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When you joined Sunseeker in January 2019, you said you’d always thought of it as a strong brand, renowned for innovation. Now that you’re also CEO, has your first year with the company been as expected?
Overall, the answer is yes. We have so many skilled, highly professional staff in all our departments and offices, so it has been a fantastic time for me.
Unfortunately, Robert [Braithwaite] is no longer with us and John [Braithwaite] had just retired when I joined the company, so I found the company quite … relaxed. But it had a huge amount of expertise and experience among the staff, and huge production capacity and capability.
I think my predecessors as CEO were not so focused on product and product innovation, but we are in the nautical industry and we know it’s all about product. Nobody needs a yacht. If we deliver a message that is attractive, they will come on board.
What did you change when you arrived as Chief Technical Officer and what did you then focus on when you became CEO?
When I arrived, my initial role was to analyse the situation, the positioning, the market, because I was familiar working for Ferretti Group’s Product Strategic Committee. Sales, marketing and product strategy is one thing and it all goes through brand identity, innovation and, at the end, product development. My first task was to create the new product strategy, which initially was proposed to [former CEO] Christian Marti. He came from the car industry and I came from this industry, so I know the competition very well.
When I became CEO, I first created a Strategic Committee to lead the company. I don’t like a one-man show. The Strategic Committee includes myself, focused on product and innovation; Mike McMillan, CFO, who takes control of all the financial and legal aspects; and Michael Straughan, COO, another very experienced professional and who has a long experience in the car industry. In reality, the three of us share the leadership of the company. All big decisions go through the Strategic Committee, although I take responsibility for the final decision.
My next task was to seek approval for a huge expansion programme for product development, which was almost dead. I don’t know why this kind of strategy was not pursued so well in recent years. Now, we have a really strong investment in product development, up to GBP50 million (about US$65 million) over three years, refreshing the range with innovations, so resulting in direct benefits for the customers.
We’re investing in product and product quality as part of a plan to have 22 models by 2022, compared to 11 in mid-2019. In September, we had dealer meetings and handed over the upcoming product range, prices, visuals and our strategy.
Following the world premiere of the Hawk 38 at the Cannes Yachting Festival last September, will there be other models in the new Performance range?
The 38 shows the heritage of Sunseeker, a reminder of the XS2000, which is all about adrenalin. The next Performance boats will not be all about adrenalin but more about practical performance for living on the sea – practical, roomier, useable. It won’t just be a bigger 38. We are planning a 52 and a 65, both different designs to the 38.
Why was the Predator 60 Evo described as ‘the first model of Sunseeker’s major new product development plan’?
The Predator 60 Evo is the first boat designed since I took over, the first of this new era. Some ideas – for example, the most important one, the interior design – will be much more detailed. The interior of the new Predator is very different in identity to a Manhattan. Before, when you walked through a Manhattan and a Predator, I felt there were too many similarities in the décor, so I wanted the interior style to be as different and distinct as the exterior.
The new Predator 60 has better performance, better handling through different conditions, steer-by-wire technology, different rudder shapes, a different wheel-drive system, bigger engines and reduced weight, so the boat performs better. But also, when you enter the new Predator, you feel you’re in a high-performance boat because the design language looks and feels much more ‘performance’.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day and there will be a progression of new products and innovations, with many more changes coming.
The 87 Yacht, the former Project 8X, looks like an exciting addition to the Sunseeker fleet and seems to address the demand for greater volume.
Many of our competitors have a semi-displacement range, but Sunseeker has never touched this and we are not going there. Sunseeker is a dynamic brand and has always delivered great performance in each category.
With the 87 Yacht, we want to deliver a product that’s not in the market. It’s probably bigger and roomier than other semi- displacement yachts. It’s a planing hull, with a very good performance in displacement, but it has the speed if you need it. It has low consumption, a very smooth hull and, with 13,000 litres of fuel, one of the longest ranges of any boat in its category.
It’s so beamy and very open because of a lot of glazing all around. It’s our way to compete with [Azimut] Magellano, [Sanlorenzo] SD, [Absolute] Navetta and other boats in those categories.
We will continue to have the 86 Yacht, which is a more traditional flybridge and has a little more performance, but the 87 has over 25 per cent more volume, although it has a similar length. As well as having a bigger beam, the design of the bow adds volume. And all of our design is still done by Sunseeker’s own Design and Technology Centre in Poole.
What about developments on the superyacht side, led by the 161 Yacht?
The first 161 Yacht is sold and now being built at Icon in the Netherlands for a 2022 delivery. Sunseeker has a new superyacht division, in partnership with both Icon and also Pendennis in Falmouth, for boats from 101-161ft. New designs include the 133 Yacht scheduled for 2021, so overall, we will have many more new models between our fibreglass and aluminium ranges.
In general, how do you see yacht design evolving?
Boats are changing from vehicles to an entire resort, a wellness centre. The real challenge for me is not competition from other brands but of providing the experience that rich people want to live. We have to deliver the idea that buying and using a boat is the best thing that people can do with their leisure time. For me, Sunseeker can deliver this better than any other brand.
Sunseeker is about style but is also practical, designed to be used a lot. Very few products of Sunseeker are not practical, maybe just the XS2000, a racing boat. All other products are stylish but focused on functionality, always reinterpreting the way to live on board.
As discussed, the 87 Yacht is a key step forward in this philosophy, maintaining style but in a wider boat, wider than other boats in this category, very open to the sea with many solutions. It’s so innovative and allows owners a different way of enjoying a resort or villa on the water.
How do you convey this to potential owners or users in Asia?
People can’t really see in images or pictures just how many ways there are of enjoying and using such a boat, how to live on board. We are delivering so many different opportunities to live on board, which is why video – or getting on the boat – is really the best way to show this.
When you launch a new model like this that changes dramatically your lifestyle, only a video can show how you can use this yacht, and this is especially important in emerging markets, in Asia or elsewhere, where they’re not so familiar with how yachts are used.
In Asia, it’s more about the interior. The first thing people do when they get on board is go inside. At the end of the day, they enter and they play mahjong or sing karaoke, so this also needs to be conveyed clearly. I’m generalising, of course, but often in Asia owners and guests go inside, they don’t like the sun as much or don’t swim in the water as much, and they enjoy different aspects of the boat to people in the Med, for example.
For example, I’ve been in China many times, but the problem is creating a culture of yachting. They don’t use their boat that often, so it’s very important that you start to promote not only the yacht but the way of life. They can see the product, but they don’t know why or how it’s best used.
Do you see any challenges for Sunseeker in the coming years?
Sunseeker has an unbelievable production footprint, a vertical way of delivering to customers. The shipyard is one of the best I have seen in my career. I have been through many, in Europe and the US, and I’ve never seen such a well organised production system.
We build all the joinery and furniture in-house, also all the electrical systems. We do all the design and don’t just have people from a marine background but also designers from the car industry, people with a new view. And we have so much expertise in our senior staff. I don’t see any real issue for us to remain in our leading position. I only see a lot of potential.
Sunseeker is a reality, not just designs on papers and sub- contractors. There are so many people who have worked here for 20 or 30 years, sometimes more. Sunseeker will maintain a top position in delivering quality to the customers. And the pound is still quite low, so we’re delivering even better value for amazing quality.
The original article appears in Yacht Style Issue 51. Email [email protected] for print subscription enquiries or subscribe to the Magzter version at: www.magzter.com/SG/Lux-Inc-Media/Yacht-Style/Fashion/