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Industry Insight

Ocean Independence and Heesen Yachts: An interview with Friso Visser

Ocean Independence caught up with Heesen Yachts’ Chief Commercial Officer, Friso Visser, to discuss the shipyard’s achievements in 2021 and to offer some insight looking ahead to 2022.

Ocean Independence caught up with Heesen Yachts’ Chief Commercial Officer, Friso Visser, to discuss the shipyard’s achievements in 2021 and to offer some insight looking ahead to 2022.

One year into his pivotal role at this celebrated shipyard, Friso is utilising his experience amassed during his career so far, operating amongst diverse business cultures and varied processes, giving a significant nod to 18 years at Damen Shipyards Group. Gathering knowledge and understanding across the international maritime landscape has ensured Friso's can-do attitude to both business and operational challenges is being put to good use.

OI: 2021 proved an exceptional year for Heesen, how are you approaching 2022? 

FV: In the main part, our big focus will continue to be fulfilling the Heesen order book, namely to deliver new build yachts on time and in budget. The challenge is to ensure customers remain completely satisfied and that is always our primary concern. A lot has happened in the last 16 months or so at the yard, with an even larger portfolio of spec boats, so we are really shifting the gears to respond to the market. Alongside an experienced sales team with real legacy names and our fantastic marketing team, the innovation, foresight and drive is infectious. I often use a football analogy and look at the sales team as the attackers with the marketing team who then sit on the wing and give the ball forward.

From a personal point of view, I get a thrill from the actual process of a closing, after you have developed a yacht and launch it into the market. That is often the handicap for those involved in yacht sales – they just tend to look forwards and not backwards – which is of course why we have an after sales division! It goes without saying too that I'm very proud when a boat is delivered and happy when a client gets genuine enjoyment from their passion. I am looking forward to seeing plenty more of this in 2022 and beyond.

For Heesen in 2022 there are some exciting new developments underway - not to be disclosed just yet – but stay tuned in for upcoming news!

OI: With demand increasing and requirements changing, how do you manage to keep up with growth?

FV: When a company grows, there will always be growing pains and for this reason, it is best to move forwards in a controlled manner, which we try to do. Indeed, growth is good, but not to the point where it can affect the basic values of a business and remaining wholly reliable is always a top consideration for Heesen, of which we are mindful. 

What is important to understand is that Heesen are extremely experienced in the construction of speculative, or series, yachts. For example, we have a professional team of established specialists in our design and development department who are vastly experienced in meeting the specific wishes of clients. Whether it is changing the propulsion system, interior design, or paintwork, for instance, they have a can-do attitude and work with all demands. Their immense "rolodex" of expertise means that, within the actual platform of a yacht, they can work their magic and make almost any customisation happen. The easy part is creating aesthetically pleasing images that clients primarily desire, but for the costings, design, engineering and build to collectively work according to a client’s requirements is an entirely different ballgame. Heesen shine at building on time and on budget. However, making 100% sure that the yacht does what it needs to do certainly calls into play a number of other elements. It is quite a process that has to come together to ensure an owner takes delivery of their unique craft whereby specific requirements all work in harmony, and this is where the Heesen team really excel. 

Looking ahead do you have firm goals of where you see Heesen heading and key factors to keep in consideration? 
The main consideration for us is to maintain and safeguard the criteria for success that has brought Heesen to the point we are at today. Quality and reliability are vital measures of reputation and, if these cannot be upheld, then growth really does not matter. Anyone can clearly see that the demand for yachting is growing, and the good news is that Heesen are perceived to be in the "champions league" of players. This in turn means clients feel able to increase their demands on us, and because we are at the top of our game, the questions come our way. Looking ahead I certainly expect more enquiries for fully custom yachts, akin to GALACTICA and SKYFALL. We are already seeing enquiries that emulate this type of yachts really being in demand. 

The strategic plan is that Heesen will further strengthen their dominant position in the 50-55m / 500-800 GT yachts for sale. With the quality, price and reliability offered in the context of Western European yards, no competition comes close to what we can deliver. 

An important factor we take seriously is also to continually strengthen relationships with significant partners in the industry, notably brokerage houses. I still find the very unique cooperation that exists between shipyards and brokers quite incredible – and it works so well. It is really key for Heesen to maintain these associations and also work to advance them.

OI: With such a busy order book, do you see any demographic trends emerging?

FV: With trends in our industry, it is difficult to give an answer that relates directly to company results as you are often dealing with very small numbers which obviously do not reflect any specific demographics. 

However, it is fair to say that Heesen yachts are suitable for any client no matter where in the world! For example, we sold a 55m speculative construction to an owner in Asia, but previously had sold an identical model to an Eastern European client and someone in the USA! Therefore, when we look at the Heesen portfolio, our yachts are definitely go-anywhere vessels, but there are some design elements that are clearly best suited to certain regions. We see that Eastern European clients prefer full displacement yachts that offer stability and comfort, whereas in the US, the penchant tends to be for faster, aluminium boats to access locations such as the Bahamas in the easiest way.

In terms of actual owner trends, of course, we enjoy the regular business from traditional clientele who are fully established, complete with family, and want to enjoy the relaxed Mediterranean yachting scene. Yet since the advent of the internet and tech, emerging UHNW newcomers have brought a far wider wishlist to fit their lifestyle. This younger group of individuals is increasingly looking to purchase yachts with personalisation as an option. 

The Covid era has, of course, augmented the attraction of yachting tremendously. I suppose you can look at it philosophically that where there are losers in life, there are also winners. Within the pandemic situation, yachting has provided a perfect getaway for those who can manage it and, simply by chance, we happen to be in that business in order to benefit from this boost. With the sector of the industry that Heesen fulfil, we are lucky to be one of the yards reaping the benefits from this scenario.

OI: Has your time at Damen given you experience that benefits you in your current position at Heesen?

FV: I work on the principle that if you do what you love, then you will always enjoy your work – and that definitely applies to me! I started at Damen because fundamentally I am just a regular 'boat guy' and one of the reasons I enjoyed it there so much and stayed so long was that it was all about boats and I absolutely loved it. 

In essence, the luxury yachting industry is in some ways different to the overall commercial shipbuilding business, and the general attitude that radiates across the maritime industry is one of long-term vision and teamwork. With feeling a constant pressure on remaining competitive and also efficient, a real help I feel is the friendly network between competitors and colleagues. For instance, I walk into the Monaco Yacht Show and I don't feel like a stranger because I know quite a few people from my longstanding involvement in the industry. Everything seems to fall on the positive side of the spectrum, most of them are friendly and simpatico. Having done business in capital goods for some time I also know that two key attributes needed are patience and diplomacy, which have also been good skills to apply in the luxury sector at Heesen!  

I believe that if you approach this as just a job, clients will immediately know you are doing just that, which doesn’t feel right, as we must remember that for a client this is their real passion and their chosen hobby. So I am addressing the relationship in a far more informal way, which is something that seems to reflect across the yachting landscape. 

OI: Do you get the opportunity to sail?

FV: You may be aware but relying on the weather in Holland is not such a great thing! There seem to be less and less opportunities to go sailing and weather is a big factor. Obviously, time is really my main restriction and, as one of the four leaders at Heesen, the work button is always switched on. However, when I can get out on the water and become detached from everyday life – I do! One of the reasons yachting is so important when you have a busy and pressured life is that you are away from everything and alone with your thoughts. It is all about time, and what time can give you, so you indulge yourself in what you love. I am definitely counting the days to get my boat back in the water!

 

For more information on buying or building your next Heesen yacht, contact the Ocean Independence team.

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