Phil Popham joined the British shipyard Sunseeker in 2015 after 25 successful years at the Jaguar Land Rover. His experience in the automotive industry seems to be playing into his hands, given that the company has returned to profitability after several alarming years. The key to success has been a mass of new models, including the 76 Yacht and Predator 57 MK II, which will premiere this week at the Southampton Bowl Show. The yard has also just announced a partnership with the British charity Blue Marine Foundation, which works to protect the oceans.
Dominique Afacan, author of the American magazine Forbes, spoke to the new CEO of the British shipyard about his work at Sunseeker, the shipyard's future plans and the future of the industry as a whole.
What prompted you to leave an established position at Jaguar Land Rover?
I was almost 50 and I felt it was time to try and run the company. I had been with Jaguar Land Rover for a long time and was on the board for nine years. I had a pretty wide choice of which company to join, but it was the premium British brands that impressed me the most. A long time ago I was involved with Sunseeker, and even went on a tour of the shipyard when I was still working in the Range Rover. And since then, I've been quite passionate about that brand.
Were you worried by the lack of yachting experience?
At first, I was concerned about it, to be honest.
It's just that Sunseeker does it in smaller volumes and at a higher cost. The tact time for a car can be six minutes. The fastest production time for one of our yachts is five days.
What are the most common misconceptions about yacht owners?
People often think yacht owners are very shocking people, but I haven't seen it: most of them are private about this part of their lives.
When we made the recently released BBC documentary, we wanted our customers to be involved in it, but it was hard to find anyone who wanted to. They don't buy a yacht to show off their wealth, they buy a yacht to enjoy the luxury lifestyle.
What trends in yachting do you think will gain in popularity in the coming years?
We will need to pay more attention to the ownership model in the future.
Another opportunity I see is to improve my ownership experience. Last year we threw a party for our owners in Polenz, on the set of the» series «Night Manager. There were 22 Sunseeker boats moored there and all this created a real sense of community. We are going to more actively promote the lifestyle that means owning our yacht.
Sunseeker has recently partnered with Blue Marine Foundation, a charity dedicated to protecting ocean biodiversity. How important is Sunseeker to the care of the ocean environment?
We have been working with Macmillan's regional charity partner for several years, but we wanted to expand our activities as part of our corporate social responsibility. Blue was our natural ally, sharing our passion for the sea and our desire to protect it for future generations. We were impressed by their energy and motivation and inspired by the projects they are implementing around the world.
September is the month of yacht shows in the Mediterranean. What do you think of the huge number of such events in the yachting industry?
I realized it was a selling show. It's something that came from the automotive industry and it's interesting because the shows that sell there have ceased to exist since the early 1980s.
Some may come to our shipyard and see many different boats at different levels of construction, but they will not see a finished yacht as their ownership cost is high for us.
What awaits Sunseeker in the future?
This week's Southampton Boat Show will feature the premieres of 76 Yacht and Predator 57 MK II. Looking even further, we may be going beyond the existing categories of both large and small yachts that we already produce to see if there is an opportunity for us to explore a new market segment.
Every penny we spend has to be a good investment.