The second anniversary conference of Young Professionals in Yachting was held this month at the Yacht Club de Monaco, attracting close to 100 people representing 18 different nationalities.
The theme of the event, which started in Fort Lauderdale and holds its first meeting in London this week, was founders of yachting and as the evening unfolded, it was clear among the panel of yachting veterans that despite being part of the digital age, much of their enduring success is down to good old fashioned methods of communication and strategy.
Jonathan ‘Joff’ Beckett joined Burgess’s Monaco office at 23 and now runs the company, which has 11 offices worldwide. He regaled the audience with stories about his start in yachting following a childhood spent on the Norfolk Broads and a year sailing in the Caribbean. ‘In 1982 a Feadship called Kalinga was for sale, which had been built for the president of Philippine Airlines,’ he recalled. ‘We had a client who wanted to look at the boat in Holland. We couldn’t afford a flight so we drove a Peugeot 305 from the office in Monaco to Amsterdam, shaved, washed and changed at Schiphol airport, showed him the boat and drove back!’
Jonathan urged entrepreneurial spirit to the audience, a point which was echoed by Peter Insull of Peter Insull’s Yacht Marketing, who started the first crew agency in the world. ‘I started working on yachts at 18 as a steward and deckhand in Beaulieu,’ he said. ‘I opened my first office there and started helping people out and got to know lots of yachts and crew. When I went ashore, people would use me to find crew out of friendship, and that led to me issuing invoices. We were the first crew agency in the world, since then about 1350 others have had a crack at it! It’s very satisfying work and that is still one of our cornerstones; we don’t do management.’
Michael White, from Worth Avenue Yachts, who founded Cavendish White, now owned by Ocean Independence, added: ‘Don’t hide behind emails, get on the phone!’ He recalled the reality of landing his first job as a trainee yacht broker at Halsey Marine. ‘Trainee yacht broker really meant post boy, photocopier, filing clerk, tea-maker and general dogsbody!’ he laughed. ‘The words computer, word processor and email didn’t exist. Communication was threefold…telex machine, letters or telephone. We would write to potential charterers and send brochures, people would write back and eventually you would strike a deal.
‘We would always speak to the owners, central agents didn’t exist, and we would put together a typed charter contract. Business was done in a very different way. Twice a year, we would go on an inspection of yachts we had for charter, mostly between 70 and 90 feet. A big one might be 120 feet and a very big one was 160 feet. It was pioneering and it was fun but I look back and wonder that there weren’t more accidents. There were no safety inspections and crew weren’t trained properly. The industry has come a long way since then for the good of everybody.’
With Norma Trease fielding topics and taking questions from the audience, the debate was lively and Jonathan underlined the myriad of exciting prospects for those at the beginning of their yachting careers. ‘We have built the foundations and we are just starting to take the company forwards,’ he said. ‘If you are young, there are fantastic opportunities out there. I’m excited for you. Make the impossible possible is what I say to clients. The exciting times are ahead of us not behind us.
‘If you want to be the go-to number one Superyacht broker in the US, that position is vacant at the moment. If you want to be the best yacht surveyor, there are fantastic opportunities across the world for those positions. Go and get it!’
Peter recalled his early days in retail – selling still gives him the biggest buzz – and encouraged members to approach him, adding: ‘I’m always excited to get talented and bright young people in the company. If anyone here is looking for a job, we have an open door. I love the human contact of pulling something together and making it happen, that’s more important to me than dollars on the bottom line.’
All three agreed that meeting people in person is the best possible route to attracting, and keeping, a client long term. ‘There is no substitute for getting on a plane and meeting a client face to face,’ said Jonathan. ‘I go on regular fishing trips to various places and while I’m there, I ask if someone will see me for half an hour. Last week we spent three hours with a client in New York and we have another meeting planned. That’s how you get clients, by exceeding their expectations and giving them market information that’s difficult to get.’
Added Michael: ‘You’re always a hero if you bring in a new client but the most important customer is the existing customer. We are all guilty of overlooking them in the race to get new ones and that is a huge mistake.’
With boat shows increasingly expensive to attend and maintain a presence at – Jonathan estimated the spend at MYS to be a total of around three million euros a year and said discussions on how to improve the return are already underway with the show’s organizers – all three also agreed that their importance is probably overstated.
‘Boat shows have become a millstone around our necks,’ admitted Peter. ‘They have outgrown us and they are so numerous it’s laughable. The dimension of the Monaco show is totally out of proportion to the success it brings back to the industry. The cost is outrageous. Owners say why do I want to bring my boat to a show? Spending the money on a face to face meeting on the other hand is a great investment.’
Michael is also a sceptic. ‘If we locked ourselves away in a room with a phone and rang every one of our clients, we would spend less and get a far bigger return. Boat shows are a necessary evil but they drain our pockets and use resources which would be better spent elsewhere.’
The panel agreed that associations like MYBA and LYBrA are the lifeblood going forward and urged everyone in the room to support the association relevant to them. ‘We have to work together, that is one reason yachting has grown so much,’ said Michael. ‘The fact that MYBA and other associations have encouraged brokers to share information has been a driving force to making the business better.’
They also had strong feelings on the topic of ethics and bribery, with Peter explaining: ‘It’s often difficult in commerce to carry ethics through all the time. Our business is about human contact. Our clients know pretty quickly how your ethics are. You need to be clear. If you have to think is this right, you have answered the question already.’
Adds Jonathan: ‘We have a bribery policy which is circulated to staff every six months. If people get offered a watch, cash or tickets to Wimbledon they have to declare it and we have to decide whether it’s a gift or a bribe.’
All agreed that KYC – Know Your Client – is a hugely important factor in deal brokering particularly since the changes in law concerning money laundering and the provenance of funds. ‘We have a KYC clause where owners of boats have to provide KYC information if the boat is up for sale or charter,’ explains Jonathan. ‘I hope we have a situation soon where the charterer has to provide KYC information within three days of signing the contract for charter. Something formal needs to be in place.’
And the key to success? ‘Being successful is about the relationship you have with your client and other brokers,’ says Jonathan. ‘The company is like a runaway train and I’m the driver, but that’s the adrenaline rush. The bigger you get, the harder work it is but the more fun it is too.’
Peter recalls spending all his time at work, adding: ‘At weekends I was driving around marinas. My young son once asked if Nice airport was daddy’s house! The Japanese have a secret weapon in commerce, they all work 16 hours a day. It’s full on and that’s how you have to be.’
Asked what they feel will be the most interesting developments in the future, Michael did not pull any punches. ‘People are talking about green technology, but yachts are not green and they are not going to be, it’s a marketing ploy. Around 15 years ago we had the Russians, is it going to be the Chinese next? I’m rather sceptical - they don’t like the sun, they don’t like the water and they don’t understand the concept of holidays! Whatever part of the market you’re in, watch it and be prepared to adapt to changes.’