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. In this week’s episode, we get to know Mike Simpson, Managing Director of Simpson Marine.
Tell us a little about yourself and your journey into the superyacht world.
I started Simpson Marine in 1984 after several years of sailing in the North Sea, Mediterranean, Atlantic, Caribbean and China Sea on various sailing yachts up to 80ft. When I started the business I was a ‘dyed in the wool’ sailboat man, but in those days sailing was still not very popular in Asia and most buyers wanted big engines rather than wind power. My first motor yacht sale was an Azimut 76 which I delivered to an Australian customer in Perth. This was my introduction to the world of large motor yachts.
We became Azimut dealers and I sold my first superyacht to a Taiwanese customer living in Hong Kong who, after buying an Azimut 90, quickly upgraded to a 40-metre Benetti yacht and then upgraded again to a 45-metre yacht, also from Benetti. That was in the early 1990s. During the 1990s, the Malaysian market became quite active with encouragement and support from the Prime Minister, Doctor Mahathir, and we were able to sell several superyachts there including a 45-metre Benetti, a Swedeship 57m, a 45-metre Feadship, a new build 58-metre Abeking, a 38-metre Technomarine, a 36-metre Broward and so on.
In time we expanded and opened offices around Asia which led to a few more Benetti sales and then in 2015 we took on the distribution of Sanlorenzo for the whole of Asia. This was the right move at the right time as the superyacht market has finally started to gather pace in Asia and the ‘made to measure’ Sanlorenzo has already made a big impact. We have sold a couple of Sanlorenzo 46-metres, a 47-metre 500EXP explorer, an SD126, an SL 106, an SL 102, an SD92 and have ongoing negotiations for larger yachts.
Photo: Simpson Marine
You are often noted as one of the pioneers of yachting in Asia. What are your thoughts on the speed of progression of the superyacht industry in Asia, and what do you see as the biggest hurdles for the future?
Of course, I would like to see the superyacht market growing faster than it is currently. We all would! The main difficulty is convincing regional authorities that superyachts provide employment, direct revenue and ‘trickle down’ benefits to the regional economy. All too often we hear that they only benefit the rich and the government cannot be seen to be supporting them with friendly rules and facilities. Currently, superyachts face heavy taxes, sometimes restrictive rules regarding the hiring of qualified foreign crew, lack of trained local crew, lack of suitable marina berths, shortage of good repair yards and so on.
Probably the biggest obstacle to the development of the superyacht market in Asia and a serious problem for visiting superyacht is the lack of marina berths. Even for smaller production yachts up to 100 feet, berths are difficult to find. Hong Kong, for example, has the greatest potential to become the regional hub for superyachts because of its beautiful coastline, many islands, close proximity to China, zero import tax on yachts (versus 43.65% tax in Mainland China), large number of wealthy yacht owners and long tradition of entertaining friends and business associates onboard and so is a perfect place to keep a superyacht.
Unfortunately, the few superyacht berths in Hong Kong marinas are all taken and the Hong Kong Government has until now refused to consider the construction of any new marina. Nevertheless, despite many challenges and obstacles, the market is starting to open up and wealthy Asians, particularly the Chinese, are warming to the idea of owning superyachts.
Photo: Simpson Marine The Sanlorenzo 46Steel Apries W (ex: Achilles F)
What are some of the most important sales of larger yachts you’ve made at Simpson Marine in the region over the past few years?
Since we became exclusive distributors for Sanlorenzo in Asia in 2015, all our recent sales of superyachts have been Sanlorenzos. We have sold two 46-metre Sanlorenzo Steel yachts, an SD126, a 500EXP (a 47-metre expedition yacht), and we now have several ongoing discussions for larger steel superyachts in the range of 50-70 metres.
What are a couple of your personal most memorable sales - from anywhere in the world?
I think one of the great pleasures of being a yacht broker is meeting interesting people. Superyacht buyers all have interesting stories to tell and we brokers often have the opportunity to get to know them and sometimes their families and friends well. The journey from first meeting to handover party is always memorable and there are certainly many great stories to tell, but discretion dictates that most of these tales will remain untold!
The most recent memorable sale for me was a Sanlorenzo 500EXP, a 47-metre 500GT Expedition yacht currently being built at Sanlorenzo’s La Spezia shipyard. The owner is an adventurous Asian who was inspired by the possibility of exploring the world on his yacht. This attracted him to the Sanlorenzo 460EXP, (a 42-metre superyacht of which Sanlorenzo has already sold seven units), but as the project developed, he became determined to carry a helicopter, a submarine and other vehicles and watercraft to explore the sea and hinterland of areas he cruised in. Thanks to Sanlorenzo’s ‘made to measure’ philosophy and their creative design office, the yacht grew into the current 47-metre 500 GT configuration with huge entertainment spaces, large helideck and garage for toys.
Working with him and helping him to build a yacht which will take him to the wild places he plans to explore has been an interesting journey. We will be managing the yacht after delivery and so I hope to be able to share some of his adventures!
Photo: Simpson Marine The Sanlorenzo 500EXP
Last but not least: you have been in the industry for over 30 years, and have certainly made your mark on the superyacht world with much more to come. So, what is your top advice for young brokers looking to carve out as impressive a career as your own?
The best advice I could give to any aspiring top broker, if he is really confident that he can make the grade, is to give me a call! We are always on the lookout for good brokers and Asia is the next big market. If you want to make a career as a broker, a solid background in yachting and plenty of sea time is a good starting point, whichever direction your yacht broking career takes you, hands-on experience will give you a head start and will give confidence to buyers.
I always tell brokers at Simpson Marine to think carefully before making a commitment to a customer, because once made, commitments must be honoured. Earning a buyer’s trust is a process; it has to be earned through meeting or exceeding your buyers’ expectations. This is true everywhere but especially if you are interacting with newcomers to yachting like so many of our buyers out here. Their lack of knowledge and uncertainty makes them cautious and they need constant reassurance that you are the right person to advise and help them.
If anyone wants to carve out a career for themselves as a yacht broker, there is no shortcut to success. The really successful brokers are in it for the long haul. Their success depends on the personal reputation they have established in the industry, their relationships with owners whose trust they have earned and their deep knowledge of the industry. This takes time to build up. 34 years in my case!
Simpson Marine will be at the upcoming Singapore Yacht Show. Get in touch to make an appointment here.
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