Insight: Diving in with Palumbo Group CEO, Giuseppe Palumbo

Written by Justin Ratcliffe

With multiple new-build and refit facilities dotted around the Mediterranean and four distinct yacht brands, no other superyacht builder has invested so heavily in expanding its market presence over the past decade as the Palumbo Group.

Giuseppe PalumboPhoto: Justin RatcliffeHeadquartered in Naples and with over half a century of shipbuilding experience, the family-owned commercial shipyard diversified into yachting in 2008 when it set up the Columbus brand and went on to launch its first superyacht, 54-metre Armada (ex: Prima), three years later. In 2014, it won the tender to buy out the failing ITM (International Technic Marine) shipyard in Marseilles, adding the facility to its existing refit facilities in Naples, Messina and Malta. 

Palumbo boosted its yacht building capacity by acquiring the ISA shipyard in Ancona in 2016. The first launch under the new ownership was Clorinda, the 11th hull in the ISA 120 Sports series, and last year the ISA Extra 76 marked the group’s entry into the market for smaller fibreglass yachts (the new range now includes six models, including the 120 Alloy and 130 Alloy). Its bid to take over the defunct Mondomarine shipyard in Savona, where it plans to build all-aluminium yachts, was approved at the end of 2018.

Clorinda runningEarlier this year, Palumbo Superyachts Ancona announced the completion of its new Syncrolift capable of handling superyachts of up to 3,300GT and 110 metres in length. With eight yachts from 86 feet to 67 metres in various stages of construction, the pinnacle of this intense period of investment was the launch in March of 80-metre Dragon, easily the largest vessel at nearly 2,300 GT built to date under the Columbus brand. 

Dragon yachtPhoto: Justin Ratcliffe“This is a special day that marks an important milestone for the company,” announced Giuseppe Palumbo, third-generation shipbuilder and CEO of Palumbo Superyachts. Dragon is the materialisation of the vision and strategy undertaken just ten years ago when we decided to invest in the world of superyachts.”

SuperYacht Times attended the launch ceremony and took the opportunity to catch up with Giuseppe Palumbo and talk further about his vision and strategy. 

Dragon yacht launch ceremonyPhoto: Justin Ratcliffe / SuperYacht TimesPalumbo is now building yachts under four brand names: ISA, Columbus, Extra and Mondomarine.  How should the market distinguish between these brands?

Each has its own history and philosophy, which we’re very careful to preserve. Before we acquired ISA Yachts, for instance, it was already internationally recognised as a symbol of made-in-Italy design, quality and innovation, and we’ve looked to build on that reputation. The GT series designed by Enrico Gobbi recalls the sporty ISA yachts of the past, but raises the bar in terms of design and engineering and sets the tone for the future.  

The ISA Extra series represents a new approach to yachting for clients disillusioned with a traditional flybridge or open models. Inspiration for the concept came from what I personally wanted in a smaller yacht: namely outstanding interior volume and deck space, excellent fuel economy and high build quality, all at a very competitive price. In fact, the first Extra 76 was built for my own use – I only sold it when a client gave me a blank cheque and asked me to name my price. The same owner then went on to order an Extra 93.

ISA Extra 76 One yacht anchoredPhoto: ISA YachtsColumbus is different and is very much part of the Palumbo story as the brand that launched us onto the superyacht scene. Owners can ask us to build a design by an outside designer or naval architect, or we can create one ourselves using our in-house technical and design staff. We can fulfil pretty much any brief and each project is fully tailored to the client’s requests.

Mondomarine is different again and we plan to build all-aluminium yachts from 40 to 60 metres under the Mondomarine name. Perhaps the most famous Mondomarine of all was the 50-metre explorer Tribù that was built for Luciano Benetton, which is why we’ve launched our own explorer series, starting with 57-metre Discovery designed by Luca Dini. The all-aluminium Extra models will also be built in Savona. It’s worth mentioning that a private airfield recently opened in nearby Albenga, which makes Savona even more convenient for new-build or refit clients travelling by private jet.

ISA Extra 76 One yacht Beach ClubPhoto: ISA YachtsIf a client came to you and asked for a full-custom ISA yacht, would that be possible?

The interior design, of course, is already up to the owner and the engineering platform provides for a degree of customisation, but the idea is to maintain the brand DNA in a semi-custom series. I can say that we are planning to build bigger at ISA and Enrico Gobbi is working on an 80-metre design based on the same technical platform as Dragon, but if a customer wants a full-custom experience the logical choice would be Columbus Yachts.   

Dragon yacht anchoredPhoto: Palumbo SuperyachtsTo what extent are you prepared to build on spec?

We currently have an Extra 86 and the ISA GT 67m in build on speculation, and we began the construction of 80-metre Dragon on spec. Naturally, the strategy is to reduce delivery times for a potential client and that is a decision I take on a case-by-case basis. Investing in the product and the shipyard is the best form of marketing, but today I’m more inclined to start a spec build in the 70 to 80-metre size range where we have the required experience and there’s less competition.  

ISA Extra 86 yacht exterior design Photo: ISA YachtsIs Palumbo planning further expansion or acquisitions?

No, for the moment I want to focus on consolidating what we have and on the customer experience. Our owners are generally experienced, very attentive to costs and expect ongoing service beyond the standard warranty period. As specialists in both the new-build and refit sectors, Palumbo is in a unique position to provide that after-sales service throughout the lifecycle of the yacht. The U.S. market is growing and we currently have four American owners, so within the next year or two I want to open an office in Florida to provide sales and technical assistance. Within a couple of years, we’ll have another eight yachts on the water and by that time I want to see all the Palumbo brands at the top of the brokers’ list of shipyards. Dragon yacht cruisingPhoto: Palumbo Superyachts

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