Tim Johnson has come a long way in his career, from management consultancy, to NetJets broker, tours in Afghanistan as part of the Reserve Army and then later to charter broker. His career in yachting began 11 years ago, and he has poured his experience and expertise both in sales, but also teamwork, into yacht brokerage, finding the niche that made him happy and excited to make a lifetime career from it, founding charter brokerage firm TJB Super Yachts in 2013. Francesca Webster sat down with Tim over Zoom to discuss the foundation of TJB, his passion for the industry and how the company began to take a new direction over the past year.What drew you to the yachting industry in the first place and how did you get started in the industry?
During my time at NetJets I met and worked with a number of yacht brokers and became really interested in the career path and the industry. That only grew when I met people involved with the yachting industry while I was on tour, and I thought a lot about what I wanted from the future. I knew I wanted to get into an industry with high net worth clients, working with a cool product that I can see myself working with when I am 60 years old. I was motivated for the change of path and one of the big brokerage firms took me on in 2010 as a charter broker and I loved it from the get go.
The role and the industry was everything I had wanted from a job. I love being able to work directly with clients and charter offers such diversity that it never gets boring. No one charter is the same, every client is different, with different demands and expectations and in that same way every yacht is also different. Every vessel has a unique character and offering and that is something I have always found fascinating; pairing the right client with the right yacht. 11 years later and I am just as hungry and enjoy it just as much as when I first started!Photo: Jeff Brown / Breed Media How did you come to found TJB Super Yachts and how has the company fared over the last few years?
I remained at the firm for a number of years and felt that I had gained a good amount of knowledge in charter sales, and though I hadn’t intended to start my own business, it was fairly organic. Hours were unpredictable and I had a young family that needed my time. I wanted to be in control of my own hours and the industry was flourishing so I thought if not now, when? The business gained momentum early on and I had some trusted clients, which at the end of the day is exactly what you need in the early years of your business. The first two years were certainly the hardest but once you get through those, things do seem to become easier.
In terms of how the business has fared, in a way we are lucky in yachting because we are somewhat above the troubles that mar a lot of other markets. I’ve always found that in times of financial crisis, charterers might cut down from a 70 metre to a 50 metre, but they don't cancel the holiday altogether. The market shrinks but never to nothing and as long as you have those strong relationships with clients, they will continue to come back to you.Over the last year you have invested in some experienced brokers, a change from your previous modus operandi of hiring young and training them up, what motivated this?
In the first years of business I used my skills from the Army and spent time whiteboard training my employees. I hired many young staff that showed potential and were bright, but weren’t necessarily experienced in yachting, and taught them how to do the job, allowing them the reign and support to learn on the go job as well. I worked with many of my team side-by-side for years, passing on the knowledge I had gained.
Now we are moving toward the acquisition of slightly more experienced individuals, who bring with them their own expertise, as well as their own clients. We now have 21 staff with our headquarters in London and additional team members in the Netherlands, Greece, Sweden, Italy and Russia. And has that expansion in terms of personnel and locality, been fairly organic?
In a way, yes. We are always looking for potential candidates in the hubs where clients are based. At the end of the day clients want to be able to speak to someone in their mother tongue, that they can see face-to-face and interact with on their own terms. It is also a special touch to be able to have one of the team on the ground to onboard and offboard the client. That is definitely really important.
One of our most important regions is Scandinavia and we have a new employee who is running the show in Stockholm where many of our most loyal clients are based. I also spend a lot of time in Sweden and there is so much sailing and cruising to be done around the Baltics. Many Scandinavians have houses on the Archipelago and have really grown up on the water, which makes them natural charter clients. We have really been tapping into that passion.
We’ve also found that having an array of brokers in different locations has played to our advantage, as it allows us to divide the clients so that everyone has a manageable amount of customers that they are able to be truly dedicated to.
We would love to expand to the US and are on the lookout for someone in the Miami region right now. In the long term it would be an ambition to open an office there. Expansion is a strange thing because sometimes it comes thick and fast and other times you have periods when you don’t hire anyone, but we are receiving CVs all the time and always looking for those bright and ambitious people to bring onto the team. Photo: Jeff Brown / Breed Media Now you have some more senior hires, do you still go through the process of training less experienced people?
The main answer is yes, we absolutely do and there is a cultivation of talent at TJB where we take on junior charter assistants who then have the chance to move up and become fully fledged brokers in the future. The most important thing for me is that the team here is hugely supportive, partly I believe, because of the dedication we have always had to train staff and open opportunities. Individually the team gets on very well and I would like to think that is something we have fostered over the years into a really great working environment.
Do you think that the young culture you’re describing fosters a better relationship with younger owners that are entering yacht ownership and charter?
I would certainly say so, many of the guys have their own brokerage accounts on Instagram and socialise with the sons of current yacht owners. I think younger owners naturally gravitate towards a younger broker, someone that understands their way of thinking and talking. It is important to remember that the young yacht owners today will still be the yacht owners in 30 years.
Whatever happens you have to constantly move and innovate, we are adapting our marketing strategy to align with the younger generation as well.Photo: RMK - HotLabPhoto: RMK - HotLabIn terms of your aspirations for 2022, what are the TJB team looking ahead to?
We are certainly going to be pushing sales over the coming months, Jamie Swaine has been a fantastic hire and is working hard to grow our ownership client base and if the right person comes along we will definitely look to expand that team. Perhaps in the long term we will move into yacht and crew management, but at the moment we are focusing on our main skillset which is charter sales; this is where we thrive. Over the last few years we have also honed our technical skill and offer clients bespoke packages which are specially catered to them and their needs – we only intend to grow this offering and it will be a real focus for 2022.
In terms of the outlook for 2022, my only concern would be that we will run out of charter yachts to offer. It has happened before, in 2015 all the available vessels were chartered and we were scrambling to find yachts for clients – but that is definitely a good problem to have. I can foresee something similar happening this year and our books are already filling up well!