Insight: 25 years of bluewater yachting

Written by Gemma Fottles

2016 sees bluewater celebrate the impressive milestone of 25 years in business. SYT met with CEO, Peter Bennett, to discuss highlights of the last quarter century, his most memorable sale and plans for the future.

Starting a company in the marine industry was a natural step for Peter Bennett, having joined the Navy after leaving school and working as a navigator for eight years at sea. Founding bluewater in January 1991, “the concept of the company from day one was one company, one complete service,” says Bennett. “My goal was to create an all-encompassing business so we would place the crew, train the crew, manage the yacht, manage the refit, charter the yacht, charter manage the yacht and eventually sell the yacht.

The concept quickly proved successful and Bennett was joined two years later by John Wyborn and Phillip Holden, with both eventually becoming partners within the company. Today the group employs over 100 people worldwide, with Peter Bennett as Group CEO, Phillip Holden as Director of the yacht management division and Wyborn Director of the training division. The board is made up of the three founders plus the new additions of the CEO of Bluewater Training USA, and the President of Bluewater USA (crew recruitment and retail charter services).

On the reasoning behind a full service company, “If your standards are high across the board, then it is a more optimised cohesive system,” says the Group CEO. “Some people do not agree with it, they don’t like monopolies or one person having a significant amount of power over the industry, but I wanted to be more than just a yacht or charter broker, I wanted to give something back, and I think we give a lot back in our crew related products and services.”

The company’s contribution to the industry includes a huge amount of development and research into the training sector. “Working alongside the MCA and RYA, we have been the leading company in developing modular training and professional crew training for 25 years,” says Bennett. “A lot of the courses that yacht crew do today are the result of our input and from our combined expertise at bluewater; from being naval officers to our experience from running a large company in this industry for the past 25 years.”

Peter Bennett is also particularly proud of their crew database, which has approximately 90,000 candidates. “They are all tied into our system, the boats are tied in, there are jobs that are being captured and sourced every day for all those 90,000 crew and that is us giving something back,” he says. “We were totally innovative with the creation of the ONE Account system and, sure, there is profit in it, we didn’t just do it because we like the industry, we did it because we like to make money, but with every cent invested into a ONE Account, the yacht receives the full amount back in training vouchers, which now can be redeemed in Europe or the USA.”

With so many divisions, ensuring a balance can be a challenge. “It’s difficult to brand a company across five sectors and have all sectors recognise the brand at the same level,” he says. “We started with crew and training, and we’ve been going strong for 25 years, we have a highly efficient management business, a great charter company, yacht brokers selling boats. Sure, our brand remains stronger in the first two sectors, but this isn’t to say it won’t gain in strength in the others in future. It is my challenge to make these divisions more robust across the board, which I am confident we will do.”

The company has recently reinvested in a US presence, joining forces with longstanding brands ICT and Crew Unlimited. “We were waiting for the right time and we have now decided to go back and work with like-minded partners that understand bluewater’s philosophy,” he says. Ensuring bluewater has offices around the world has been an important part of Bennett’s strategy. “You need strategic placements, you need a presence Asia, you need a presence in the Americas, a presence in Russia and obviously in Europe you need a large presence.” Asia is an important market to the company, with Bennett believing that Chinese investors will play a large role in the industry in future. “I think the Chinese are interested in making money rather than actually buying a yacht and living the lifestyle, so long term I see more of the industry owned by Chinese companies rather than the Chinese buying more yachts.”

Over the course of 25 years the company has, inevitably, seen the industry adapt and evolve with the advent of the internet proving the biggest change. “The internet has been amazing, but it also makes brokers’ lives more difficult,” says Bennett, explaining that in the past customers were limited to a brochure and a spec sheet, while the internet enables them or their representatives to undertake extensive research on a yacht. “A yacht broker these days needs to understand the industry better, to be able to put together bespoke packages, to understand the crew element better, the management of the boat, how the boat is constructed, how it operates, how it should operate and what the return of revenue would be on charter,” he says. “These are all things that a yacht broker 20 years ago didn’t need to know, it was purely about the yacht, the deal and the sale, but today it has to be a lot more focused and knowledgeable.”

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Bennett believes that there is definite room for improvement within the brokerage sector, not mincing his words in his assessment. “Brokers don’t always get on and can often let their egos get the better of them” he says. “This attitude holds people back as it’s often the case that it is more about them than the actual customer.” Can this be changed or is this the nature of the brokerage industry, we asked. “I don’t think that it can be improved, yacht brokers will often tell their clients they are looking out for them, but fundamentally, they are only interested in number one when a team effort amongst brokers could produce much better results for the clients.”

Despite a clear frustration with the people involved in the world of superyacht brokerage, the last 25 years have provided countless positive memories. Bennett cites the sale of 90.1 metre Nero as one of the most special, crediting his daughter for the all-important introduction to the client, as she was working on board a 50 metre yacht managed by bluewater at the time. “A close friend of the owner was on board for a few days and was constantly talking to his wife about buying a big yacht,” he explains. “My daughter told him that her father was a yacht broker – ‘he’s the best in the world, give him a call’ – so right there and then he rang me from my daughter’s mobile phone. He SAID, ‘Your daughter has just told me you’re the best superyacht broker in the world.’ I told him I was and he said ‘great, let’s go and buy a big boat’.” A month later the impromptu team brought Nero together.

On the five-year plan for the future of the company, the answer was simple. “I didn’t name bluewater after myself – all the major branded names are after an individual – as I wanted to come up with a name that was related to the maritime world, and my ultimate goal is to turn that into a truly global brand.” If the past 25 years are anything to go by, there is plenty of exciting developments ahead for Bluewater.

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