Seas of change: C&NI’s Laurent Perignon talks about the future of superyachts

Losses incurred at the onset of the financial crisis have required that the yachting industry adapt in order to take advantage of new market opportunities

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Ocean Victory, the largest Feadship ever offered for sale. C&NI COO Laurent Perignon is optimistic about the future of the superyacht industry

The yachting market has experienced its fair share of peaks and troughs of late, though one thing that has remained constant is Camper and Nicholson’s (C&NI) standing at the industry’s bow. After having suffered quite a significant blow at the onset of the financial crisis, the market has undergone quite considerable repair work and is only now beginning to recoup the losses stemming from a half decade ago.

“Activity levels are high, charter business is good, and America is showing excellent signs of recovery,” says C&NI’s COO Laurent Perignon. “However, the climate remains pretty fickle and Europe is yet to catch up with the US, which is certainly a challenge for us,” he adds.

“In any case, recent history has shown that this is an industry not only shaped by supply and demand, but one that is also cyclical in nature. The superyacht industry is still a buyers market without any significant contribution from emerging markets such as China and South America yet,” says Perignon, who rightly concedes that an upturn in luxury goods consumption is in large part due to emerging market growth.

The appetite from emerging markets may have fallen short of its potential in the yachting industry, but this is not to say that developing parties will not account for a sizeable share of the market sometime in the future. Taste for luxury products in Asia in particular has taken to the skies in recent years and will no doubt see superyacht sales boom soon, provided the upturn continues.

While the importance of emerging markets mustn’t be underestimated, the hotspots for expertise will remain in the hubs of old, these being predominantly in Western Europe. And so it is those that, for now, take priority. Moreover, maintaining a steady stream of clients requires that companies such as C&NI understand how to tailor yachts to individual specifications and embrace the uniqueness of luxury at every juncture.

C&NI: At the front of the fleet
Regardless of recent challenges in the wider economy, if there exists a company capable of capitalising on change it is most likely C&NI, being a player that boasts industry experience dating as far back as 1782 and host to the most complete portfolio of services and products the world over.

The freedom [of luxury yacht charter] is worth a lot, especially to those who are well-known

Since the company’s beginnings as a Gosport-based shipyard, C&NI has seen the arrival of numerous market competitors and the process of shipbuilding in itself transform beyond compare. Skip forward to the new post-crisis landscape of the present day and although the shipping market has fallen somewhat into disrepair, early indicators show that C&NI is well equipped to weather these changes and reconfigure its products and services.

Speaking with a marked extent of modesty on the commonly held perception that C&NI is the superyacht market leader, Perignon says, “Every reputation is built step by step, and every progression is made by constantly reflecting on past achievements with a critical eye and seeing what it is that can be done better. There’s always something that can be improved upon, because reaching the top is a very relative concept and someone else can always overtake you. Only statues stand on pedestals.”

The company’s COO also believes that, irrespective of the current climate, superyachts are still proving a worthwhile purchase for those with the financial means to do so. “The freedom is worth a lot, especially to those who are well-known. Not to mention having the option to go anywhere you want and be with whom you want, in the privacy of your vessel, while enjoying the beauties this world has to offer from an entirely different perspective. Of course, one can enjoy and experience the sea on a small boat too – and I try and do that whenever I can – but for someone who can afford it, nothing beats the enchanting atmosphere onboard a large yacht, surrounded by close friends and family.”

Luxury yachts with a creative difference
Recognising that luxury brings with it an inherent sense of flair and individuality. C&NI seeks, in all it does, to ensure each sale is in keeping with the customer’s sense of self. Whether it be building a custom yacht or choosing from an existing range of impressive specimens, the company’s team of experienced staff are capable of facilitating that perfect superyacht purchase or charter.

Perignon himself is indicative of C&NI’s flair for artistry and luxury, being a character whose success in yachting is in large part due to his many outside fields of expertise. His role as COO is still new, having secured the position as recently as August 2011 after having spent the past five years heading marketing and business development under the title Director of Marketing. However, rather than a long history in yachting alone, Perignon’s past experiences are steeped in creativity and supplemented by an astute understanding of how a business can successfully negotiate change.

In most cases there is no need to reinvent the wheel, but rather to observe what is already out there and see how it can be bettered

“I’m a trained teacher and sociologist, with additional education in journalism, publishing, advertising and communication, as well as theatre stage direction,” says Perignon. “All of these various skill sets, combined with a range of professional experiences in numerous regions of the world, have led me to where I am today. Every aspect has at some point helped me along the way and my introduction to the industry is really due to chance encounters with those in the yachting market and a personal interest in sailing. Product wise, I have dealt with the visual arts, private aviation, cultural events, luxury products, and have done so from various angles, from management to sales to marketing.”

Numerous fields of interest and expertise, such as those belonging to Perignon, ensure that C&NI maintains a dynamic outlook on the various fields intersecting the yachting industry. Just as Perignon’s interests lie not only with yachting, C&NI’s focus extends beyond the immediate industry so as to better understand a wider cross section of customers.

Turning tides
Speaking on the ways in which he pursues innovation and how the company has advanced the industry, Perignon says, “I always observe, even scrutinise, the world around in search for ideas that generally exist elsewhere. In this way I try and see how these can be adapted, developed and enhanced further still to suit our own needs. In most cases there is no need to reinvent the wheel, but rather to observe what is already out there and see how it can be bettered.” With this philosophy, Perignon has risen to the upper echelons of the yachting world and established what it takes to succeed in the luxury market.

“Something that is equally important is to be able to keep an analytical and critical distance from what it is we immerse ourselves in, so as not to jump to conclusions too fast but to be in a position where we can make the right decisions. I don’t particularly believe in innovation for innovation’s sake, and every step forward must have a clear objective in the wider scheme of the future. Sometimes you fail but this is fine, as long as you learn from it.”

In that same spirit, Perignon draws on numerous points of influence in illustrating what it takes to grow a successful business. The COO likens his philosophy to John Lennon’s in that he believes “there are no problems, only solutions”, and references TS Eliot in establishing that it is “the journey, not the arrival that matters”.

It can be said that C&NI’s biggest strength lies in large part in its strong sense of diversity. With departments spanning sales, chartering, construction, management, analytics and more, the company is without compare with regards to the sheer range and quality of services on offer. Couple this with the willingness at top level to embrace change and innovation at every juncture, and the reasoning for C&NI’s status at the head of yachting is clear to see.