The construction of a superyacht is such a subjective discipline that the final outcome is often open to dispute between the various stakeholders. Would the introduction of a mutually agreed, independent third party consultant to manage the project have the ability to circumvent these expensive disagreements? Business editor Will Mathieson investigates.

At a recent industry forum on the problems inherent with superyacht paint jobs Bruno Saverys, of French-based underwriter Helvetia, offered an obvious, if surprisingly novel, solution to the arbitrary nature of disagreements, saying: “Why not ask the various stakeholders involved in a project to identify and appoint an independent consultant before the project begins?”

Invariably, in an area as subjective as the quality of paintwork, it is hard to argue that those involved in the dispute are acting objectively considering the fact that everyone stands to lose something by conceding on points of contention. But Saverys’ question is a valid one: and if it has the potential to work for paint jobs, why not introduce third-party consultants to manage new build projects? After all, owners who feel cheated by a yard or subcontractor invariably walk away from yachting.

Cristian Schwarzwälder has experienced both sides of the coin, and now finds himself in a position where he could feasibly act as a neutral arbiter, with the establishment of his new consultancy, Worldwide Yacht Projects. Schwarzwälder is open to the idea of playing an objective mediator/manager role, a trend he has already seen within subcontractor work. His career to date has also given him an insight into acting on behalf of builders.

The appointment of a truly independent project manager would require the owner’s representative or broker to have identified a yard and signed a contract for the build. It would then only be through a series of negotiations, during which both client and builder would propose individuals to manage the project that an individual was agreed upon. 
In terms of enacting the same process for the entire project, Schwarzwälder maintains that “it could be difficult” but postulates that if it were split 50-50 “it could be feasible”. If we accept that the construction of a superyacht is essentially a buyer-seller process, and open to negotiation, then we also accept that everybody is out to maximise their own margins and/or cost savings. However, as Schwarzwälder explains, this approach can create unforeseen problems and quality issues. “It’s about finding a compromise,” he says. 

What about the other side of the fence? How does this concept sit with the builder?
Vincenzo Poerio, CEO of Benetti Yachts, thinks the idea is not only a good one, but will also enhance the quality of project management as a discipline. All too often, he says, project managers and surveyors are brought into the equation in order to highlight areas of dispute, shaving money off the final bill in the process. This cost-saving exercise, however, compromises quality in favour of bottom line margins.

But before this theory can be put into practice, Poerio adds, the industry needs to address the regulation of project managers. “We need to find a way to have them certified as professional people.” The certification of an individual pertaining to be a competent project manager would act as evidence for the decisions made during the course of a project. “When we are building a custom product it is important for the client to be able to verify that we have built it to an acceptable standard,” Poerio explains. “But sometimes the ethics of the manager come into question and they judge the project in an unprofessional manner.” Quality has become such an arbitrary judgment, Poerio says, that its indirect codification, in the form of certifying those who oversee the projects, is essential to ensuring that clients remain satisfied.

The idea of introducing a mutually agreed-upon project manager could eventually result in a fleet of superyacht owners devoid of nasty surprises and happy with the finished product.

An unabridged version of this article can be found in Issue 10 of The Superyacht Owner, which members can view online here.

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