A Fresh Wind fills Southern Wind’s Sails, interview to management
Tuesday, April 20, 2021 10:00 AM
Southern Wind Shipyard’s new course sees a globally orientated company in expansion. With European shareholders and management and the shipyard in South Africa, it’s a crossroads of different cultures. Open minds and flexibility are the basis of this company’s growth and staying true to its corporate values is its driver.
By Giuliano Luzzatto
Southern Wind Shipyard was founded in Cape Town in 1991 by the engineer Willy Persico, a charismatic entrepreneur who made the shipyard an international success story that continues today, almost three years after he sadly passed away. This continuity comes thanks to the fact that Persico passed his baton to his closest collaborators and to a team of new shareholders, all sailors and yachtsmen. with a clear vision and fresh outlook.
We spoke with General Manager Marco Alberti and with Commercial Director Andrea Micheli, a familiar face to anyone who frequents the world of Maxi and Superyachts.
How are the new managerial team and the new shareholders structured at Southern Wind Shipyard? How do they work together?
Andrea Micheli: The new ownership is 100% through a holding that’s based in Amsterdam. There are three shareholders, one is Spanish, one is Dutch and one is from a family that is part Italian, part Swiss. Each one of these shareholders has a 25% share while the remaining 25% belongs to SWS management. The holding company controls both Southern Wind and Pegaso, the Italian company that was created to be the shipyard’s commercial arm and that now manages a series of activities from chartering to yacht management and not just for Southern Wind owners. Juan Ignacio Entrecanales, who is Spanish and is the owner of SW105 Kiboko Tres, is the management group’s public representative while the other shareholders are very involved but from behind the scenes. Entrecanales is the epitome of a Southern Wind owner: he has built three yachts in Cape Town with us, he grew up sailing and has lots of experience on the water be it long distance blue water cruising or racing in top regattas. He has learned the ropes in every sense and can give potential new owners the confidence they need when they approach our shipyard.
What talents have the new shareholders brought to the SWS table?
Marco Alberti: On top of Entrecanales, each of the new shareholders has brought his own experience and skillset. One of the shareholders is also the Executive Director of the Holding and the Chairman of the Board. He has brought a new point of view to our administrative operative systems. The other is an expert in marketing. Speaking in general, the new shareholders see the shipyard and the yachting market from above, almost as if they were outsiders, whereas we see it from the inside. To combine these two different points of view all of our Directors are also shareholders. This to make sure that strategic guidelines are followed and that operative decisions are implemented in the best possible way.
Do Persico’s trusted manager/shareholders make sure that the company continues along the path that he had set it on?
Marco Alberti: Absolutely. We grew as managers under Persico’s guidance and we are happy to see how the new shareholders carry on his vision of the shipyard by keeping in close touch with owners, keeping up a dialogue with them so as to understand their needs. Southern Wind is a shipyard that owners know that they can depend on at every stage of their yacht ownership experience, even after their yachts have been delivered. I share this vision as does Andrea and the rest of the on-site team. I have been working here for 25 years and I can assure you that this is the best approach for all.
Andrea Micheli: Our presence as manager/shareholders means that the decisions that are made by the Board of Directors are carried out to the letter. This corporate structure makes the difference and guarantees a compact and resilient company. On rare occasionsan individual point of view can have its benefits, but in times like today’s teamwork is even better. A team with shared experience is the best structure for keeping abreast of current challenges and guarantee future growth while keeping a steady eye on our long-term goals in terms of the global market.
Can each one of you tell me a bit about a time that Willy Persico gave you a valuable piece of insight?
Andrea Micheli: One of the most distinctive characteristics of our yachts and one that has contributed most greatly to their success is the fact that we usually place the owner’s cabin fore. Not many of our clients know how we came to choose this layout, but the path leads back to Willy Persico, who was himself a yachtsman above all else. One night when he was aboard his SW72 that was moored in a bay he couldn’t sleep because of the noise of the water slapping against the aft portion of the boat. The architect Antonio Minniti, one of Willy’s best friends who designed the interiors of SWS yachts at the time, was also aboard and together they decided to flip the usual owner’s cabin aft layout around. For the next ten years I explained to potential owners that this “unusual” layout was the best and that it was the fruit of our owner’s own on board experience. This small anecdote shows how things work at SWS: we make choices based on first hand experienceat sea. At the time it was unusual to have the owner’s cabin fore but Willy Persico not only had the idea, he believed in it and promoted it. Today it has become a new standard for yachts this size.
Marco Alberti: Willy Persico taught me how to see the creation of a yacht through the eyes of a builder but always putting myself in the shoes of the owner. His approach to shipbuilding was primarily that of an end user, he was only secondarily a businessman. I remember once in 1999, when we sold the first SW95’ Maya Ray: the prospect owner came with his broker and in just a day the deal was closed on a handshake. That shows you the kind of trust that owners had in Willy, he knew how to make people feel at home because potential clients could tell that Willy wanted them to have a beautiful yacht as much as they did. That sale was the start of a long friendship, Willy and the owner of Maya Ray sailed often together and the yacht ended up circumnavigating the world three times before coming back to her home in Cape Town.
With such a long legacy behind you, in which areas to you think that SWS has evolved most in recent years?
Andrea Micheli: SWS has made a great leap forward in customisation. Today and to an even greater degree tomorrow, we offer much more than semi-custom yachts. We have made such great steps forward that we have coined a new phase, not semi-custom but “smart-custom,” where the initial platforms have been purpose created so that owners can adapt them to their needs while still leaving the reliable, tested base structures untouched. We aren’t offering something slightly better than a series build, we’re creating smart-custom yachts. We listen to our potential client’s needs and we can come back with the best solutions based on our 30 years of experience. Our smart custom approach blends innovation with tried and true technology.
Marco Alberti: This capability to offer increased customisation has come because we have changed the way the shipyard works. This is an area where we have improved greatly in the past three years. For an example of how things have changed look at the SW105’: we have made five different yachts all with different setups using the same dependable base platform: four different keel configurations, three different sail plans, four different deck configurations and five different interior styles and layouts.This kind of customisation goes well beyond customisable interiors and we have been able to achieve this goal thanks to a new organisation of our production that gives a priority to flexibility while still respecting efficiency. And speaking of custom yachts, we have recently launched the one-off 100’ Morgana.
What do you think were the factors that helped you win the bid to construct the RP-Nauta 100’ Morgana?
Andrea Micheli: SWS was chosen after a careful decision making process that involved the owner and a team of consultants that included his project manager and Captain. They came to their decision by using a very rational process, evaluating every aspect of construction, yacht specifications, quality and efficiency.We never saw their report, but we know that we have a lot of experience building yachts in the 95-110’ range, in the past ten years we have built and launched more yachts in this size range than any other shipyard. Even though we don’t specialise in custom builds we can guarantee that we have the necessary knowhow, and our technical department was proactive during the bidding phase, adding ideas and proposals based on their own experience to the plan that was presented. We think that the owner’sproject manager, who is very competent, appreciated this extra effort on our part. Last but not least, the owner knew SWS and Willy Persico already, and he was the first to place his confidence in the “new” Southern Wind Shipyard in the time immediately following the completion of our new corporate structure.
End of part one, for part two click here