5 questions with... Sunseeker's Phil Popham

Written by Georgia Tindale

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 Phil Popham, the CEO of the British shipyard Sunseeker International. 

Prior to becoming Sunseeker's CEO back in 2015, Phil Popham was group marketing director for Jaguar Land Rover, which he joined as a graduate trainee in 1989, after graduating in management studies from the University of Aston in Birmingham, UK.Phil Popham Photo: Sunseeker First things first, the most recent Sunseeker line, including the 116 yacht, you have unveiled is in a very sporty style - many people in the industry are also moving towards larger explorer displacement yachts. Is this something you are interested in?

Our USP is that distinctive sporty design, so we’re not going to move massively away from what is and has always been Sunseeker. We wouldn’t rule out different segments, but I do think they will all still have that Sunseeker DNA with its blend of distinctive design and craftsmanship. Our boats are not custom but we do offer a bespoke service allowing customers to personalise their yacht. 

In terms of going bigger, we currently build up to 155 feet, as you know. At any one time we have four boats at 116 feet and 131 feet in build at our factory in Poole. We see that the brand has the capability to go bigger and it is our intention to go bigger: how we do that is still in the discussion stage. Sunseeker 116 in PoolePhoto: Barry QuinceThe Sunseeker 116 at the shipyard in Poole 

Do you think you will look into custom yachts in the future?

We are not a custom manufacturer, that’s not where our forte is. We’ve got credibility in terms of superyachts and we have broken the 100-foot threshold a long time ago. We have now sold 130 boats over 100 feet! It's about efficient build capabilities and ensuring our customers can get good value for money from a yacht that can be personalised. Custom yachts are a whole different structure, we'd have to learn a completely new way of building and doing business. 

How many boats do you generally have to sell before a line is profitable?

It really depends because what we tend to do is to sweat the asset, which, for the boat is the hull design. For example, the same basic architecture used for the 37-metre and 40-metre was replicated for the 131 yacht. If we had to design a completely new hull for each yacht it would require a lot of investment and slow down the production process. 

Which is the strongest market for you at the moment?

Nearly half of our boats go into the Mediterranean, but in terms of a single market, the States is probably the biggest. The Americas as a whole is a big territory but it’s mainly the US where the business is for us. Year on year the revenue has increased by just over 10%. we've gone from 24% in 2016 to 35% in 2017, its become a really important market to us. The Asia Pacific and the Middle East are markets which are growing for us, we’ve now got the Americas to where we want it and I would like to see some more growth in the Middle East and Asia to balance that business. 

Sunseeker 116 saloon Photo: Sunseeker The Sunseeker 116 saloon 

What does the future hold for Sunseeker? 

When Sunseeker first started nearly 50 years ago, the demand was for something different to what it is now, it was always about small, fast boats and then it changed to be about range, seakeeping, capabilities and refinement, but the boats can still go reasonably fast. We have just announced a collaboration with Red Bull Advanced Technologies so we’re going to go back to fast boats and will be working with them on materials, engineering and lightweighting. With Red Bull, it's about smaller, faster boats and our intention is to build a family of these boats over the next few years. 

With our larger yachts we have seen a trend of clients wanting more sociable yachts. With the latest 116 yacht, we have increased the external entertainment space from its predecessor, the 115 yacht. If you go on the 116 yacht now it has about 45% more external entertainment space than the 115, a huge bow area, a very big flybridge and a beach club. 

We’ve already launched two new products this year, the Predator 50 and Predator 74. They’ll be coming to the States and we have already sold seven Predator 50s and seven Predator 74s in the US. With the Predator line as well, there does look like there is demand coming back for a larger sleek boat. We are keen to explore larger yachts but it's important to be sure there is a strong market for the product.

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