The British yacht brand Sunseeker has a strong heritage of innovation and expert craftsmanship. Since joining the brand as CEO, Andrea Frabetti has upped the ante by accelerating the introduction of innovative new models as the company aims to double its range by 2023. Belinda Craigie speaks with Andrea as he continues to push boundaries in this exclusive market with the launch of the Sunseeker Famous Five range of yachts.
Can you share some of the history of this iconic brand?
It was founded by Robert Braithwaite and his brother John in 1969 as Poole Power Boats. Then, they specialised in fibreglass boats, and they grew throughout the ’70s and the ’80s. We still have the regional facility in Poole that is owned by Sunseeker International. As the company grew, the brand image and design was focused on small and very modern powerboats.
During the ’90s, Sunseeker started to enter the superyacht area with innovation. I was with Ferretti Group at that time, and when we developed a new product in Italy, we were always looking at what Sunseeker was doing, because they always were so advanced. It was in the DNA of Robert Braithwaite and in the DNA of the company.
During the ’90s and ’00s, Sunseeker made associations with Formula One teams and with James Bond, 007. In 2013, there was an acquisition by Dalian Wanda Group, a very large and famous Chinese group of companies. Sunseeker is still British – we are located in the UK and 99 per cent of the influence is British. And I am becoming a little bit [British]! Since entering the superyacht market in the 2000s, we are approaching 150 superyachts made.
Can you share some of your career background and your journey to become CEO of Sunseeker?
My journey started as a child – my only passion was boats. I graduated with the highest level of naval architecture and marine engineering in Genoa, Italy. At that time, toward the end of the ’80s, normally you would start shipbuilding on completion of your studies. There was a huge market as a shipbuilder and 99.9 per cent of those who graduated started to work in that way. But I always loved motor yachts, so I started working with the Ferretti Group, which is located in Italy.
I worked there for 25 years. From the beginning, I participated in a transformation of the design approach from traditional hand design to computerised design, which, at that time, was a novelty approach using three-dimensional and automatic machines to build prototypes.
In the ’90s, I became the manager of the department and when it became a big group in 1998, I was appointed as executive director of R&D and prototype development for the entire group. I worked in Germany for Bavaria Yachts, a large manufacturer, for three years from 2015 to 2018. My background is quite long and only focused on this industry.
Then, in 2018, I decided to join Sunseeker. John Braithwaite had resigned as the chief technical officer of the company and I was appointed to that role in January, but the shareholder decided to make me CEO in June 2019 after five months of being in Poole working for Sunseeker International. I took over the responsibilities of John Braithwaite as CTO and Robert Braithwaite as CEO. Only 32 years in the industry – it’s not a long time! I hope to have another future in front of me.
Seeing as you have been in the industry for a long time, is there anything that you can pinpoint as perhaps the biggest change since you started?
One of the reasons why I’ve been attracted to this industry is the imagination that you can put into the product. This is the most important transformation that the product has seen since the ’70s, thanks to people like John and Robert Braithwaite, is this transformation of a vehicle to move from A to B, to something more – a complete environment to spend the best times of your life with your family at sea and enjoy every single moment on board. That is a lot more than a vehicle. More and more, this view is applicable to a yacht and, with some ship leaders like Sunseeker, any time we make improvements, we surprise our customers because you can reinvent the lifestyle on board with some imagination.
What it is that sets Sunseeker apart from the rest?
The fact that Sunseeker is not only connected to an iconic design. To be coherent in your heritage and your brand, you don’t always have to recall the same style, like its competitors do. With Sunseeker, you are connected to innovation. Anything that makes this product outstanding, it could be applied to Sunseeker and everybody recognises that it is Sunseeker. And that’s great! Honestly, I’ve worked at developing products with many brands, and it’s not the same. At Sunseeker, you apply innovation to your products, your customers, your dealers, your communication team; they feel that this is in their DNA.
Who is Sunseeker’s customer and how do you communicate with them as a brand?
Primarily, we work through a dealer network. We have 120 retailer service locations in 74 countries. A lot of the day-to-day contact with the end customer is done through the dealer network. But our role here is to create that brand pull; to create a brand that is desirable and that people wish to be a part of.
We spend a lot of time creating the content that allows our dealer network to then have a relationship with the end consumer or the prospect.
We are very passionate about the brand, and we are very passionate about what we do every day because of the innovation and the fantastic product that we are producing.
Are you able to share some insight into product development? How do you involve your customers in the design and innovation process?
It’s done in a very particular way. If you look too much at what the customer asks for, it’s just too late – you have to interpret what they don’t know they need and want, in advance. When they see what we’ve realised, they say wow, that’s what I want. That’s the real goal of our industry. Sunseeker was always great at anticipating the needs of its customers and working that into the product design.
Recently, we launched the 90 Ocean. If you spend time on there, there’s always something that surprises you. Whether it’s the cinema in the bow, moving inside where you have the possibility to have a kitchen that opens and closes, to the stern of the boat where there’s a beach club area that no other competitor has.
You’ve recently debuted the Famous Five, a significant milestone for the brand. What was the motivation behind simultaneously launching these five new models?
We launched five new models, which during the pandemic is not so easy. Originally, the idea was to launch three models at the 2020 Dusseldorf Boat Show and a couple of models at other boat shows during the spring. Because of the pandemic, we decided to have one launch.
Our Famous Five, in reality, is seven, but the most important models are the ones you can see in our campaign, starting with the entry-level Predator 55; the Manhattan, which we have made big improvements on compared to the previous model; and the 65 Sport Yacht that has the heritage of the sport yacht that Sunseeker invented. You can drive your sport boat not only from inside in the control room but also from the flybridge. It’s a new driving experience in the flybridge in that you don’t drive it like you are in a boat – that’s possible – but the main feature is that you drive the boat like you’re in a sportscar. It’s designed to give you that same adrenaline rush, driving a yacht that is 65 feet long with
a lot of features inside. There’s no competition, it’s a game-changer. The new 88 Yacht, despite the fact that it looks very similar to the 90 Ocean, it’s very different and appeals to a different kind of clientele – it’s a modern take on a traditional model. There are many other features that you will not find in any of our competitors’ products because it’s a Sunseeker.
When you do a deeper innovation, as we did in style, in interiors, in details, you need to innovate the range as quickly as possible – that’s why we have seven models now. But, a few months before the pandemic, we launched the 60 Predator Evo and the 68. So, we’ve launched nine new models in 16 months. We are working on completing the renovation of the existing range in time for Dusseldorf in 2022.
How have your clients reacted to the new models?
Better than expected. We have sold out of the 2021 production and we are covering up to 50 per cent of potential deliveries for 2022. Recently, at the Palma Boat Show, we got some very positive comments, which is important. In the US, we are selling very well through our distributor – better than expected during this time.
Typically, 60 to 70 per cent of our customers would come to the factory and specify their boat and see similar boats in build but, of course, the customer hasn’t been able to do that. Yet, the order rate has actually increased – people are ordering multi-million-pound yachts, sight unseen, because of the power of the Sunseeker brand and the innovation that we are bringing to the table.
The recent value of a Sunseeker as a used boat after a couple of years is one of the highest compared to the competition. That really comes back to the brand, its reputation, and its quality. When you have this kind of reputation, it really makes a difference.
If we go back to February 2020, we were all terrified, really, because potentially a pandemic could stop any sale. In fact, it was the opposite – in 2020 and into 2021, people liked to stay isolated in a beautiful place, potentially they’ve realised that life is so short that you cannot plan even if you are very wealthy, so it doesn’t make sense to wait too long to enjoy your life. So, the situation probably created a boom in the industry.
I felt that in 2018, the company has missed a little bit of passion. If you are building quality, it’s all about the passion of any single individual within the company. When I have five minutes, I go to the shipyard to look at the finishing details; smiling if it is nice, or a little bit upset if it is not. This helps everybody to understand that my reactions are similar to that of our customers, and to come back to build with passion.
That is connected to the quality – there are no robots, it is all handmade. You can have innovation, training, all the things that are so important but in the end, it’s about passion.
I think that Sunseeker has a lot of employees who have been with the company for 30, 35, 40 years – they have this passion and now, sometimes when I walk to the shipyard, they’ll call me over to look at the details and ask me what I think. The customer sees that, too, and so do the dealers. The design and technology centre that we have in Mannings Heath vertically integrates with the material that goes into the boats. We have the raw material that will come in, and we will cut, make, polish, stain, and lacquer all our own carpentry. We do all of our own wiring – rather than outsourcing this to other companies in the UK or abroad, we do more than any other brand to vertically integrate the local production and that way, we can manage quality and control delivery to the production lines. There’s a massive geographical location and there’s an investment in getting that right quality outside of the production lines and then bringing everything together for the finished product.
In your mind, what is the luxury industry’s biggest challenge?
We are building things that really nobody needs, but most people have a kind of obsession with a Sunseeker or any other yacht, because that product surprises you. So, to maintain the level of surprise and the attraction of the customer, it’s about the product, customer service, and a network that helps you to operate the boat in the easiest and best way.
For example, we have huge organisations in the USA and Europe that mean if you want a Sunseeker, you become part of a family. You want to operate your boat in Greece, so you take your phone to your team that normally follows you in Spain or the UK, and they’ll arrange a marina and anything you need in Greece to operate the boat properly there. You could arrive in Greece, Croatia, Italy, and you’ll find friends who will give you restaurant recommendations, who will help you. It’s this network of services that will be more important. More and more, the next generation wants to have an enjoyable and easy life. We are working to be sure that Sunseeker will maintain its leading position in that regard.
In what ways has the pandemic affected the business and how have you adapted?
We tried to do our best to continue to deliver the boats on time. Of course, we have changed everything – for example, shift work in order to maintain social distancing in the shipyard, to limit the number of Covid infections in the company. We invested a lot to implement Covid-safe work practices in the shipyard. Adapting is not the right word, because we need to go back to normal, the same as all other companies. During the second wave in January, we experienced up to 20 per cent absenteeism. Not because the workers were infected, but because of isolation and quarantine requirements. Our suppliers had similar problems.
What about the future of Sunseeker? Where do you see the brand in five years?
We know what we want to be in terms of brand image, product, the number of production units per year and building locations. We have a plan, and we are following the plan