It’s hard to imagine a career in yachting that’s been quite as diverse as that of Norma Trease. In fact, her whole life has been pretty diverse. She was born in Asunción, Paraguay, the daughter of a diplomatic family. Her father worked in the United States Foreign Service most of his life.
Trease was raised mostly in Paris before her family moved back to the U.S. when she was 13 years old. She attended high school and college in Virginia. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in history with a focus on museumology – although she admits that she has “never done that professionally” – and then finished off her college career in Italy, where she spent some of her time studying Italian cuisine.
After spending a year working with a hotel in Florida, she was offered a job as chef on S/Y Lord Jim, 24m (80 ft). Trease first developed a love of boats while in Virginia. Her friend’s father owned a dealership for Alberg sailboats. “They used to take me out sailing with them on the weekends and that’s how it all got started,” she says.
After close to 10 years working as a chef, Trease decided to move shore-side to start up a crew agency, The Crew Network, which she turned into a successful company and eventually sold to Fraser Yachts in 2001. Over the next decade, she worked throughout the industry as a yacht industry consultant and in various areas of media – as an editor, a journalist, a marketing strategist. She helped broker the sale of Dockwalk to Boat International and was the founding editor-in-chief of The Crew Report. She is currently the editor-at-large for Yachting Matters.
She was wondering what she would do next when Salamanca Group, an international merchant bank, approached her about spearheading a project in Barçelona. The group had acquired the Marina Port Vell in 2010. After some consideration, they decided that they needed someone with expertise in yachting to help run the project. They landed on Trease for the position fairly quickly, and she has worked as the director of Salamanca Marine since, managing the commercial development of the project.
OnboardOnline talked with Trease about the keys to success, the process of reinvention, and all the opportunities afforded by the yachting industry.
OnboardOnline: So how is the Marina Port Vell coming along?
Norma Trease: “It’s going very, very well. We’re about two-thirds of the way through construction, looking really good now. We can see the outline of everything we’re creating – the foundations of all the new buildings and all the news docks around the perimeter that are in already and now just putting in the final outfitting. And we’re going to be delivering the first berths at the end of the first quarter of next year and the whole project by the end of next year.”
OO: That must be pretty exciting for you…
NT: “Very. I’ve been working on this project from the very beginning – from when we purchased it three years ago. So I’ve seen it all.”
OO: How did you first become involved with Salamanca Group on this project?
NT: “It was totally happenstance. We had purchased this project about five months beforehand. That was a bit of happenstance, also. We were considering moving into the marine world when the opportunity came up to look at this fantastic project and Salamanca Group bought the concession to develop and operate Marina Port Veil in 2010 and all of a sudden looked around and said: We don’t know anything about the yacht world. We better find someone who does.
“They started looking around for someone who is an expert in the yacht world. They asked two people and both of them mentioned my name. They called and came to visit me that very day. And that was almost three years ago.”
OO: Your background is one that’s very different from that of Salamanca Group in some ways – a large merchant bank investing in infrastructure projects. How have you found the work?
NT: “I love the project. It’s tremendously exciting. And for me, to be able to bring a project of this importance and this scale to the yachting industry, which has been so good to me has been personally rewarding. Needless to say, I feel extremely good about it.
“I really appreciate that Salamanca Group understand the value of the experience and what I bring to the plate. You know, working for an extremely successful private merchant bank and investment group out of London is not exactly the profile one would think to hire someone like me, but it works out really well.”
OO: What has been the most difficult adjustment to make – the toughest thing you’ve had to learn?
NT: “We’ve been three years in the planning, in the research, in the approvals for the project, as well as the first year-and-a-half of construction. It’s been a long, slow process. So I think the thing I’ve had to learn most is patience. I have to say that patience is not one of my greatest natural traits!
"We very much understand the importance of this facility in the framework of the wonderful city of Barcelona in the region of Catalonia. This is the original inner harbor of Barcelona. My history background, I think, has given me an added appreciation for the importance of the location where we are in Barcelona, and I really enjoy learning about that aspect of it.
“But because of the political delicacy, as well as understanding that this is a cultural and nautical heritage site in Barcelona, we’ve had to be very careful in the planning of the site. And I have to say that’s not one of my greatest natural traits. But we’ve all gotten there and it’s worked out really well.”
OO: You’ve had to be particularly careful due to the location. Do you have any examples of this?
NT: “I think that’s been part and parcel of the entire project. Within our facilities we have Spanish Quay, which holds something called the King’s Steps. We have a dock called Fisherman’s Quay, which is officially called Clocktower Quay, because of a large clocktower located there – an 18th Century monument which used to mark the entrance to the port. And so we had to design the marina to maintain lines of sight for the clocktower so the residents of Barcelona and the people who work in the port can continue to appreciate this beautiful historic artifact, which I’m looking at out my window right this minute. But in general, this is again something that is so important to the history and port of Barcelona so that throughout the project we have remained sensitive to the concerns of the people of Barcelona.”
OO: How do you distinguish yourself amongst the competition?
NT: “I always say we have no competition. There is no such thing. We’re one of the very few, if not the only, major large yacht marina right in the center of a world-class city. When we’re done with this project, we’re only going to have 162 berths of which only a little less than 50 are going to be for yachts over 50m in length. So that sounds like a lot for Barcelona, and it is. It’s going to be an incredibly beautiful site for people to be able to see. However, there’s several thousand yachts that are based in the Mediterranean, and we can only take a tiny fraction of those. So we don’t look at it from a competitive point of view and we never have. There are many beautiful marinas in the Mediterranean and many beautiful marinas in Spain, and owners have the opportunity to choose the locations which suit them best.
“We feel really lucky that we have right next to us the great shipyard MB92, which is a refit and repair yard. And so to have those two facilities right next door to each other. Coincidentally, they can hold yachts up to 180m in length, and we can hold yachts up to 180m in length. We didn’t do that on purpose. But the fact that we can work with the same client base and yet provide different services is really great….We have formed a Barçelona Nautical Cluster, together with nautical authorities, which is aimed to promote Barcelona as a nautical destination.”
OO: The matriculation tax has been scrapped. What does that mean for the project?
NT: “The matriculation tax has been modified. However, there are a number of other paperwork issues that visiting yachts will still have to deal with, as they have to deal with in any country they go to in the Mediterranean. But the importance of that move by the Spanish government has been incalculable. The fact that they chose to follow the E.U. directive shows that the Spanish government is very much forward-thinking. And the potential benefit – not just to us but to every yachting business and nautical business through out Barcelona and Spain and the Balearic Islands is simply invaluable. It stands to benefit each and every one of us. And the fact that we see international businesses looking to establish themselves in Spain and Barcelona is an indication of the importance they see in that.”
OO: What does this project, and others, mean for Barçelona and Spain?
NT: “It’s a new dawn, a new horizon for yachting here in Spain – and especially for Barcelona. Because – let’s face it – it’s the perfect destination point, but also for pick up and drop off of guests. You can’t do better. We have a fantastic airport. We have a helipad. We have a really big hub of a European train station nearby. Plus, what charter guest doesn’t want to enjoy the culinary delights and the world-class shopping that we have?”
OO: Your career spans so many different areas of focus. Is it you or the industry?
NT: “I look at myself as an example of the amazing opportunities there are for so many people within the yacht industry. I happened to be fortunate to be involved as a crew person when yachts were small and got much bigger, so I had a chance to grow in that career. The largest yacht I worked on was 157 feet – a famous motoryacht named Kalizma…Then when I started my business career, it was the end of some financially troubled times around the world so my business and career has grown in parallel with the growth of the large yacht industry.
“And certainly my current position as director of Salamanca Marine, which is a very small part of a large international company, is still a continuation of that. As part of a big team, I’m helping build a very important infrastructure project which stands to be an incredible asset to the superyacht industry and will provide homes to some of the very largest yachts in the world…
“The yacht industry is really one of such diversity and creativity that it really offers opportunities that very few industries do…For me to be able to have what I consider to be a truly fascinating career over 30 years, is really not only a testimony to me, but to the incredible opportunities that the yacht industry offers to many, many people worldwide.
“I’ll tell you something that only caught my attention about a year ago, but which absolutely delights me: Since I started in the business aspect of yachting in 1991, I have never held a job that anyone else has ever held. I have either created my own jobs or they have been created for me.”
OO: Do you think that’s a reflection on the size of the industry or the amount to which entrepreneurship is rewarded in the industry?
NT: “I think both of them. As I said before, my timing was really lucky…I joined at times when the yachting industry was going steadily in upward growth phases. I do think this is an industry which has plenty of room for and rewards entrepreneurship. I also think it’s an industry that, by its nature, is always at the cutting edge of technology. And so by its very nature, there is always room for growth. It’s also an industry that supports and glorifies the individual. So someone who is larger-than-life with a very large personality that has lived all over the world, like myself, has opportunities to be able to succeed simply by being a character who is willing to be out there and do what it takes to succeed.
“Never forget that this is an industry that keeps on giving. To crew people, I say: Don’t give up just because you don’t want to work on yachts or you want to have children. To me, there’s a lot more opportunity to stay in the industry than to reinvent yourself if you ever want to get off a yacht.”
OO: What advice would you give to someone trying to transition to more land-based work?
NT: “From a crew standpoint, I think it’s very important to establish as steady a career path as you can. Don’t just jump from yacht to yacht, just because you think that a bigger yacht is going to treat you better or you’re trying to chase a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Because the career that you establish when you work on yachts will follow you throughout the rest of your career. One thing that’s been very, very important in my career, and that I would encourage anyone, whether you’re business people or crew, is to develop a strong base of personal contacts. The value of networking within the yacht industry is very hard to over-estimate. So when you meet builders or you meet owners or you meet designers, journalists or world-class sailors and so on – make sure that you stay in touch and you attend boat shows and you join organizations. That way you can begin to organize a power base while you’re still working in the industry. That way you can meet the people who can help you in your future career or who can give you a job while you’re still working on yachts. That can really help soften the transition.
"And needless to say, save as much money as you can!"
OO: So what’s next for you?
NT: “We still have a long way to go on this fantastic Marina Port Vell project. It’s still going to take another two to three years to make the project fully commercially viable. We’re already a pretty good ways along there. So I’ve got a little more time there. I’d like to think that once the construction goes a little bit further along that Salamanca Group, which understands the importance of yachting, will probably look at further development in the yachting industry and I want to be there to help them further those goals.”
“I love the yacht industry. I would encourage anyone who loves technology and loves beautiful things and loves creating items of great finesse, that likes traveling, that likes people, to consider a career in the yachting industry.”
Photos provided courtesy of Norma Trease.