From sole proprietor of a small rental fleet to the Managing Partner of one of the world’s largest yacht charter companies, Peter Hürzeler speaks to Swiss Style of his business philosophy, emerging markets, and boating in general.
With his windswept hair and rugged complexion, you might think that Peter Hürzeler is just another Zuricher who enjoys weekend boating. You would, however, be mistaken. As the managing partner of Ocean Independence, he oversees, along with partner Nicholas Dean, not just one boat, but one of the world’s largest charter fleets, and the world’s fifth largest yacht firm by vessel length. Founded on a handshake 7 years ago, Ocean Independence has since made its name as the premier luxury yacht service in the world – all based out of landlocked Switzerland. How has he managed to grow his firm from a one secretary office overlooking Lake Zurich to a 16 office company with holding groups located in places as varied as Guernsey, Mumbai, Vienna and Auckland? Simple opportunism, he argues, tempered by a realistic, as well as a basic level of broker independence and honesty when dealing with the client, has been the key to Ocean Independence’s success.
First, opportunism. “You should always take a chance,” Hürzeler argues. “If you like the look of it, take a chance and go for it.” Indeed, his professional life seems to have been the result of just that. After all, how else could a handshake over coffee in Bregenz, near Lake Constance, result in a firm that has a regular turnover of many hundreds of millions of Swiss francs?
That said, Peter Hürzeler is no buccaneer. Tempering his opportunism is a very simple business maxim: always work to ensure the firm’s survival, and never spend beyond your means. “While we have always been adventurous,” he notes, “Ocean Independence has also always been about putting survival first”. This explains why despite the company’s success in acquiring other firms, it has made a point of not leveraging its assets to fuel expansion, instead relying on strategic mergers in key areas, such as brokerage services, and cash-fuelled acquisitions, in others. Indeed, having spent nearly twenty years guiding the firm through its seeding process, Hürzeler has the patience to see through his investments in the firm’s intangible assets, such as brokers, rather than its assets such as ships and fancy offices. “Our capital is never engaged in owning our vessels,” he notes, “the firm always puts its money into expanding its services.”
On the other hand, Hürzeler has made a point of enjoying his work, a philosophy probably made easier by his very real love of the sea. “Every decision we have taken has been taken with a view to fun,” he notes. “We say, ok, it’s just another challenge, let’s do it.” He smiles before adding “and then we sit on the decision for a while”. What allows this philosophy to work is his close relationship with his partner. “My partner and I are different, and sometimes he is more adventurous, and sometimes I am more adventurous,” Hürzeler argues. What is important for any successful business deal, whether buying a yacht (he laughs away the comparison to used car salesmen) or acquiring another business, is simply “to find someone who knows you, and knows what to do”.
On a practical level, Hürzeler argues that one of the reasons for his firm’s success lies in the honesty and competence of its brokers. He prides himself on his brokers’ independence. “I tell my clients, always talk to the broker, always talk to the other person,” he notes. Part of this is simple business acumen: “The interaction between the client and the broker is important to get the best possible result. The last thing we want is for someone to have a bad experience and never get on a boat again.”
And there is another aspect, that of the honest businessman who genuinely wants his clients to enjoy themselves and their trips. Part of the business involves customising for the needs of the client. For that, the broker draws upon a range of vessels, crews and flags, all backed by a global support network.
Recent acquisitions, such as the 2008 purchase of the English brokerage firm Cavendish and White, as well as a 2011 merger with Primo Yacht, are a part of Hürzeler’s strategy. An office in Mumbai, opened in 2010, has been the firm’s only concession to the BRIC mania sweeping developed countries, with Hürzeler eager to focus on consolidating his hold on the Mediterranean and Atlantic markets rather than expend his energy into unknown markets. While loathe to name figures, Hürzeler allows that his mission does a regular turnover in the nine figures, in addition to keeping up a brisk sale of ultra-luxurious “superyachts”. “Money comes and goes,” Hürzeler smiles. “Time only goes,” says the skipper of the yacht fleet.
For further information contact oceanindependence.com, +41(0)22 908 02 51, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org, +41(0)44 390 25 75.
Yachting is people business. Find an experienced broker with integrity and recognition in the market place and use him or her exclusively as your consultant and representative.
- Ask the consultant broker if he is a member of a recognized association (like MYBA) and ask him and yourself why, if he is not.
- Listen to your representative, not necessarily to do as he says, but to get a feel for what professionals think.
- Let the broker protect your interests and let him know that you rely on him for that.
- Put down clear search parameters, perhaps in consultation with your broker.
- Look at several yachts and compare for quality, repair work needed, yard reputation, suitability for your use, annual running costs and estimated price at transaction level.
- Follow the industry procedures and use standard contracts.
- If the brokerage offers management services, use them for costing information.
- Don’t let yourself be carried away. This is a field where it is easy to “fall in love” (and that is why it is so important to associate exclusively with a good consultant broker).
- Don’t underestimate the cost of work needed to bring a sub-standard yacht up to your acceptable level.
- Don’t be in a rush. Your yacht will turn up.
- Don’t “re-write” the contract with your own, outside, “independent” legal help. There is a lot of detail in an agreement. The more you change a standard form, the less legal precedence you will retain. Your broker will know what works.
- Don’t buy the biggest yacht your budget may allow. You will just end up with one of the poorest in her class/category. Brokering a good experience is the best guarantor for return (yacht: Reverie)
Article by Alain de Wynter