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Articles International Women’s Day – Marialuisa Francia

This International Women's Day, Ocean Independence speak to naval architect Marialuisa Francia to discover more about her role and where her motivation lies.

Marialuisa Francia most definitely inherited her passion for the marine world from her family’s deep-seated love of sailing. Being born in Viareggio, a location with strong seafaring ties, further increased Marialuisa’s appetite for all things nautical. Graduating in Naval Architecture from the University of Genoa, she focused on gaining experience at the most advanced builders and research centres within the leisure yachting industry. To date, Marialuisa is one the youngest (and one of very few female) naval architects in Italy. For International Women’s Day 2022, Ocean Independence delved a little deeper to discover more about her role and where her motivation lies.

Growing up by the sea and enjoying regular family sailing trips, Marialuisa had clear intentions for her career. “By the time I finished high school and had to decide what path to follow at university, I had no doubt that I wanted to be an engineer within the marine industry,” she recalls. “My course was taught in English and based in La Spezia. It focussed on the world of pleasure yachting whilst integrating traditional naval architecture with a focus on the latest design and building techniques. It included studying composite materials, scantling and construction, computation fluid dynamics for planing hulls and sailing yachts, together with some fundamental interior and exterior design.” Clearly Marialuisa thrived at university, finding her niche and excelling in her field, loving what she studied. She reminisces, “I have no doubt I would choose the same course over and over again, every time”.

After graduating and working as a project engineer for some years, by the age of 26 Marialuisa had already accomplished her first America’s Cup campaign. She founded Skyron, a yacht design and engineering company, with a group of likeminded colleagues, describing the team as “a group of naval architects providing design, technical, office and management support to several yachting industries based on Italian and European soil. Each of us specialises in a different area, so we cover all requirements from yacht design and building through to systems design and project management”. Marialuisa is the self-confessed “shipyard man”, gathering experience from her focus on yard and project supervision for both motor and sailing yachts. She explains, “I am in charge of more than one project at a time, plus planning everyone’s jobs and schedules, then the challenge of making sure everything happens on time and within budget. All this while checking on drawings, ensuring technical standards and client’s requirements are fulfilled on board plus following all the construction phases in the yard closely! It is a demanding role!”.

As one of the few female naval architects in the industry, Marialuisa has faced some challenges but proudly speaks of positives, “Women in the marine industry can still appear as a novelty to some people, especially in technical roles such as mine, and even more for those with responsibilities within yacht construction” she continues, “Being an active part of this is both challenging and satisfying. Occasionally, I do get the impression that some people have higher expectations from a woman working within a typically male dominated industry, but if you know your business, all relationships find their flow quickly and smoothly along a natural path. Most of the time I am the only woman engineer on the yard floor or sitting around a conference table. Fortunately, most people find it encouraging and inspiring that women are more and more involved in the marine industry; the sceptical ones just need few minutes of technical conversation to forget any gender issue!”.  Working in a position of large responsibility, it would be easy to feel a great deal of pressure when managing expectations for clients, but instead Marialuisa finds the collaborative effort of projects to be extremely stimulating.  “It can be stressful sometimes making sure that everyone keeps up despite the pressure, which seems to be a common obstacle in the custom leisure yachts industry” she states. “While managing other people, you can never slow down, but the final result is always so satisfying. My job is not only a matter of technical preparation; human attitude is just as critical. It requires a certain level of diplomacy, tons of energy to motivate people, and as with all roles featuring accountability, it requires organization, method, and discipline”.

Keen to encourage other women to work in naval architecture, Marialuisa is most definitely a role model, explaining that “women should just feel comfortable to join this world, as they are far more welcome than they may previously expect”. She advises, “Requiring a specific attitude and passion for engineering studies is vital, but the yachting industry is a luxury niche with so many branches, there are numerous areas where you can fit in. For example, perhaps as an interior designer or utilising prior economics, marketing, and human resources experience”.

From a personal perspective, Marialuisa’s next goal is to open a new company office based in Genoa. This would cover the northern Italian west coast and French Côte d’Azur area, where the industry is extremely active for superyacht builds and refits. In her spare time, when she manages to find a moment, her passion is sailing. “I love sailing, I have my licence and since university I have taken any chance possible to sail – as a crew member or captain for transfers, on holidays and with family.” Marialuisa enthuses, “I even spent my honeymoon sailing the Mediterranean alone with my husband! I could not live without the sea, and that is probably why I enjoy my job so much. There is no bigger satisfaction than seeing your creations take to the sea for the first time.”

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