Setting a new course: interview with Fraser CEO Raphael Sauleau

- Leadership - Apr 06, 2017

“The yachting industry is becoming more transparent and doing a better job of displaying itself as a real industry that provides livelihoods for people,” comments Raphael Sauleau, CEO of Fraser.

Indeed, 2017 marks seven decades of Fraser supporting the livelihoods of mariners, manufacturers, craftsmen, and crew workers around the world. It is the world’s largest luxury yacht service provider, with 150 employees and 12 offices in different corners of the globe.

And while the 70 year milestone is no small achievement, Sauleau is as keen to look forward as he is to celebrate the past. “To mark the occasion we are running several internal events with our employees,” he explains, “but there won’t necessarily be a big major party. We want to of course celebrate that we have been around for 70 years but also send the message that we are here for the future as well.”

New heading

For relatively new boss Sauleau, who joined in April 2016 after being in the shipping business for 15 years, the job is not only to maintain the company’s already-formidable reputation but also install a fresh impetus and focus. Targeting younger audiences, communicating transparency and encouraging social and environmental responsibility form the crux of this subtle re-imaging.

Sauleau continues: “The first six months was partly spent understanding exactly how yachting brokerage, management and charter retail works. I put things together and also had the opportunity to review the company’s image, how this has been formed over time and how we can try to strengthen this. I don’t expect a revolution, more of an evolution which consists of some new projects which have been evident since January.

“We have an established line of customers but it is equally important to try to attract new customers who have not yet been exposed to yachting. They might not be your buyers, but if we can expose them to yachting they may start with chartering and then one day buy a yacht from us when the time is right. The approach to this generation is different, and we are trying many things, some of which have generated some strong interest. It is about encouraging them to try yachting and share the experience, starting up a long term relationship that could lead into a yacht purchase later on.”

One such project has been the launching of a brand new Fraser website. A huge leap forward from its predecessor, the softer branding and sleeker interface makes for easy navigation and clear messaging throughout. Sauleau once more returns to the topic of transparency, pointing towards how the website acts as a new portal of news and information outlining company activities, there for all to see.

New print collateral has also been reinforcing Fraser Yacht’s branding evolution. “We have just made a beautiful new catalogue for people’s coffee tables and we have sent this to over 4,000 people,” Sauleau says proudly. “What is important, however, is that as soon as you get an inquiry, you have to be the first one to answer. The initial contact, the first impression, is so often the lasting factor.

“However, while we are seeking new customers, our existing customers are still possibly our greatest marketing tool. They are the ones who talk to their friends and say you should go to these guys, so we are working harder than ever to keep them with us.”

Flagship

With more and more competition entering the market, the need for effective customer retention alongside attracting new clients is more important than ever before.

For Sauleau, this is a sign that the industry is in good health and heading in a largely positive direction. “2016 was another very good year, even though it was not quite as strong as 2015,” he explains. “This is a growing industry and one which has taken big steps to professionalise itself in regards to new regulations and maritime laws.” 

Such growth has fuelled the rise of a myriad of smaller, agile brokers eager to challenge the yachting establishment – a trend which Sauleau sees as a boost for innovation and extra motivator for companies like Fraser.

“It is a competitive industry,” he says. “There are eight to 10 bigger companies but also a lot of small brokerages who are taking their own piece of the pie, so you have to be on top of your game. This is not only true in terms of marketing and getting your name out there, but also in terms of staying close to your client, making sure they stay with you and recommend you to others. The market is vibrant, things are happening.” 

Transparency

Although already boss of the world’s leading luxury yacht provider, Sauleau is determined to establish points of difference in other areas from environmental stewardship to flag bearing for the industry as a whole.

To mark the company’s 70th birthday, Fraser is partnering with Plastic Oceans, a charity dedicated to cleaning up oceans and shifting attitudes towards waste. More than eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped into oceans every year, oceans which are crucial in stemming the tide of climate change. Far beyond a birthday celebration gesture, the company has been working closely with management and yacht owners on sustainable practice and technology.

Sauleau adds: “We are making big efforts to become more involved in environmental work, and while we have just started with Plastic Oceans, this is something we view in the long term and want to see through. Yachting has a big role to play in ensuring the preservation of our oceans.

“The yards themselves are also working hard at developing new technologies in an effort to become more sustainable. Yacht owners are playing a big role in this cleaner approach, for example using battery technology to save fuel.”

Supporting and publicising these projects all helps to transform perceptions of the industry, which feeds into Sauleau’s long term ambitions.

“Often we see yachting as a somewhat glitzy, rich and famous world, but at Fraser we want to display yachting as an industry which provides employment all over the globe, and an industry which has rejuvenated traditional craftsmanship which is in danger of disappearing,” he says.

“The job is to make sure we’re here for another 70 years. As a company of course we want to maintain our position as the biggest seller, but also as a leader in terms of transparency and image. We want to be building partnerships and helping to preserve our oceans while educating the general public about the positive role the industry plays around the world.”

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