On 5 April 2013, Lürssen Yachts launched M/Y AZZAM.
The yacht measures 180m (590-ft) in length, making it the largest yacht in the world. It is sleek and stylish, with an aggressive, streamlined design, and enough teak on the deck to cover half a football pitch.
The yacht appears to go on forever. It is a modern marvel – and not only in terms of the engineering and the style. The yacht is also a testament to the industrious German shipyard that delivered on the project – a project that required around 1.5 million man-hours – in under three years.
This is what Lürssen does – what it has always done since Friedrich Lürßen founded the shipyard in 1875. Since then, the Lürßen family has continued at the helm and continues to deliver on the founding principle.
“Leading in quality and performance, that should be my company’s reputation,” Friedrich Lürßen said upon founding his boatbuilding workshop near Bremen.
By 1886, Lürssen had built the first motorboat. Soon enough, the shipyard was building record-breaking speedboats, and it found no reason to compromise on the advancements it had made in performance when the shipyard received a commission to build a large yacht. In 1927, OHEKA II set the standard for large yachts, with an elegant design and the power to move upwards of 34 knots.
Lürssen celebrated its 140th anniversary on 27 June. It is a big milestone, and while so much has changed in that time, the company remains dedicated to a defining principle of quality and performance.
“You are only as good as your last boat,” says Michael Breman, sales director at Lürssen, reflecting a modern take on the founding philosophy. “We always try to be at the forefront of technology, methods of production and quality, because at the end of the day it says LÜRSSEN on the side of the boat. And that is what lasts.”
A history steeped in quality
Four generations of the Lürßen family have run their namesake shipyard, starting with Friedrich Lürßen. After his death in 1919, the company was run by Frida and Otto Lürßen, followed by Fritz-Otto and Gert. Currently, two cousins are at the helm: Friedrich and Peter Lürßen, and there’s already a fifth generation working in the rank.
“Yachts built on family bonds since 1875,” the company says. “The Lürssen brand promises excellence – the Lürßen family delivers it.”
And for all those family ties, the shipyard may never have been established if its founder had been allowed to follow in his father’s footsteps, says Breman.
“Friedrich Lürßen was a pioneer of sorts – an innovator,” Breman says. “After finishing his studies, he came back home to work in his father’s shipyard. But his dad said, ‘No way. You have to start your own.’”
At only 24 years old, Friedrich Lürßen did just that, establishing a boatbuilding workshop in Aumund, near Bremen.
“And we’re all very glad that he did,” Breman adds.
Rowboats and motorboats
The company started out designing and building racing rowboats, upon which they earned a reputation for performance. A decade later, Lürßen’s friend, Gottlieb Daimler, commissioned the world’s first motorboat to put his new engine through its paces. The two continued to work together on their shared passions. Daimler would go on to fame as a pioneer of the internal combustion engine (the Daimler-Benz company later became Mercedes-Benz).
The shipyard quickly improved on its motorboat designs and, by the early 1910s, its boats were the talk of the European racing circuit.
Friedrich Lürßen died in 1919, just six years prior to his company’s 50th anniversary, by which point the Lürssen shipyard had built 10,000 ships.
Over the ensuing decades, the family adjusted to market needs, building racing boats and pleasure boats in the 1920s and ‘30s. Throughout the post-war period and up until the 1990s, Lürssen’s main focus was on military ships.
A very different future
In 1971, Lürssen launched the CARINTHIA VI, a 71m (230-ft) yacht, which was the first major project by Jon Bannenberg. It was considered revolutionary at the time and is now seen as a precursor to the modern Lürssen yacht.
By the late 1980s, Lürssen was operating at 90% capacity with navy contracts. However, it was a stroke of brilliant foresight and planning when they began to prepare for a very different future.
In 1988, the company decided to split production. Half would continue with naval work; the other half would be dedicated to yachts.
“In a strategy meeting, a scenario was played out in which the previous business model the shipyard was working under no longer applied,” Breman explains. “The scenario was that the Berlin Wall comes down, there’s no more enemies, maybe business will drop. We thought: Well, we should do yachts again.”
What followed should come as no surprise to anyone.
“The wall came down, the world changed, and at the time when a new economic bubble appeared in the second half of the ‘90s, we were technically ready,” Breman says. “It was all rather fortuitous.”
But luck is more about good planning and insight, and 20 years later there would be further good fortune when individuals from those same Soviet states would aid the shipyard once again – no longer in overthrowing an economic system, but in supporting the business model that the shipyard had made so successful.
Lürssen Yachts builds its name
A little over a third of Lürssen’s workload is still for the German Navy. However, yachts are what the company has built its name on over the past few decades.
“For years, we have built that which is in demand,” says Breman, adding that the company will probably have to adapt again in the future. “It is not set that it will continue to be this way,” he says, “because the world is a forever-changing place.”
For the time being however, Lürssen Yachts is content with its position in the market.
“We are really in a niche market, in a small sector within the yachting sector,” says Breman. “We don’t build to sell; we build to order. That takes a bit of that risk away.”
This business model was key to helping the shipyard maintain its workload through the financial crisis. The company had built a strong order book in the lead-up to 2009 and many of those projects – each of which equates to years of planning and labor – helped sustain the company.
In fact, Lürssen launched five yachts in 2008, the most it had ever launched in a single year, with a combined length of 473m (1,550-ft).
Lürssen also sought out new markets, partly because American clients were unwilling to invest in large yachts due to public criticisms over wealth gaps.
“In the meantime, we have found markets elsewhere in the world – in the ex-Soviet Union and the Middle East – and that has helped us,” says Breman.
A major factor in Lürssen’s success is the reputation it has built for the brand. It has produced some of the most stunning examples of modern yachts, including M/Y LIMITLESS at 96m (315-ft and launched in 1997); M/Y OCTOPUS at 126m (414-ft and launched in 2003); and M/Y PELORUS at 115m (377-ft and launched in 2004), for which the company won the 2004 International Superyacht Design Award.
In recent years, Lürssen has garnered attention for M/Y TOPAZ at 147m (480-ft), and, of course, M/Y AZZAM..
“At the end of the day, you get noticed for building very large boats,” says Breman. “We have the advantage – or the luck – that most of our boats have been very well received in terms of aesthetics. That has helped us establish the brand.”
Enviable facilities, endless innovation
As well as a strong history, Lürssen’s transition to building superyachts was possible due to the company’s existing facilities. The Lürssen shipyards are spread over 350,000 square meters, with over 700 meters of deep water space.
“We have a certain infrastructure and building boats of a certain size actually comes naturally to the facilities that we have,” says Breman.
On the low end, that can mean 50m (165-ft), although the core of Lürssen’s work tends to be in the 80-100m range (260-330-ft).
“Building AZZAM at 180 meters is really the exception, rather than the rule,” says Breman.
The shipyard is continually searching for ways to improve – not only on their products, but on their operations. “You have to continue to try to excel” says Bremen. “That comes relatively naturally to us. I won’t say that we always excel. But we always try to excel.”
Streamlining process and cost
One area in which Lürssen clearly excels is in its efficiency. The shipyard currently produces double what they used to with only a third of the workforce, allowing them to streamline costs. “This is simply by rationalizing and making more efficient the whole method of production, the whole concept of planning, engineering, purchasing, manufacturing,” says Breman. “And that allows you to build a 180m boat in under three years from cutting steel.”
The company also tries to involve clients in streamlining the process. They plan meticulously, asking that clients make decisions early and stick to them as much as possible. They do not like change orders because they slow things down and raise costs.
“We are very much engineering-driven and plan-driven,” says Breman. “What you see delivered today was decided three or four years ago.”
Lürssen also stays at the forefront of technological innovations. Given that each year, the available systems improve, it requires outfitting yachts for the future – standardizing the boats with hardware that is meant to adapt to the future.
Other important concerns are the environmental impact, sustainability and noise levels, leading to innovations such as particle filters and emissions-reduction technology, hybrid power and teak alternatives.
“Our research department is two or three people and that’s all they do all year long is research alongside universities and manufacturers to find innovations that suit our products,” says Breman.
One boat at a time
Speaking with Breman, you get the impression that Lürssen is simply riding out the waves of the market as best it can. He tends to use words like “lucky” quite a bit.
“We have been very lucky,” he says at one point. And at another: “We have been very fortunate in being able to achieve what we set out to do.”
In reality, the company has been extremely smart and adaptive, while staying true to its founding principles.
“We really go to the end of the world to get things done,” says Breman at another point. And it’s that dedication and determination to deliver the perfect product that underlies their success.
So while Breman can seem relatively dismissive about the future, it may simply be that the shipyard is quietly confident, focusing on the clients it has now and on delivering the best possible yachts.
“First and foremost,” says Breman, “if you can make sure that the customers – the end users of the boat – are actually happy, then we have achieved it. We delivered a 66-meter boat last year and the owner’s wife sat on the sofa on the first day that the boat was ready and she took a breath and she said, ‘It feels like home.’”
“Then you know you’ve done your job,” says Breman. “All of this to satisfy that one individual.”
*Photos provided courtesy of Lürssen Yachts.