On Wednesday 2 December 2015 British boat builder Fairline collapsed and was placed into administration putting hundreds of livelihoods at risk. On Monday 25 January 2016 it was announced that UK-based Russian businessmen Alexander Volov and Igor Glyanenko had paid around 4.5 million pounds to acquire the assets of ‘Fairline Boats’ and would have a fresh start under the new name of ‘Fairline Yachts Limited’.
That very same day, three industry veterans – Russell Currie (Managing Director), Karl Gilding (Business Development Director) and Martyn Hicks (Technical Director) – walked into the head office in Oundle, Northamptonshire, rolled up their sleeves and got on with rebuilding a business and a brand. Russell, a long-time Mallorca resident and Fairline North Mallorca dealer for 20 years, shares the story.
“On that Monday, just over a year ago, we collected the keys, checked the electric and water meters, cleared a desk and set up an operations room to work on a game plan. Thanks to the work of the administrators, we effectively had zero employees, zero dealers and zero boats, but we faced the task with great experience, energy and optimism.”
“Word quickly got round Fairline’s former dealer network and the phones started buzzing, including a call from an Italian dealer requesting a Targa 48 for a client. Queues formed outside the factory with previous and potential employees desperate to hand in their CVs – the laid-off gate man offered us a hand and gave out contact details for applications. The Italian dealer rang back at the end of the day and asked where he should send the deposit. We walked back to the hotel completely shell-shocked but, thanks to the credibility of our team, we had sold a boat on our first day. It was symbolic that everything was going to be ok.”
The demise of Fairline Boats was plainly visible but when it finally crumpled there was always going to be a buyer. The Russian Fairline dealer introduced two associates – Alexander and Igor – who had already expressed an interest in a shipyard, and they met with Russell and co in London to start talks. These took place during the same week as the 2016 London Boat Show – the first London Boat Show in 28 years that Russell had failed to attend.
Described by Russell as “humble business guys with interests in media, manufacturing and broadcasting”, these enthusiastic boaters quickly made the move to acquire the British boat builder and tasked the three directors with building up a profitable business. Larisa Bondareva, a Russian national and British citizen, has since become the fourth member of the senior management team in the role of Financial Director. Her native language skills ensure nothing is lost in translation at board meetings – and right now she’s communicating nothing but good news to her compatriots.
“Bearing in mind we started with nothing, 18 month old Fairline Yachts Limited has an incredible 48 boats in build for 2017. We hope to ramp this up to 50 so we can create 50 boats in Fairline’s 50th year – admittedly more a stroke of luck than a stroke of genius. Considering it took six months to get the production lines going, we now have six in operation plus a workforce of 277 with an ongoing recruitment drive to take on 20% more.”
“We’re also looking at additional premises on the coast, chiefly to get round the headaches caused by transporting the larger yachts. Each time roads are repaired and resurfaced, bridge heights become lower and lower and this shrinks our access to the sea. Meetings are ongoing with a local MP in East Anglia to discuss a waterfront assembly facility.”
Fairline’s ‘home’ MP, 28 year old Tom Pursglove, currently the youngest Conservative MP, is hugely supportive of the business, a flourishing British manufacturer with 95% of its products going to export. Russell met with Tom and several Parliament colleagues at Westminster last February and the overwhelming response was, “this is a great story, what can we do to help?”. With Brexit looming on the horizon, this kind of endorsement is most welcome.
So how has the successful ‘Vote Leave’ campaign affected fledgling ‘new Fairline’? Russell (who incidentally is Scottish by birth) says, “Overseas buyers have always found Britishness and quality appealing, but almost overnight we had a vast currency advantage over our European competitors. At last year’s US and European boat shows we made sure that the buying public knew that we were pretty much 15–20% cheaper than the previous year – amplified by the fact that we made a decision not to put our prices up in 2016. Yes some of our material costs went up, but our labour costs didn’t and we remain hugely competitive.”
With 70 boats scheduled to be manufactured in 2018 and 100 in 2019, Fairline Yachts Limited is on track to be a very nice profitable business but it has no plans for high volumes or high overheads. “We are not the giants of Sunseeker and Princess, we have our own place in the market and will sell on our own merits of competitive pricing and quality. Our client is someone who wants to enjoy his or her wealth, a discreet businessperson who views a boat as a luxury he may not need but is nice to have. We look after our clients through the model range, upsizing and downsizing as their commitments change, and will keep in our ‘sweet spot’ when it comes to size – although you should watch this space for smaller and larger models.”
Speaking of new models, Fairline has reengineered some existing models (such as the Targa 53 Open and the Squadron 65) and has a new Fairline generation in the pipeline combining the talents of Italian designer Alberto Mancini and Dutch naval architects Vripack – the first of which, the Targa 63 GTO, is ready for launch in Cannes 2017. A Targa 43 Open will swiftly follow. Each will be finished by hand to a level of excellence.
“‘Old Fairline’ was great, however, like many businesses, it went through a period of increased automated input in terms of manufacturing. ‘New Fairline’ is going back to finishing by hand. Amongst the assets bought from the administrator were superb high-volume machines that offered little flexibility in terms of interior carpentry detailing. We auctioned off the lacquering machine as it could only spray flat pieces. As you’ll see in our latest models, abrupt edges have been replaced by soft inviting curves and these are polished by hand. The craftsman can judge if the finish is good enough – if not, give it another go until it’s perfect.”
Fairline is keen for its 50th anniversary year to be marked with panache. On 10 June at least 35 Fairlines from Mallorca, Ibiza, Formentera, mainland Spain and even one from Antibes will muster on the outskirts of the Bay of Soller for an authentic Argentinean asado accompanied by live entertainment. A helicopter will whizz overhead for a few hours capturing memories for all those who attend. Of course the goal is for a symbolic 50 yachts – the local dealers are working towards this. Back at Oundle, a fun barbecue is planned for 15 July with the management team mucking in behind the bar and taking staff friends and family on behind-the-scenes tours of the factory. In fact dealers from as far afield as Chesapeake Virginia and Cape Town South Africa will celebrate the half-century milestone in their own special way.
It seems the man from Mallorca has played a masterstroke and helped take Fairline from zero to hero in a matter of months. It goes without saying that we wish Russell and his team every success for the next 50 years in Fairline’s history.
By Sarah Drane – firstname.lastname@example.org