Passion Plays...

< < Go back


Paolo Vitelli, owner-president of Azimut-Benetti, and Robert Braithwaite, major shareholder in Sunseeker International, have both built up hugely successful businesses over the past three or four decades. And neither has plans to sell, says Phil Draper.


Over getting on for 18 years as a journalist specialising in the marine leisure business, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to badger senior management on delicate issues, asking whether they’re going bust or whether they’re in the process of being sold. Or indeed asking whether they’re in the process of, or close to, a particular acquisition.
Chasing rumours and digging are part and parcel of the job and there will be quite a few of you out there that know all too well how I’ve had to hassle and how often. Certainly while tapping this out I can picture all sorts of your frowns, tuts, grimaces, raised eyebrows and the occasional chuckle, not to mention a few extremes of anger and howls of laughter. My questions have prompted them all and then some.
The answers I’ve had are sometimes true and sometimes abject lies, which of course in certain circumstances is all I could really expect; and then there’s been everything between. But what I’ve always done is report the answers, attributing wherever possible the source of the quote. That way I have always managed to put my hands in the air when the opposite happens a day or two later and respond to all jibes with a ‘hey, I’m just a reporter, writing what people tell me’. As a cop out, that one’s well worn!

"Azimut-Benetti's Paolo Vitelli: "What better investment could I possibly have for my money?" 

What brings all this to mind are two very similar responses I had recently from two of the most successful boatbuilders in the business. To both I asked the usual questions, all be they wrapped up differently in cotton wool. The gist was the same though: ‘Are you going to retire some day soon and sell the business?’ is what was being asked.
The first of those put on the spot was Robert Braithwaite, who owns Sunseeker International along with his younger brother John. Now Robert has had me on his case about such things for at least a decade and we both know that in the past he has come reasonably close to selling, or reasonably close to thinking of selling, not least because he is not the only one in the business; when your partner is also your brother, and your brother would perhaps like to step back a little and enjoy some of the obvious financial rewards of such success, such decisions can never be taken lightly.
But this time when I asked I got a more resounding ‘no’ than usual. ‘I have made a firm decision that I am holding on to the company,’ he said. He relayed how he had recently increased his majority shareholding from 50(ish) per cent to 62 per cent with the help of Bank of Scotland Corporate and that now both brothers were happy. In effect he was saying ‘I don’t need the money, I love this company and enjoy what I do, so why the hell should I sell?’ or words to that effect.
A similar response to a similar question came just a month later from Paolo Vitelli, the boss and major shareholder in Azimut-Benetti. Without going over the whole scenario, he told how yes he was planning to step back a little and had organized things so that he could. But when pushed as to whether he wanted out, he also said ‘why should I? The company continues to grow at a significant rate, not by acquisition, but by on-going developments within its core business sector and it was still very profitable. He concluded with a rhetorical question. “What better investment could I possibly have for my money,” he said.
It is a testament to just how good things are in this business for the best managed companies that my only thought on walking away from that latter encounter — and such a slick reply — was that he was almost certainly right.
This business is a damn good investment at the moment — providing you’re doing it properly!

© Phil Draper