I suppose there are worse places in the world to have an office than aft on the main deck of S/Y Black Pearl, and it’s here that I sit with Derek Munro to discuss the role of an owner’s representative and what I could experience of his ‘typical’ day. A 107m Oceanco, Black Pearl was delivered earlier this year and has been lauded as a trailblazing vessel, with technological systems never before seen in the yachting industry.
Munro, who joined the project in 2012, explains how his role has evolved over the past six years, from the build process at the shipyard, to the first sea trials, to where Black Pearl is currently (at the time of writing, she was in Port Tarraco, Spain undergoing final works before an owner’s trip). “The description ‘owner’s representative’ is pretty apt,” begins Munro. “You are the representative for the client, and for this particular project, with this client, he wanted me to oversee every aspect of the boat.”
In such a personal role, developing a rapport is key to a successful working relationship, so how long did it take before Munro and his client achieved this? “I started in February or March , and I think he didn’t really get to trust me and understand where I was coming from until September that year,” says Munro. “I knew when it happened, and I knew what I had to do to prove that I was working for him.” Sadly, there are still unscrupulous practices in the yachting industry – something that Black Pearl’s owner was well aware of. “I think his biggest fear, and it’s probably one of the biggest fears for most owners nowadays, is that he was concerned that I was going to be taking backhanders, and that I was doing stuff behind his back. And it took him that long to realise that, actually, that is not how I work. I was working for him.”
In the early stages of the project, and throughout the build process at the shipyard, Munro recalls many meetings with the client that would last for hours, with the owner developing different elements of Black Pearl’s design. “He would sketch everything, and he would sketch for hours. Most of our meetings would start at 8am and finish at 2 or 3am the next morning. He enjoys the project, the process of it. He came on all our sea trials, he came on at 4am every morning like everyone else.” The owner also spent a substantial amount of time at the shipyard, and would often be found walking on board in the midst of the work. “We would have meetings in the boardroom at Oceanco and we would all look up thinking he had gone to the bathroom, and then 10 minutes later we would find out he had walked out to go on the boat somewhere,” laughs Munro.
“He would sketch everything, and he would sketch for hours. Most of our meetings would start at 8am and finish at 2 or 3am the next morning. He enjoys the project, the process of it. He came on all our sea trials, he came on at 4am every morning like everyone else.”
Munro was a core part of establishing the yacht’s forward-thinking technology. The research undertaken by Munro and his team during the development phase led to them applying existing technologies to the vessel, not ones created from scratch. “We haven’t made anything new. We have taken technology from different industries and we’ve adapted it to yachting to achieve the goal that the client wanted to achieve. It’s all out there, it’s just how you want to take it and use it. Why not take ideas from the aeronautical industry? Why not take ideas for cars, trucks or space rockets? Why shouldn’t we use that stuff?” The technology on board, from the advanced satellite and radar systems to the power regeneration capabilities, all stems from the client’s commitment to green technology and moving the yachting industry forward.
Munro acknowledges that each owner’s representative is different, much like their clients. He explains that he draws on his previous roles on board as a captain and engineer to assist him in his day-to-day interactions with crew, the owner and the shipyard. “We are all different and that’s because we all have different experiences. You can never be the guy who knows everything, it’s just not possible.” To keep on top of the work, Munro was in attendance almost every day of the project (“I’m at the shipyard every week, pretty much every day of every week, so I am on board all the time”) and worked closely with the project manager as well as with the various subcontractors. Keeping your own notes is essential, he explains.
“We are all different and that’s because we all have different experiences. You can never be the guy who knows everything, it’s just not possible.”
Munro stresses that an owner’s representative is not a project manager in its usual form, but there are elements of project management that are intrinsic to the role. “You are checking that the shipyard is either on schedule or on your budget for the change orders. The shipyard should have a project manager, the project manager runs the project and we don’t do that, we just monitor what they do.” The relationship with the shipyard and its subcontractors form a central part of Munro’s daily interactions, particularly when it comes to ensuring quality control. “We sign off all the stage payments, we approve or disapprove [whether] the quality is right or wrong, and it is our responsibility to make sure that the client gets what he is after at the end of the project.”
As the mouthpiece for the owner’s wishes, Munro has a clear focus on what his position is in any correspondence or interaction with any party involved in the project. “My priority is the boat, let them do whatever they are doing, but my client is the client. Whatever he says, whatever he wants me to say, is the way it is,” he says. In a project of this scope and length, Munro believes constant dialogue between every team member is key to ensuring a successful working relationship. “The most important thing in any project is communication, and if you can’t have that, then it’s never going to work. If you have a team that hides everything from the other side, there is always going to be a little battle.”
From my time with Munro aboard Black Pearl, it struck me just how varied the role of owner’s representative is. Walking around, discussing various elements of the yacht, understanding all the intricacies of the systems, the people and the client of the vessel means that, for an owner’s representative, a ‘typical’ day does not come along very often. However, as I leave Munro’s ‘office’ and have a sneak peek around Black Pearl, I’m convinced that a normal day would have no place on this exceptional yacht.
Derek Munro is also the chairperson of Superyacht Charities, a foundation to promote and assist in the raising of funds for charities to support those in our industry in need of respite or assistance, as well as countries devastated by natural disasters.
This article appeared in full in The Superyacht Report.
Images: Derek Munro and Captain Chris Gartner on board with Rachel Rowney. All copyright Charlotte Thomas.
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