The last 12 months has seen a number of exciting developments afoot at Fraser Yachts, one of the world’s largest and most successful yacht brokers.
Along with recent expansion into Australia and the Far East in the shape of offices in Sydney and Singapore, chief among the changes was the appointment last summer of Fabio Ermetto as chairman of the Group’s Yachtique division.
With a background in ship design, sales and marketing at Benetti and Heesen, Fabio has the all-round grass roots experience to build on Fraser Yachts’ success and steer the company - which has 14 offices around the world and 140 employees - into its next chapter.
OnboardOnline caught up with Fabio at the MYBA Charter Show in Genoa on board one of the jewels in their charter crown, the stylish M/Y Latitude, which occupies a special place in his heart. ‘This was the last boat I sold and the last contract I signed before leaving Benetti,’ he says as we enjoy coffee on the deck in the sunshine. ‘I’m still in touch with the first owner, I have a history with this boat and I’m very happy to see the way she has been maintained, she is in mint condition. She is more than just business to me.’
It’s clear that Fabio feels every bit as passionately about his new role. Founded in San Diego and developed in Florida and Monaco before being sold to Azimut - Benetti, Fraser Yachts is ‘strong and organised’ according to its chief and ready to explore new territories.
‘It’s an interesting time for Fraser Yachts, we are all excited,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘The company is truly global so expansion is a natural development and we are looking at new markets. Australia is not a new market but for some of the services, we need to be more present there. We have the perfect partner in Peter Redford and his team.
‘In Singapore, we have Julian Chang, an excellent senior partner in yachting. It’s a great collaboration, we have seen some good results and we have other good things in the pipeline with him. It is clear that the yacht market in Singapore and South East Asia is developing faster than in China. It’s a question of culture. In South East Asia, they have more of a yachting culture as it’s easier to reach places around their region, while in China it will come but it may take longer than we were expecting.
‘As well as China, our other targets include South America and the Emirates. It’s important to study each area first and understand which of the services they need most. In some areas, they are simply looking for charter and yacht management because they know that when they buy a boat, they will come to London, Monaco or Fort Lauderdale.’
Large scale expansion is a risk at any time, particularly during a period of slow economic recovery but Fabio is confident the timing is right to take the company to even greater heights. ‘Fraser Yachts has always had satellite offices, our business is split 50/50 between the US and Europe,’ he says. ‘We are used to managing large offices all around the world so we feel confident. Expanding means new offices and new people and you have to work hard to integrate them into the company, to ‘Fraserise’ them and to have them acting according to the Fraser Yachts ethic, principle and philosophy. Our ethos is honesty comes before trade.’
He is speaking from a position of dominance in the yacht brokerage market. For the last four consecutive years, Fraser Yachts has closed more sales deals than any other competitor and in 2013, they closed 50% more deals than their closest competitor. ‘In the last year, we have grown at a rate of 30% in terms of sales,’ he adds. ‘On the US West Coast, the boats are small but we own about 90% of the market.’
It begs the question why, and how, is Fraser Yachts managing to give their competition such a run for the money? For Fabio, it’s a simple, almost old fashioned formula which is responsible for their impressive figures. ‘I believe in the atmosphere within the company, in organisation and teamwork,’ he asserts. ‘Our results are because we are very well organised with the right people in the right place and everyone collaborates within the company with passion and enthusiasm. If you have that, you have a high chance of getting good results.
‘We noticed a change after last year’s Monaco Yacht Show as the buzz and enthusiasm from our clients started to increase. The last quarter of 2013 was surprisingly positive for us. That mood is continuing and we have had good results for the first quarter of 2014 too. We have just closed the sale of a new build 60m yacht and there is a lot of activity with our North American clients and in Monaco. Between the MYS and mid-January, we closed 24 boats, 17 of which were above 40m. It’s not only Fraser Yachts either, I checked with my colleagues at other companies and everyone has the same feeling. It’s cautious but things are improving.’
The typical Fraser Yachts client is anything but typical according to Fabio, who describes their market as ‘evenly spread throughout the world,’ adding: ‘Europeans, Russians and North Americans are our major clientele and the age ranges from 30 - 80. Fort Lauderdale and Monaco have the presence in terms of offices. I’m glad it’s broad - I would be worried if we had too many clients from the same geographical area or fitting the same profile.’
Fabio sees major challenges ahead, especially where regulation is concerned, and worries about the industry striking the right balance between professionalism and the joie de vivre of yacht ownership.
‘I’ve spent most of my career in the shipyards and I’ve seen a lot of changes,’ he says. ‘What’s challenging is the increasingly complicated regulations and bureaucracy in our industry. It’s good to be more regulated and controlled because it will raise the level of professionalism from crew to brokers to yacht managers. But when it becomes over complicated, the owner may start to lose enthusiasm. A yacht is still a toy. If I buy a nice car and it becomes complicated to maintain and tax it, after a while I lose enthusiasm and sell it. We have to avoid this.’
Another long term hope is to reverse the trend of traditionally high crew turnover, an enduring industry problem. ‘There is a percentage of people working as crew who do not want to do that for their career, they like to travel the world for a couple of years and then move ashore and do something else, which is part of the reason for turnover. Increasing professionalism of crew members is a must. It’s not just about keeping the yacht in good condition, it’s like managing a high end luxury hotel; the captain is like a hotel manager, looking after the owner’s asset, which can be compared to a mid-sized company.’
Born in Naples, Fabio studied for a degree in naval architecture before landing a design job at Heesen Yachts in Holland. Whilst there, he received the call that was to change the path of his career.
‘The CEO of Benetti, Vicenzo Poerio, called and hired me,’ he recalls. ‘I always wanted to be on the commercial sales side but I have to thank Vincenzo for telling me to spend some time in the field in Viareggio because although I had a degree, I didn’t actually know anything about boats!
‘I was young and not very happy but now I’m very thankful to him. I started work as a technical coordinator and it helped me a lot. I even welded to get some experience. It’s good to have the general and practical knowledge of a vessel and know what is behind the nice veneer panels. That helps me in conversation with my clients.’
The Midas touch seems to follow Fabio, who joined Benetti in 2000 when they were delivering two or three boats a year. Seven years later, that figure had increased to 20 boats annually. ‘It was a very exciting time, working 12 hours every day, and seeing the company grow every month,’ he remembers.
After seven years, including a stint as a sales manager, he moved back to Heesen as sales and marketing director for a further seven years before being approached again last year by Benetti. ‘And now I’m back in the family again,’ he beams.
With an ambitious five-year plan in place for future development, Fabio’s time off is precious and he heads for the mountains rather than the coast whenever he has the chance.
‘I enjoy sailing but there is always work for me on the boat because of my background….I am always looking at how the boat performs,’ he says with a smile. ‘I love my job but when I want a break with my family, we go to the Dolomites in Italy each summer and winter where I’m far away from boats!’