Many of the superyacht industry’s leading businesses are family-owned. But while knowledge and experience in a niche industry cannot be undervalued, do these dynasties run the risk of mistakes being repeated and innovation stifled when the same ideas continue without external influences? This was a recent discussion point at the Global Superyacht Forum.

The story of Winch Design is an example of the evolution from a family management team (designer Andrew Winch and his wife Jane), to the introduction of senior board members from outside industries. Winch, introduced his newly appointed CEO, Aino Grapin, who joined the design studio in September this year.

Grapin is entering the market as an outsider, with experience in luxury spheres but with no prior experience of superyachts. “I’m not the best at managing the business,” commented Winch when discussing the latest addition to the team. “Aino has joined us to achieve that far better than I can … which is now more than [just] a yacht design group, it’s a design group that produces and provides aviation, architecture, interior design and yachts.”

With the introduction of Grapin, and chairman Clive Beharrell in 2016 – who comes from a background of marketing and retail - the Winch Design management team reflects the perfect harmony of superyacht heritage and fresh perspectives – with a view to organic growth beyond the vision of Andrew alone.

As ever, it is vital to have a balance in order to be successful. A mix of heritage, new ideas and industry knowledge is the key to continued growth. In cannot be denied that what a family owned business can provide is cumulative market intelligence and consistency. As Henk de Vries, Feadship, recently surmised at the Global Superyacht Forum when discussing the growing size of yachts in the last century, “Some people think [MY Savannah] is big. The ‘right big’ is different every decade. Big according to my grandfather was 20m, then it was 30m, then 40m.” For a truly comprehensive familiarity with the market, to understand its depth and dynamics, the influence of history cannot be ignored.

It would appear that, despite the importance the perception of heritage continues to play in the minds of superyacht clients, even the most successful brands are aware of the pressing need for succession planning. The evolution of the industry has catalysed the evolution of the business models that comprise it, and the influence of external stakeholders should be welcome by companies both big and small.


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