following on, we wanted to shine a light on successful leaders ashore, so we asked a number of company bosses to share an example of great leadership and how it impacts the way they do business today.

All those who participated happen to be women, all highlighting the importance of teamwork and the impact of a role model in shaping their approach.

There are many famous quotes that encapsulate this, but here's a great one from another great woman, Eleanor Roosevelt: 'A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.'

A big thank you to all who contributed.

Barrett Wright – President of Hill Robinson USA

Captains of Industry Barrett Wright

Trying to be a leader during this extraordinary time is thrilling, but also exhausting. I was intimidated by the question of leadership, thinking I had to focus on incredible examples. In this current Covid crisis, I have been overwhelmed by the media’s depiction of formidable leaders, but also tired of hearing about the ridiculous antics of those who are supposed to be leaders. So, I brought the question closer to home: my dad was an everyday leader.

It was not until my father, Kevin passed away that I understood the high regard many former employees and colleagues, friends and acquaintances had for him, and that this was in response to the respect he had for those who worked with him. He was thoughtful, honest, forthright and had an awareness for those around him; most importantly, he was a good listener.

Kevin’s specialty was crisis management; he was a solutions-oriented guy. He worked for BP and throughout his career he was placed in various divisions to improve how they worked, and often this meant working in situations he had never been in before and with cultures he did not know. In the early ‘90’s my family was transferred to Australia where my dad headed up the jet fuel division for Austral-Asia and it was here that my mom thinks he learned the most.  

Kevin was responsible for all the marketing and distribution throughout the region, and he learned that it wasn’t just the CEO’s at the various airlines that he needed to work with; he also  had to understand the baggage handlers and ground crew at airports in places like China, New Zealand and Singapore. He worked hard to understand and accept different perspectives.

Like any human being, Kevin didn’t always see eye to eye with those he worked for, so it was here that he had the most difficulty learning to get along. Understanding that there was always the bottom line, he had to learn to accept those differences to make a profit. Towards the end of the decade, my family was transferred to Texas and my dad took over the same role for North and South America. Upon retirement, he worked as a history teacher and a pipe distributor.    

Reading the condolences, we understood how he’d left his mark on those he worked with: “He taught us so much and really knew how to get the most from us and make us laugh and feel good about ourselves…”; “He was a friend and mentor to me who shaped so much of who I am today.” He also touched those he lived with, “We will miss a very kind and thoughtful neighbour, who always showed an interest in our kids and what was going on in their lives.” And of course, he influenced me most by demonstrating that thoughtfulness, respect and empathy for those who work for you, in return, brings out the best in them.

Barrett Wright began her career at Sotheby’s in 2000. After working on board sailing yachts, she took a position at the Fontaine Design Group in Newport, Rhode Island. After relocating to Florida in 2011, Barrett joined Hill Robinson as a yacht manager and company accountant and over the following years she expanded her duties to include yacht operations.~

Julie Clark - Managing Director, Savage Marine Ltd

Captains of Industry Julie Clark

Good leadership is nowhere more apparent than in the current year, overcoming all the obstacles - financially or mentally - that many business leaders have faced. Although there will be struggles ahead for many, as leaders/ business owners we always need to remain positive. We need to focus first on the wellbeing of our staff, the restrictions faced upon us and the ability to look forward and remain positive. The pandemic may have us question this but, as with all leaders, don’t we do this anyway? We plan for our business, we adapt and we overcome the obstacles, we look after the wellbeing of our employees, we remain positive when behind the scenes we sometimes feel lost. But we plough on, move forward, motivate and deliver, and this applies equally to our daily operations.

Leadership presents itself in many ways and one of my favourite quotes is this: Publilius Syrus- “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

When asked to participate in this article, I started to ask myself how, during two decades as Managing Director of Savage Marine Ltd, I myself have demonstrated great leadership? Looking back there have been many occasions, but I remember one in particular. We had won a contract to do a major lighting refit for a 100m+ superyacht and, as with all these projects, you are under strict deadlines for completion. Initially, we were given six weeks to complete, subject to meticulously planning with products made and installation arranged. Two weeks in, the deadline was shortened to four weeks, and having already worked over 10 hour days, the team felt demoralised and said it would never be done.

I listened to them, and between us we looked at what was achievable and what extra help would be required and we made a plan. Between ourselves and the client we decided to work to complete certain areas and review on a weekly basis. Having stayed in constant support to the team, I worked alongside them, distributed parts on board, kept their morale up, organised additional help and, together, we did it! We completed not only on time but with a couple of days to spare. Was this the result of great leadership? Maybe. But it was driven by a great team!

Julie Clark is the managing director of Savage Marine Ltd, having been with the company for nearly two decades. Well known in the yachting industry and with a wealth of knowledge in lighting design and project management, Julie has worked with some of the largest and best known superyachts in the world. 

Sara Ballinger - Co-Founder of The Daisy Gray Partnership

Captains of Industry Sara During my career, there have been a couple of people who made it possible for me to achieve my dreams and my goals. One of them was the woman I would describe as my greatest leader.

I was 27 and in a job I didn’t like very much. The induction process was abysmal and staff turnover was also very high. So, I went to see the head of HR with some ideas. Bear in mind that at this point I had absolutely zero experience in HR but I had a hunch and an instinct for what people need in order to feel engaged and inspired to develop in their roles.

This woman, my best ever boss, asked me some questions, listened to what I had to say and then challenged me to come back with a proposal. She was secure enough in herself not to see my approach as criticism or a threat.

I did the research to establish baseline data and designed a new system for onboarding people. I went back and presented it to her and after helping me to fine tune it, she took it to the board of directors who gave me the sign off to deliver it companywide. 

In the post project analysis 6 and 12 months later, we found that turnover had reduced by 68% saving the business thousands in recruitment costs, while engagement scores among staff also rose significantly.

The head of HR subsequently brought me into her team permanently and sent me to do a qualification in professional development at university, paid for by the business. That was the start of my career in learning and development which now spans more than 20 years, founding and co-founding three successful businesses.

The impact of her leadership all those years ago had life changing effects on me, underpinning the ethos of our own businesses where we help people to identify and develop their talents.

So, what is the lesson for leaders? If you spot talent in someone, ask the right questions, listen without judgement or bias and give them a chance to prove themselves. You may find you have a diamond in the rough. You could be the catalyst that helps them achieve their full potential and be their hero forever, as my greatest boss will always be for me.

Sara Ballinger is the Managing Partner of The Daisy Gray Partnership, a training company which works internationally with managers, teams and specialists in markets including retail, finance, corporate services, luxury hospitality and yachting. Using the principles of continuous professional development, self-awareness and emotional intelligence, their group and one to one sessions build towards achievement of results which are tangible and can be life changing. 

Brenda van Zoeren - Managing Director, European Division Yacht Chandlers

Captains of Industry Brenda I was taught the principles of leadership while studying for my degree in Hospitality Management, but I was still very far from being able to lead a team. I made many mistakes and fell flat on my face more than once in my first managerial roles.

Working and living on a yacht in confined spaces puts anyone’s personality, values and skills (or lack of) under a magnifying glass. You quickly find out - sometimes the hard way - what kind of team member you are, and who you want to be as a leader, based on good and bad examples among your own supervisors.

I soon understood that strengths could become a disadvantage in certain circumstances while weaknesses could become your best friend simply by accepting where we lack, learning to improve, and appreciating those same skills in others.

I also noticed that being told exactly how to do certain tasks with endless check lists and manuals leaves little to decide for oneself, taking away the opportunity to bring creativity to the job, jeopardizing joy and motivation which impacts team performance.

A few years ago, one of the owners of Yacht Chandlers made me read a book which taught me to see my role as a manager as being the server, not the one who has to be served, which was a very good lesson. Being a manager is a job in itself.

From others along the way I learned that good leaders recognize know-how and competences within the team - especially those they lack themselves - making people feel appreciated and more confident, inspiring them to keep on learning and improving.

This requires delegation and actively involving team members in decision making which can be scary for a manager as you are still responsible for the outcome. But a good leader will keep on striving to find the competences and motivation within the team, encouraging them to learn and make better decisions next time.

Oscar Wilde already said it: ‘Experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes’. So this has become my own motto in leadership: become one with my team and work hard for its performance with dedication, communication and motivation; learn from mistakes and never stop aspiring to make it a better version.

Brenda van Zoeren
grew up in a family of sailors and got used to being on the water from an early age. After graduating in International Hotel Management, she left Holland to pursue a career in yachting. Recognising that there was little support for interior staff during new builds, in 2004 she started an interior outfitting and decorating company. In 2011 her company merged with Yacht Chandlers, a full-service yacht supply company, becoming MD of the European division.

Mikaela Zehnder – European Director at Edge Yachts

Captains of Industry Mikaela Zehnder

We so often look at leadership as being someone above us or in a more powerful position. We label our bosses and managers as leaders and look to them for direction. Instead, what if we saw leadership as coming together on equal grounds and working together? Leadership is less about taking control and more about influence

This is the way we try to operate in yacht management every day, working with a range of leaders from the captain and HOD’s to the yacht owner and family offices. There’s always the potential for conflict as they all have directive positions with opinions and set ways of operating, so effective communication is key so that all the leaders feel empowered and can work together on equal ground.

Working together in this way we experience less conflict and a greater sense of unity among the team which has a positive impact on the whole operation.   

Recently there have been so many great examples of what I call leadership equality. As I think about leaders in my own life, one that stands out is a captain I worked with when I first joined the yachting industry. I was hired as sole stew on a new build and I felt so uncertain but he gave me responsibility and the confidence to grow in my role. He led the team with respect for each of us and he helped us find our strengths and drive. With that style of leadership, we formed a team built on trust and confidence and we worked together very well. That experience created a solid foundation for how I wanted to lead in my future roles on board and ashore as I developed my career.   

Mikaela Zehnder studied psychology at San Francisco State University and then spent nearly 10 years in the yachting industry in various roles ranging from sailing instructor to the interior manager on large yachts. She worked on two new builds and subsequently went straight into busy charter seasons. After moving ashore six years ago, she joined Edge Yachts yacht management operating across Europe and the US. 

Nicola Morgan - Director, wilsonhalligan Yacht Recruitment 

Nicola WH 200x240

My business partner Liam Dobbin and I look back at a time which has shaped the way that we lead our current team. For both of us, it was the experience of working under our previous company owner, Terry Wilson. With a strong HR management background, leadership was a particular forte of Terry’s and, after working for him for several years, it was clear why.

Firstly, Terry gave his time to everybody, whether it was one of his employees, a new candidate looking to get into the industry, or a senior captain he had dealt with for years. He showed true sincerity and was always asking (and really meaning) ‘How are you’? He showed a genuine interest in those around him and always had an open-door policy which extended to out of hours.

Terry also gave us all room to make mistakes. He was always on hand if anyone needed help but allowed everyone the freedom to work independently.  When mistakes were made, he helped to work through them and turned them into a learning experience.

Of course, working as part of a small team has its challenges, but Terry recognised each person as an individual, and knew how best to work with each personality to bring the team together as a whole. He encouraged communication, even if this meant having a difficult conversation – something we actively try to continue with our own team.

Finally, Terry always said ‘Thank you’ to each person in the team individually, and found ways to reward people for hard work, even if it was not monetary. 

Although not perfect (who is?!), during his time at wilsonhalligan Terry instilled so many aspects of his leadership which Liam and I aspire to continue.  There is always more to learn and challenges to deal with on a daily basis, but remembering some of the basics he taught us, such as recognising hard work, offering time to listen and communicating openly, we hope it helps us to maintain and grow a strong team – after all, it’s the people who make a great company. 

Nicola Morgan left university in 2008 with a degree in psychology, and soon arrived in Monaco to work on her first yacht, MY Zenobia. She worked her way up to chief stewardess on the iconic MY Alfa Nero, and having previously worked for wilsonhalligan, she returned as director in 2015 to build on the exceptional reputation and success of the company.

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