Princess Yachts executive chairman on why the future of yachting is riding high thanks to innovation, investment and customer focus
Exclusive: Antony Sheriff tells Tempus how Princess Yachts is enjoying the crest of the wave
"True innovation within the yacht industry moves slowly but, to me, it’s a key part of every industrial business. When I joined Princess Yachts, the first question I asked was: 'How can we build a boat that is 40% better than the most efficient boat we currently have?' And in turn, how do we reduce the footprint of everything we make? Our answer was to invest in hydrodynamics.
It’s extraordinarily important, much more so than aerodynamics is to cars because water is denser and more viscous than air. Building the R35, our most experimental boat yet, was an incredible opportunity to experiment with hydrodynamics and showcase what we’d learned. We found a fantastic partner in Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR), with whom we worked to create our unique Active Foil System. The result? One of the most stable and efficient fully carbon fibre boats on the water. The R35 will launch in September 2018, and I’m tremendously excited about it.
Investing into our product line to make sure we’re consistently refreshing and expanding our range is a major part of our strategy. As well as introducing new technologies, we’re always seeking ways to improve our customers’ experience of boat ownership and, perhaps most importantly, we’re looking for ways to make ownership less intimidating.
There are many more people who can afford to buy a yacht than who actually choose to do so, so our challenge, and opportunity, is to show potential customers the many benefits of yacht ownership. Part of that is offering more variety and more choice – different boats for different folks, if you will.
I have a number of new favourites. The R35, of course, and this year’s 55. It’s very hard to make a small flybridge – as the boat gets shorter, they tend to keep the same vertical height and look like floating caravans – but our 55 is a wonderfully elegant boat. It’s very beautiful and sophisticated. And then there’s our S78, which just looks like a missile on the sea. It’s absolutely gorgeous. >>
I see yacht manufacture as a very interesting mix of technology and luxury. A yacht is a beautifully made, high-value product, but it has an inherent technical aspect. But technology alone can feel a little soulless, while luxury and craftsmanship can seem superficial to some. At Princess Yachts, the two combine in perfect harmony. We use cutting-edge technology, of course, but we also pride ourselves on our craftsmanship.
Indeed, if you visit our facilities you can see the truly remarkable skills of our craftsmen. Those artisans take decades to master the techniques, so our craftsmen are fundamental to our future. We have people who’ve been in the company since they were 16, who’ve learned their trade with us, and we now rely on them to train the craftsmen and women of the future. It’s integral to what we do – and it’s very romantic.
I come from an automotive background, having run McLaren for 10 years, and I can say that there are some wonderful things about the boating industry, that other industries, like the automotive industry, could learn from. A can-do attitude, the ability to create remarkable things on very strict budgets and go straight from a CAD design to the finished product in one iteration, for example.
By contrast, there are also things that the boating industry could learn. Sometimes the processes involved can seem somewhat bureaucratic, but whether you’re making the best supercar in the world or the highest quality performance yacht, process can be as important as engineering, and that’s leading us to a really positive time across the whole industry. It’s a wonderful time to be in the business of building yachts."