Captains of Industry – Bea Alonso
Sarah Forge, email@example.com
Bea Alonso has her family business to thank for climbing to the top of the yachting tree – a little leftfield given she is from a family of butchers.
When she was 17, Bea’s brother returned from a meat delivery to Lantimar with news that they were searching for a summer intern. An agent for cruise ships, navy ships and the ninth biggest superyacht in the world (at the time) Lady Moura, it seemed like a pretty colourful way to spend the holidays so she seized the opportunity.
“At the beginning I had little idea what I was doing,” explains Bea. “Essentially I was recruited as a runner and I spent my days doing exactly that, running from one boat to another dropping off lemons, picking up postcards, barely sleeping and functioning on adrenalin.”
“I was a young woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, and not very tall, so no one took me seriously. This meant I had to work hard to develop a strong character. I became addicted to the job, I loved it, and when I turned 18 they made me an offer to stay full time.”
Bea split her time between cruise ships, navy ships and Lady Moura – where she eventually held the role of PA to her Lebanese owner.
“I was most impressed by the navy ships,” says Bea, “aircraft carriers such as USS Dwight D Eisenhower and USS Saratoga that arrived with upwards of 5,000 crew apiece. Palma welcomed these ships to great fanfare as they brought a certain je ne sais quoi to the island. I found the captains and admirals so polite, so easy to work with, as we organised their cars, phone contracts, security detail and onshore requirements to tight military protocols.”
“Lantimar were agents for Costa Cruises, and for Thomson Cruises when they started in 1995 – we were the first ones working on Thomson cruise ship turnarounds. We were also at the launch of AIDA in 1996. The first time I saw an AIDA ship I thought ‘wow’ – they were so modern and offered a revolutionary new cruising experience.”
“I would meet the liners in Ibiza, handle immigration and customs and then stay on board ‘til Palma and repeat the process the next morning. In winter, I would follow Thomson ships around the Canary Islands. I worked Saturdays, Sundays, night shifts, it was full-on. There was no time for romance, in fact any kind of personal life.”
Lantimar founder and boss Toni Riera proved to be a great guide to young Bea and gifted her with his wisdom. “His most important lesson was to impress upon me to offer the same service and dedication to the captain as to the most junior deckhand – this ethos would stay with me for life.”
After ten years intensive education and experience, for the sake of her health 28-year-old Bea needed a rest and she reluctantly offered her resignation.
Later that year, refreshed and revitalised, Bea brought her decade of customer service experience to a completely different industry and took up a position with heavyweight hotel chain Sol Meliá (the ‘Sol’ vanished in 2011). Bea joined at the same time as award-winning Marcello Pigozzo who had recently sidestepped from InterContinental Hotels to become Sol Meliá’s Executive Vice President Operations. She became his assistant and together they focussed on achieving higher profitability for hotel owners and, most importantly, greater satisfaction for hotel guests.
“Marcelo became the second really important man in my life, another inspirational mentor like Toni Riera before him. He was responsible for supervising new hotels in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and brought great energy, team work and an open mind to the company. He introduced the American world into the Spanish brand and shared Toni’s ethos for giving everyone VIP concierge treatment – regardless of who they were. Even though he was Executive Vice President, he would telephone disgruntled guests directly in their room.”
“Marcelo lasted two years, when he left I left – I had no intention of remaining. But it had certainly been nice to be away from boats for two years. I then met the third man in my life – Leo Selter.”
Dutchman Leo was owner and manager of Astilleros Palma, a small refit shipyard that existed before STP was a twinkle in anyone’s eye. He contracted Bea, who was now in her early 30s, to work with him at Izar shipyard in Cartagena on the Spanish mainland. After two years Leo pushed her to open her own yacht agency.
Bea recounts, “I wasn’t really considering the idea, but Leo gave me the belief that I could do it. He knew how to set up a company in Spain, had faced great challenges being a foreigner working amongst locals, and gave me all the advice and support I needed. So, in 2004, I set up BA Yachts – and that meant only yachts, no cruise or navy ships this time.”
Working from home on a laptop, Bea’s one yacht under management became two, then three, then four, and she recruited another team member to help out. As the business grew, it was clear they didn’t have the facilities to cope.
“This was when I met the fourth, and most special, man in my life, Enrique. He was working for Transcoma Shipping, a similar business to Lantimar. I was looking for storage, offices, branding, a good location, and Transcoma was looking for a COO. We arrived at a contra deal and BA Yachts set up shop within Transcoma’s offices forcing me to dive back into cruise ships and tankers.”
“The arrangement got rapidly complicated. That first summer I was working like crazy, all day and all night. I couldn’t attend to my growing yacht agency business at the same time as waiting for tankers to arrive on Dique del Oeste at 2am so, in 2006, I left. BA Yachts rented a small apartment on the PaseoMaritimo and we grew a fantastic business based largely on captain-to-captain recommendation. So fantastic in fact that barely a year later someone wanted to buy us out.”
That ‘someone’ was Neil Miller and Laurence Milton. They’d previously purchased Yacht Fuel Services in 2005 and Yacht Help Group in 2007 and wanted to add BA Yachts to their growing portfolio.
“I was young, they made a good offer, so I took it,” admits Bea. “The deal dictated that I remain in the company for the next three years and I was immediately asked to merge Yacht Help Group and BA Yachts, reduce headcount, increase efficiency, and manage it. I went from local to international, two staff to 13 staff, and it all happened very quickly – perhaps too quickly.”
“In 2008, before I could fully find my feet, Y.CO made a reverse takeover to acquire Neil and Laurence’s much larger superyacht services business. Suddenly I was now representing Y.CO in Spain, managing offices in Palma and Barcelona. Needless to say there was plenty of conflict and confusion between the businesses. The three years went by in a turbulent flash and I quietly made my escape.”
In 2010, together with former Y.CO Barcelona employees Belén and John, Evolution Yacht Agents was born.
“Our business was the same, but different, an evolution – hence the name,” explains Bea. “I was ready, the time was right, I’d learned enough over the years and I had a very clear plan. In Evolution Yacht Agents I found my home, my project, my baby. You could say the full evolution was complete when I married that fourth special man, Enrique, in 2012, although we never had a honeymoon – make sure you write that in the article.” (She joked.)
Today, 43-year-old Bea employs up to 50 people and has offices in Barcelona, Valencia, Ibiza, Cartagena, Málaga and two here in Mallorca.
“As the boats get bigger, they get more demanding and we’re bringing yacht agency to another level – offering a high degree of personal attention 24/7. Summer is indeed our peak season, but we have customs, storage, logistics to manage all year round and plenty of ideas and projects in the pipeline. I am responsible for all the families employed by Evolution Yacht Agents and it’s important we build a sustainable business.”
As our first fairer sex ‘Captain of Industry’, it felt fitting to touch on the subject of being a (petite, blonde, young) female in the yachting industry.
“In my career, nothing compares to the men who have brought me to this moment. Toni, Marcelo, Leo and, of course, Enrique. Extraordinary men who have seen something in me, imparted all their knowledge and given me every opportunity to succeed.”
“We are all different, but I have never particularly encountered limitations on my career. I have learned a lot from my male bosses, and my colleagues, learned to be kind, treat people well and doors will open. Maybe it’s because I have never been too political. I have been offered political positions, but declined as I’m not keen on the exposure. Perhaps I would have found more sexism in politics?”
If Bea was to get political, she would leap on her soapbox on the subject of conservation and yachting. “Senior figures in Mallorca are not aware of how much good the superyacht industry does for the island and the environment. Owners, captains and crew are passionate about the sea, and passionate about taking care of the sea. Instead of making complaints about this ‘elitist’ industry, the island should be investing in these VIPs and providing high-end services – take some tips from Croatia and Montenegro perhaps.”
Let’s hope someone takes up apolitical Bea’s baton.