In Conversation With: Christian Fornaro
Ocean Independence Yacht Finance Specialist Christian Fornaro discusses both avenues of his life: yacht and aviation finance solutions and a thrilling hobby.
Now the Yacht Finance Specialist at Ocean Independence, Christian Fornaro has amassed over 19 years' experience in financial services, mainly with a leading global private bank. From this, one could assume Christian is somewhat single-minded. However, enjoying a thrilling hobby in his spare time, this multi-faceted financial expert cannot be described as ordinary.
Dedicated to yacht and aviation finance solutions since 2008, covering primarily international UHNW clients, Christian has lived in both Moscow and Singapore. This provided the opportunity to deepen his networking and negotiating skills whilst undertaking challenging cross-border transactions and also to gain a greater understanding of different cultures. However, rather than relax during his downtime, Christian is somewhat of a daredevil, passionate about flying aerobatics and taking part in competitions. Striving for the best possible results and gaining great enjoyment from this remarkable pursuit, a parallel can indeed be drawn with his business operations, where one of the most important factors is always trust. Discovering more about what drives Christian in both avenues of his life makes for a fascinating story.
OI: What first interested you in flying?
CF: I grew up in Switzerland in a small village with about 2,500 inhabitants. My parents brought me many times to small aerodromes and basically I caught the aviation bug, without realising it. A 30-minute drive from my village was a small airport - that's where I was first able to touch an aircraft. Looking at the pilots I said, ‘I want to be one of these guys when I’m older!’ In my teens I thought about joining the air force, and though this didn’t work out as a fighter jet pilot, it did so in civil aviation, by getting my airline transport pilot license and aerobatic qualification. My desire to fly was further inspired when I met a famous Swiss aircraft builder involved in the creation of an experimental aerobatic plane. I was now hooked on aerobatics. I had done gymnastics and karate in my youth, activities which taught me how to use mental training to perform better. The physical and mental aspects for competitive piloting are hard, energy draining and you have to absorb a lot of technical and other information required to take a plane and the human body to the limits. Much of my early training was completed in Switzerland, however I had a chance to fly in France and Germany, participating with well-known international coaches. I also had a chance to fly in the USA and Canada, and my first competition bagged me a silver medal. I was excited and encouraged by the people around me - the trainers, champion pilots and aircraft builders.
OI: Did you consider aerobatics as a full-time career?
CF: It would be wishful thinking to make a living at this kind of sport in Switzerland, so I practice as an amateur or hobby pilot, without any given duties imposed by sponsors – doesn’t this sound great – all at my own pace. Selecting the right category to fly in is essential. Training camps have helped enormously with gaining lots of experience and assisting me with decision-making. While I was flying at the intermediate level, I participated in a special event organised by the Swiss aero club to celebrate 100 years of aviation in Switzerland in 2010. This was an exciting event to be involved with, and I had romantic thoughts of being an ace pilot - but was I going to make money? I started to participate in training camps during the spring every season. I was friends with the manufacturer of an experimental aircraft built using carbon fibre and wooden construction technics, with an advanced cockpit and powerful engine. This plane allowed for some really extreme manoeuvres and easily qualified for the top category. The following year I ticked off a win against a professional pilot who was younger than me in the second highest category (Advanced) and won the second title as Swiss champion in the respective category. I pushed myself and the plane to the limits. It is certainly a fine line between perfection and a very big mistake!
OI: Has aerobatics now taken over your life?
CF: Yes, the adrenalin certainly becomes addictive! The pressures my body experiences every time I fly are enormous. With certain manoeuvres I can feel my organs being pulled one way, then another. The forces on my body are so strong, up to 8 to 10G’s - I sometimes feel that I could explode. Aerobatics is in my blood and my body.
I won the Swiss Championship twice in the respective category and was nominated for the Swiss national team in the second-highest category and then decided to move higher up. I went to Poland for the European Advanced Aerobatic Championships in 2013 - my first international competition. Pilots from the UK, France, Russia, Ukraine and all over Europe were there. I had to fly the plane myself to Eastern Poland, which was another first for me. There were professional pilots there, like those trained by the French or Russian air force and those who had been training for nothing else that year, so it was a completely different level. But it was also a great opportunity to show my aerobatic capabilities. The bottom line was that my results were a little disappointing, but the experience was crazy good! Unfortunately, after this, I had no option but to pull out of competition, as my new day job had asked me to move offices to Singapore in 2014.
OI: Is high finance exciting enough for a man who could make his plane do 360s and gut-wrenching turns in the blink of an eye?
CF: I love the freedom and discipline of flying, as well as the technical side of maintaining an aircraft. After five years in Singapore I am back in Europe. The plane I used has had to undergo a very big maintenance programme and the aviation authority has now approved it fit to fly. I hope to be back in the pilot seat again soon. Singapore was a good career move but flying with simulator software is not the real thing, especially not aerobatics!
I am happy to be around planes again – there is always something to improve. You have to fight against external forces, and there is also the mental battle, as in any sport. You have to understand the materials and your aircraft. The really impressive part about flying is what the body and mind can achieve when it works in perfect harmony. This is more than a hobby for me; it’s like my work at Ocean Independence. Top results are going to bring you that feeling of excitement and achievement. Being involved with financing at Ocean Independence has allowed me to experience stunning motor and sailing superyachts. I am always extremely impressed by the engineering skills, when looking at yachts and equally at aircraft. Both types of asset are high-end products and a result of thousands of hours of specialists working for their demanding clients, making the clients’ dreams come true.