Meet the Team: Peter Hürzeler
With 30 years of experience in the yachting industry and thousands of sea miles to his name, we talk to co-founder and CEO of Ocean Independence Peter Hürzeler.
Thanks to a passion for people, yachting, and this Company, Peter Hürzeler has been one of the foundations upon which Ocean Independence has flourished from start-up to one of the world’s largest luxury yacht brokerage, charter, management, new build, and consultancy companies. We sat down with Peter to learn a little more about his journey thus far.
OI: When did you first fall in love with yachting / What is your history with yachting?
My love for sailing and the ocean really started from the age of 12. Cruising around the Baltics and Mediterranean on a 40-foot sailing boat with my family, we visited the enchanting small islands, anchorages and ports you find in Scandinavia so often. This really introduced me to the beauty of yachting and life afloat.
After setting out to become a lawyer, a longing to get back on the water and travel the world meant that at the age of 21 I became a merchant deck officer instead. Completing various circumnavigations of the globe on commercial ships cemented my love for travelling on the oceans, and before long a small group of friends and I came up with the idea of merging the commercial sea-going and the yachting experience, trying to offer a level of service, safety, and quality not yet seen in the charter industry at that time.
The resulting concept was the COLOMBAIO project. It seemed a very commercially interesting thing to do and young, energetic and ambitious as we were, we convinced some investors of our idea and managed to finance the construction of the original COLOMBAIO, a commercial 120-foot sailing yacht with six identical guest cabins. I was fortunate enough to achieve this at 30.
We came across all sorts of unexpected challenges and hurdles throughout the construction and operation of COLOMBAIO, but by just doing our best individually and as a team we overcame and learnt valuable lessons from these hurdles. Certified, registered and operated commercially, COLOMBAIO was the first of her kind and captaining her from the launch in 1987 was a true pleasure.
OI: What are the biggest lessons you learned from the COLOMBAIO project?
Firstly, the COLOMBAIO project really is the basis of what is now Ocean Independence. We built our industry network from there and we learnt, as owner/operators, what works for an Owner, a Charterer or a Crew - and what does not. Over the years this knowledge has expanded and developed and the advice we give to Clients is now based on many more years of industry experience.
And while not so much a lesson from this project, because it was something I was taught growing up, the COLOMBAIO project confirmed to me that if you trust in yourself, and always do your very best, you will have a good chance of success in whatever you do.
OI: Where do you want to take Ocean Independence in the next five years?
It is hard to give a precise answer to a question like this, but in general, I want to see us evolve in every area and stay at the forefront of yachting. I certainly want us to work as a Team and push Ocean Independence further forward in the quality and range of services we provide.
If you want to survive and thrive as a business, you must evolve and adapt to industry and global changes. Standing still is never good enough. This doesn’t necessarily or only mean go bigger, sell more yachts and make more money. I strongly believe that quality evolution in every aspect must be the combined goal of everyone at Ocean Independence.
OI: What aspects of your job would you say challenge you the most?
Certainly, the ever-changing global environment and the fact that there has always been, and is, some sort of crisis. In addition to that, the balance between compliance and entrepreneurial freedom is just not right at the moment. The industry is dominated very much by compliance which feels non-productive and non-creative. I see that as a bigger risk, not only for the industry or for Ocean Independence, but in terms of the mental attitude in general. Compliance as such is a good thing, there is no doubt about that, but like with all good things, too much can be bad for your well-being.
Other than that, I prefer to look at the opportunities in life rather than the challenges. The younger generation for example. We see a lot of complaints about them in the media, but in reality the energy, drive, ideas and solutions coming from this generation are great. This is exciting and I think we as a Company have to make the most of this.
The same can be said about other topics that are on the agenda. Much improved eco-consciousness will offer huge opportunities, as will a change of consumption behaviour of next generation Clients. If we have the correct attitude throughout Ocean Independence, solutions can be found for everything.
At the end it is always our Team that helps us further improve in all the directions we want to, so the challenge is simply to find the right people.
OI: What trends do you currently see emerging in the luxury yachting industry?
Seamless design to bring natural light and outside scenery inside is becoming very popular in yacht design. People want their yacht spaces to flow and not have areas fenced off from each other. The Benetti Oasis is an excellent example of this, with folding bulwarks, easy accessways, and large windows making for a more natural feel on board.
For me, another “trend” is the shrinking size of new builds. While we like to speak about the mega-large yachts – and they are indeed spectacular - the sweet spot of yachting is in the 30-50m range, I find, as this is where the yachting experience can be enjoyed to its maximum. I expect this range of yachts to become increasingly popular and that we will see less of the 80+ metre yachts due to sustainability and usability concerns in years to come.
OI: How do you see green/eco concerns fitting into the industry?
Unfortunately, green yachting is not yet where it should be, but I see yachting responding rapidly to eco concerns in the near future, as every industry will have to. I look very much forward to seeing that – and to being part of it.
Even if eco considerations are going to penetrate the yachting market, elegant yacht design, high-quality construction and great service by crews will (have to) remain. People who are concerned about reducing the environmental impact of their existence, including of their leisure activities, fundamentally will still want to enjoy a yachting experience that is beautiful in every sense.
All in all, I feel sustainability in yachting is fortunately gaining traction and in the next few years we will see a big transition to much more sustainable products, packaged in a way that provides the yachting experience people want.
OI: What are you looking forward to in the next chapter of your career?
Seeing the Team continue to flourish and taking the Company forward in this way is incredibly exciting to me. The spirit of Ocean Independence should always be the spirit of a start-up. We certainly have a lot of experience and know how to make our Clients happy, but we also have the energy and exuberance of a start-up. If we can maintain and grow that, I will be happy.
OI: Do you have any interests outside the office?
Actually, I feel if I tried to divide my life into a business and a private life, this would not be right and something would be wasted. Business truly is pleasure for me and so is my private life. I am passionate about our family and I am fortunate that we spend a lot of time together but I am also passionate about the people who work for Ocean Independence and enjoy seeing them grow as persons.
As a family we live and breathe Ocean Independence, we really love the company. Outside that I do love travelling, reading all sorts of books, skiing or relaxing in the sauna - and when I get the chance, of course I love to sail. Most importantly, I find myself appreciating little things in life, at least as much as the big events. In my younger years I have spent hundreds of hours on a bridge wing during watches, looking over the ocean or at limitless star-littered skies, without a moment of boredom. To me there is something beautiful to be found in everything and everyone, we just have to see it.