Captains of Industry – Richard Masters
The tale of Richard Masters’ passage from deckhand to yacht captain to captain of industry is so peppered with romance, fate and fascination that it would be a great pity not to recount it verse and chapter. Richard isn’t entirely au fait with this. He’s a man who prefers to discuss the intricacies of his business rather than the nuances of his private life, however, they’re so neatly interwoven it’s almost impossible to disentangle one from the other. Let’s start with the obvious – Mrs Masters. Not only is his wife of 22 years, Justine, mother of their two children, but she’s also a partner and account manager in Master Yachts – an immediate blurring of business and privacy. We need to narrate at least a few chapters…
As a young 20-something, South Africa-born Richard was involved in the commissioning of 49 metre sailing yacht Thalia (a large large boat back in those days) at Vitters Shipyard. Upon her launch in August 1994, she was sailed from Holland to Palma and the captain, Patrick Moussa, employed a pretty blonde Geordie as chief stewardess. In October they set sail for the Caribbean, by February Richard and Justine had fallen in love, and by October 1995 they were married.
Now a Class IV yacht captain (Richard says it was a lot easier to achieve back in those days) he then got promoted from first mate to captain Ninemia, a 1995-launched 31 metre motoryacht also from the Vitters stable. Richard recruited his beloved as chef. Working for a Greek owner, they found themselves based in Athens and enjoyed wedded bliss afloat until Justine fell pregnant with baby number one. She returned to the safety and comfort of Mallorca, the Island Justine had called ‘home’ since sailing there with her father in 1985.
Richard continued at the helm of Ninemia for another three years until Justine was carrying baby number two. Richard didn’t work rotation, he was away 11 months of the year, Justine was nursing a growing bump, and a penny loudly dropped – it was time to set up roots on land. Soon after their baby daughter was born – so too was Master Yachts.
If you ask Richard what is the key to Master Yachts’ success, he’ll give you a three-pronged answer: timing, kindness and luck. The year was 2002 and the yachting industry was on an upward trajectory. Many wealthy individuals were considering buying and building superyachts. Boats were getting bigger and bigger and requiring more and more crew. This is where Richard’s aforementioned ‘timing’ comes in. By the time global recession hit in 2008-2009, Master Yachts had already supervised the build of ten yachts, were managing all of them, and had more than sufficient momentum to sustain the ‘flatline’.
The owner of Ninemia donated the kindness part. When Richard told him he was leaving to start a yacht management business ashore, the Greek shipping magnate said he would help and recommend him to his friends. He requested a business plan and, having convinced him of its viability, offered Richard a year’s advance to manage Ninemia’s affairs and wrote out a cheque. This act of kindness kick started Master Yachts. The ‘luck’ was being in the right place at the right time, affording him the chance to coincide perfect timing with bighearted kindness.
In a nutshell, Richard’s business plan was to act as the owner’s representative for large new builds of 30 to 40 metres (back in those days, that was ‘large’) regardless of which shipyard they were being constructed in. Ordinarily, the owner would ask Master Yachts to manage the first year of the yachts’ life, ironing out any warranty issues, and invariably this would just rollover from one year to the next. 80% of the vessels Master Yachts has built (21 to date) are now under its management.
What started as husband-wife garage-based business, baby bobbing about in the bouncer, is now a slick operation run by a staff of 32 from offices in Antibes, Athens, Byron Bay, Istanbul, the Isle of Man, Jersey, and the Mallorca HQ on Palma’s Paseo Marítimo. Master Yachts is now the largest international large yacht management company in Mallorca looking after everything from 12 metre fast RIBs to 150 metre royal yachts. Richard credits much of this prosperity to his decision to headquarter in Mallorca.
“We’re very fortunate with our location, it’s very easy to find amazing people to work for us and we’re able to recruit the crème de la crème,” says Richard. “If we put feelers out for a new team member, ten CVs land on my desk within the hour. Most of our staff are highly-skilled ex captains, chief engineers, chief stewardesses, pursers, and they bring an immense amount of knowledge and first-hand experience to the table. In Mallorca there are plenty of talented crew who want to go land based – just like we did 15 years ago. Our prominent marina-front office is a show of confidence and allegiance to this incredible island, a magnet for both cruising and refit with an extraordinarily bright future.”
Richard’s recruitment process has also been sprinkled with a touch of fate and luck. The captain who introduced Richard and Justine to Thalia (and indirectly each other) joined Master Yachts in 2006 as a third partner. Richard persuaded Patrick out of retirement and capitalised on his IT skills to build MYConnect, an online document management system giving crew and owners transparent real-time access to accounts, salaries, crew lists and so on – it’s without equal in the yacht management business. His valuable work now done, Patrick has since managed to happily slip back into retirement.
Blasts from the past Adrian and wife Paula also re-entered Richard’s life to become Master Yachts colleagues. Adrian heads up MYSafety as another partner, ensuring new builds are International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) and International Safety Management (ISM) compliant, while Paula works in crew administration looking after matters such as contracts, payroll, insurance and visas. Serendipitously Adrian and Paula were Richard and Justine’s replacements on Ninemia a decade or so prior.
Sticking religiously to management and supervision services in build, refit and operations, there are some tasks he’d rather leave to the others. “Brokerage, charter and recruitment – they were the three things I said Master Yachts would never do, and we never have,” continues Richard. “Everyone said we would fail. How would we possibly generate enough income stream without offering those ‘expected’ services. Well we’re doing just fine. Currently Master Yachts is one of only two large yacht management companies in the Med that don’t touch brokerage.”
Now 47, Richard says he has “plenty of days left” in his life and certainly displays boundless energy. He estimates around 98% of his business takes place off-island and just a few days after we met he was flying to a quick face-to-face lunch meeting in San Diego, returning home via London and Dubai. “I am going to place no limits on Master Yachts’ expansion,” confirms Richard. “We have a hugely capable international team and there is no shortage of highly intelligent human resources for our Mallorca HQ – it’s a great place for skilled ex-captains and crew to live and work.”
In fact Richard already has his next venture lined up and ready to go – Master Asset Management. “It’s a natural evolution for us,” explains Richard. “We are already asset managers, but will now specialise in anything that moves, so that’s integrated logistics for private jets, helicopters and car fleets. We can add all this to our management portfolio in MYConnect and handle risk, safety, accounts, payroll, varying regulations between different geographic regions, and more – just like we do with the yachts.”
“There is no end to the number of valuable assets available to manage in the world. It’s a niche yet growing market dictated by a strong world economy headed by highly intelligent entrepreneurs. It’s a privilege to look after these entrepreneurs’ interests and Master Yachts will continue to do so with dedication and joy.”
Sarah Forge, email@example.com