Insight: Taking the helm at Fraser Yachts

Written by Gemma Fottles

Taking the helm at Fraser Yachts earlier this year, Raphael Sauleau has years of experience under his belt - a blatant requirement for the new CEO of one of the world’s largest full service yachting companies. Not so obvious, however, is the fact that very little of Sauleau’s professional experience hails from the superyacht industry. With a career spanning two decades in managerial and directorial positions at V Ships amongst others, Sauleau comes to Fraser Yachts with a fresh pair of eyes, and is ready to take on the task of not only sustaining the brand’s global success, but propelling them to entirely new heights altogether.

In fact, this is exactly the scenario that Roberto Giorgi, Fraser Yachts’ Chairman, envisioned when he hired Sauleau. Announcing the new appointment to the industry at the latest Palm Beach International Boat Show, Giorgi states that the newest recruit to the Fraser Yachts family will not only bring a younger perspective to the 70 year old company, but could also help to attract a new generation of clientele. While the dust settles in the first year, Giorgi will remain with the company, passing the day-to-day tasks and running of the business to Sauleau.

Here, Sauleau talks with Merijn de Waard about the complexities of engaging an international workforce of 140, the importance of the reinforcement of professionalism in the industry, and why he feels that the development of the Asian market requires more patience than many possess.

What are your first ports of call for change at Fraser Yachts?

Luxury is all about the details. There is a lot of tradition and know-how and I want to encourage an evolution rather than a revolution within the company, focusing on the details at all levels.

Fraser Yachts have a global team of 140 employees and agents. With many of the main yachting hubs located throughout Europe, how do you ensure the American side is involved?

That is key. You cannot run two separate companies. It’s not easy, with the time difference and distance. Even though I am based in Monaco, I have a weekly conference call with our team and often daily calls with the States. I also intend to regularly visit our offices not only in the U.S. but worldwide.

To make it even more complicated, your best salespeople are independent operators within the company, so you also have a lot of smaller CEOs to deal with.

Yes, that’s a new set up for me. Very few companies in the industry have elected to have their own brokers employees, yet most of our top independent brokers have been under the Fraser Yachts umbrella for 30+ years, so they engage under our brand. For me, they are my clients. I have to make sure they are provided with the best support in order to succeed.

With such experienced brokers under the Fraser Yachts umbrella, is it difficult to enforce Fraser Yachts’ ideology?

Not at all. It’s a discussion, a democracy. While we are providing you with everything to succeed, you also need to portray yourself as a Fraser Yachts ambassador. Brand matters. Of course you always have relationships with your top clients which are down to yourself, not necessarily the brand, but what about the new generation of clients? The ones we haven’t tapped into yet? We must be able to attract all of these potential clients and competition is harder and harder!

Do you see senior brokers leaving the company and starting their own companies as a threat?

It’s potentially a commercial threat, but at the end of the day we must ensure that our brokers have the right environment so such ideas do not cross their mind. Furthermore, we need to think about what we must do so that smaller companies are not able to attract our clients. How is that broker able to get that client, and we are not? Is he doing something we are not doing? It’s an open market and we must remain competitive at all times with new technology, transparent processes and a professional ethic.

One of your shareholders is Benetti. Do you see that as a conflict of interest?

Whilst we are very proud to be associated with Benetti, we really do not see it as a conflict of interest and really make sure that it is very clear to the market place. The client’s choice will always be paramount. We’re here to make sure we have the right yacht for our clients; we are not going to sell a particular brand over another one.

How can the industry change?

The perception from outside the industry is one of glitz and glamour, but yachting is a real industry. It’s not only a multi-billionaire enjoying time on his yacht. Too often we portray that before the rest. Of course, if you buy a yacht you are a wealthy individual, but not to forget that this is an industry that generates a lot of employment and local revenue for various regions, and it has to mature and grow as such. We need to see increased transparency, anticipation of new regulations and to deliver the right message to the outside world so the industry can reach the next level.

Do you plan to expand Fraser Yachts in Asia?

We have a number of representatives in Asia and shall remain there. In Asia, it is not so much who you are but who you are able to build up long term relationship with. You need to cultivate a relationship, to build trust. What you can do in Europe in three years, it takes eight years in Asia. Plus we need to tailor yachting to their needs. Culturally it is a very different market. The market needs to be patient with Asia, it will grow and reap rewards but this will only happen to those that build lasting relationships with clients. Many brands are impatient: they want it all now.

This article is featured in the ninth issue of the SuperYacht Times newspaper. Subscribe here and never miss another issue.
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