Though the superyacht business is a relatively small industry, it is packed with international professionals from all walks of life, and it can certainly be easy to get lost in the sea of faces we're presented with at boat shows, yachting events and beyond. In this series of articles, we take a step back from rushed business meetings and hurried networking and sit down with professionals from across the wide spectrum of the superyacht business to learn more about who they are and what they do for the industry. This week, we get to know James Roy, Managing Director of the recently formed Lateral Naval Architects, to hear more about this new venture.
Photo: Lateral Naval Architects
You are working in the yachting division of BMT Nigel Gee. How did you get into working as a naval architect?
From an early age, I was interested in ships and boats. I have a vivid memory from around the age of 5, drawing a picture of a ship I had just seen steam past, and proclaiming that when I grew up I was going to design boats.
Some 20 years later, in 1996 I graduated from Southampton Institute with a first class honours degree in naval architecture, and in October of that year, I began work with a small independent practice in Southampton. Nigel Gee and Associates was a specialist in high-speed commercial vessels and with around ten employees, and as many years in business. It had established itself not only in supporting the local marine industry but also on the international stage.
I quickly realised that this was an exciting business. From day one I have been challenged to think differently by both the principles of the business, my colleagues, and the diversity of the customer base. The workload has been varied and dynamic with opportunities to learn and explore with every job that came to my desk. Adventure and the spirit of ‘work-hard play-hard’ were the platforms upon which I developed my career.
The company expanded rapidly into new markets, in all corners of the world and I took every opportunity to grow with the business, moving to Senior Naval Architect within five years. Thereafter, I was at the forefront of the company's development of highly specialised vessels; from the implementation of production engineering software and processes, through to research and development of new hull forms to address challenges brought about by new economic and defence landscapes.
With yacht design having become a significant contributor to the company's turnover, I took on the role of Yacht Design Manager in 2006 and became a director of the business in 2008. Starting with small steps, a clear plan, and a long-term view I have led a talented team who have built the BMT brand in the yacht market and positioned us as a leading independent practice in naval architecture and engineering.
Lateral Naval Architects is a new collaboration between Oceanco and BMT Nigel Gee, announced during the HISWA Superyacht Press tour this year. Talk me through the philosophy behind the brand: what does the 9 dot puzzle have to do with it?
It has been a fascinating journey to discover the Lateral brand. Note the word discover, it is of subtle but significant importance. Authentic brands are not created in a design environment, they are a representation of who we are already; our collective culture, beliefs, values, and behaviours.
In this way, what we say about ourselves is truly authentic rather than a string of marketing superlatives. There are a number of key factors in the DNA of our heritage that are at the heart of characterising the Lateral brand. One is inquisitiveness - adventurous thinking and engineering excellence. The second is the breadth of depth of knowledge and insight - both technical and owner insight.
Our logo is a simple array of nine dots. The challenge is to draw a continuous line through all the dots with no more than four straight segments. The solution, whilst simple, is not obvious, but it requires some lateral thinking!
Although this is a collaboration with Oceanco, you have also been clear that Lateral Naval Architects will also work with other shipyards, who may obviously be in competition with Oceanco. How do you see this working in the future and who will you be working with?
Lateral has been created as a company that will operate independently of BMT and of Oceanco. That being said, we will leverage the knowledge of BMT and Oceanco. The opinions, conclusions, and insights we continue to deliver to clients are formed independently, however. Those clients represent a global customer base in all areas of the superyacht industry and via the strategic partnership, they will gain access to a broader base of knowledge and insight.
Lateral will not deliver primary naval architecture to a project that is in direct commercial competition to Oceanco. However, the practical reality is that when considering the whole market, this is quite a small spectrum of projects. Also, consider the fact that all of Oceanco’s primary competitors have their own naval architecture capacities. In that regard, the situation is no different under Lateral than it was under BMT. Lateral continues to work with long term partners and clients that we have had a relationship with for many years under BMT.
Photo: Lateral Naval Architects
How will the information sharing work between Lateral and Oceanco? What would you say to those who might be concerned about the sharing of information about another yard with Oceanco?
Lateral is run independently of Oceanco. Lateral operations remain at Shamrock Quay adjacent to BMT. Oceanco does not have access to our systems, data, or information beyond that which we deliver for Oceanco projects.
As would be expected within any joint venture the board of directors has members from both parties. The board’s purpose is to ensure the company’s success by collectively directing its affairs. In carrying out these duties the board members are bound to act only in the interests of Lateral. Lateral will continue to trade upon its integrity and strict approach to project confidentiality. Lateral operates an industry standard non-disclosure agreement that binds everyone in the company.
If we look to other industries delivering large and complex engineering projects, those can often only be achieved via multiple competing companies collaborating within the umbrella of a commercial and legal construct. For this to work, there must be trust in the integrity of that umbrella. For Lateral, the undertakings we commit to under our non-disclosure ‘umbrella’ remain the same as they did under BMT.Photo: Lateral Naval Architects
What can we expect in the future from this collaboration?
Our brand manifesto is built around the idea that real innovation is about asking new questions, not just coming up with new answers to existing ones. By doing so, we aim to challenge and enable ourselves, our partners, our clients, and the wider industry to collaboratively develop the next generation of iconic yachts.