Like so many of us in the yachting industry, Debbie Blazy, Director of Recruitment at Camper & Nicholsons, had an interesting journey getting here.
Growing up in England in her father’s hotel, she went on to read economics at Leeds University which led to a career in the pharmaceutical industry, based in Lyon. In 2004 she moved with her family to the South of France and changed course with CNI, tasked with setting up the Antibes Crew Division.
Years later, and having witnessed a lot of change, Debbie shines a light on the challenges and the triumphs in yacht crew placement today.
How did you first get involved in the yachting industry?
Very much by accident! I had just left a high-profile, high-stress position as Communications Manager with a big multi-national company and relocated from Lyon to Antibes with my husband and two very young children.
At the time we had a family project to sail around the world on a little sailing boat so wanted to move closer to the sea. After a failed attempt at boat upholstery, I applied for a position at Camper & Nicholsons to set up their Antibes-based crew division. A lovely man called Peter McCarthy interviewed and took a chance on me. That was 11 years ago and I am still forever grateful to him!
My father was a hotel manager and, having grown up in a hotel, I was no stranger to the high-end hospitality industry. My love of the water was also firmly anchored since meeting my sailor husband. For the rest, I was coming from a very complicated corporate world of medical vaccines and I didn’t think the yachting industry could be so hard to understand!
The yachting industry is expanding very quickly, what are the greatest challenges right now in regard to crew placement?
Strangely enough I think it was tougher when I first got into the industry and there were no clear rules in place. The introduction of MLC has reduced the grey areas and certainly made our job easier.
At the moment, certainly one of the challenges we are facing is the fact that yachts are getting bigger and bigger. We're at a cross-roads with the larger yachts coded as passenger vessels which require commercial tickets, but also want crew with the experience and standards of excellence that only the yachting industry can provide.
We also assist candidates in their transition from the commercial sector to yachting, as well as those wanting to upgrade their ticket to unlimited and move up the ranks. Our experience with passenger coded vessels has expanded over the past few years and we now have good first-hand knowledge and a better understanding of what's involved.
What are the main differences you see between crew 10 years ago and new crew entering the industry today?
It’s quite funny looking back as I remember crew lining up for an interview, many of whom had no STCW and no experience and still managed to land amazing positions. Today there is a much clearer career path and amazing privileges for those who are willing to put in the hard work. Thankfully the career path for the interior department is also better defined following the introduction of GUEST certification.
Over recent years the yachting industry has also been subject to tighter regulation. For crew agents, has MLC 2006 brought about positive change?
The introduction of MLC has been a mega turning point in the industry. Prior to MLC the industry was already moving towards more regulations and each flag state had its own interpretation of what was deemed a safe and correct way to run and manage a vessel. However, the introduction of MLC has seen a greater standardization across the board and it now accepted as basis from which to progress.
Fundamentally, MLC has clarified the rights and responsibilities of both crew and employers, effectively making everyone’s lives easier. Some points are difficult to implement in the context of yachting, such as hours of rest on a busy charter yacht, but MLC has certainly given everyone the gold standard on which to base working conditions. Personally I am a big fan.
In practice, what are the differences between a crew agent that is MLC compliant and one that is not?
Before MLC there was no 'standard' among crew agencies. There are still significant differences between the agencies, but those who are MLC compliant follow stringent procedures to ensure the quality of the crew they put forward for employment. Each candidate is thoroughly vetted to ensure their CoCs and medical certificates are valid and their references have been checked and every year we are audited to ensure that we're following these procedures to the letter.
Of course commercially registered vessels are only able to use MLC compliant recruitment agencies, and it's reassuring for them to know that we have in-depth knowledge of the code and its implementation.
What is your view on the rapid rise of online crew agents?
I think the rise in online crew agents mirrors the rise in online usage in all aspects of our lives, with the pros and cons that this brings. There is certainly a huge advantage for crew to be able to register, update and keep in touch in real time. For those hiring I think online agencies are certainly a plus if they operate to the same standard.
The downside of online agencies is the lack of a personalized service, so we prefer to mix it up and use online resources to attract the right candidates but still provide a personal service to our clients. Many have been coming to us for years so we know exactly the right fit for their team. At the end of the day captains and employers prefer CVs that have been cherry picked to meet their criteria, rather than having to wade through a stack of hopefuls.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your career so far?
Definitely that there are two sides to every story, so never make assumptions and think there is only one truth. Everyone has their own vision of reality and neither version is truer than the other.
Who do you most admire in the world of business/yachting, who has inspired or influenced you?
Richard Branson has inspired me for many years for his leadership qualities. From dyslexic high school-drop out to multi-millionaire, he has worked through hardships, mistakes and mess-ups to create some of the most successful businesses in the world. I love his Peter Pan image of bringing fun and a little bit of craziness to the work place, and his radical way of looking at business.
Throughout my professional life I have tried to apply as many of his principles as possible, for example, train people well enough so they can leave and treat them well enough they don’t want to. I love that. He has always said that his employees are his number one asset and I agree that when employees feel valued and trusted they are motivated to give their best. Changing the rules and doing things differently are why he is such a success. I think he can be described in three words: innovation, intuition and respect. You can’t go wrong with that.
Camper & Nicholson's Crew Placement team in Antibes
What would you change if you could?
The yachting industry is full of enormous privilege, yet I have never seen so many unhappy people. If I could change one thing it would be people’s outlook on life, opening up their eyes to become more grateful for this amazing life of opportunities.
Which is your favourite destination?
My favourite destination will always be the one I have never been to! I love the buzz of getting on a plane and wondering what it will feel like when the door opens again the other side. I loved Margarita with it’s ½ hour time difference – that was just crazy to me.
Which three objects would you take to your desert island?
I would definitely take pen and paper to write everything down. Third object might have to be my yoga mat…I do love yoga at the beach but the sand gets everywhere…
What is your motto?
“They did not know it was impossible so they did it”. Those who know me well will understand why :)
About Camper & Nicholsons Crew Placement:
As well as providing professional crew for its own fleet of managed yachts, Camper & Nicholsons Crew Placement Division provides professional crew for captains and owners of luxury yachts around the world. CNI has a strong and solid reputation for providing the highest standards in crew placement in today’s market.