Sparkman & Stephens (S&S), the iconic US-based design, naval architecture and brokerage firm, has recently come under new ownership following the desires of its stakeholders to benefit from a capital injection in order to drive growth. SuperyachtNews speaks with John Reuter, one of S&S’s principle investors and newly appointed CEO, about the company’s roots and its future.
“My professional life has been by two elements within the CEO range; what I am best at, and experienced in, is sales and marketing and growth through financial transactions,” starts Reuter. “I am partnered in this venture with Brooke Parish [and a group of private investors], who is an asset manager and proud owner of an S&S vessel, S/Y Mermaid.” Brooke will step in as chairman.
Reuter’s and Parish’s decision to invest in S&S was one that grew organically out of a chance meeting at a cocktail party and a desire to work closer to, and engage with, the industry that had given them so much joy over the years. Through his ownership of Mermaid, Parish had become close to Jason Black, COO of S&S, and it was this contact that led Black to present Parish and Reuter with a business plan.
Reuter explains that what initially attracted him to S&S was its values and resilience. “This company has been around for 80 years, it has survived the depression, WWII, massive technological change over eight decades and the recent recession,” he says. “This company has been through all sorts of fluctuations and it is one of the few that has endured.”
According to Reuter, the key to S&S’s strategy moving forward is a return to the fundamentals that made the S&S brand so strong when Olin Stephens and Drake Sparkman founded the company in 1929.
“Although we have not executed on this entirely [in recent years], I fundamentally believe that it is the principles that Olin Stephens set down from the beginning, embracing change, embracing innovation and embracing new technologies, that is the core value of S&S,” continues Reuter.
Notably, embracing change and innovation does not simply mean embracing new ways of doing the same thing; as with so many elements of life and industry, businesses are subject to the same Darwinist forces that see the strong and adaptable survive and those that do not perish.
“We will always embrace and delight in our sailing legacy,” a legacy that saw S&S vessels dominate the America’s Cup for a time. “But we will pivot towards a motoryacht market in all our activities. The motoryacht market is the low hanging fruit and we really want to take on more projects.”
As well as pivoting towards a motoryachting output, S&S is looking to strengthen and deepen its design team, add more brokers, hire people in marketing positions and develop its charter and insurance offering.