Executive Decision...

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Fairline is one of the impressively managed boatbuilding operations in the world, according to Phil Draper.

MARCH 2007

We are all used to hearing the boatbuilding sector described as a cottage industry. I suspect a great many of us will have made use of the expression or something similar on occasions. I know I have. But I am now going to try and stop; I don’t think it’s helpful.
Of course such comments should be deemed derogatory anyway, but somehow they still manage to come across with a degree of warmth and affection, which is perhaps all rather suggestive of the way things used to be when boatbuilding was more about craft than process. But these days I would suggest such delusions are more dangerous than ever, because, while the cuddly-cottage tag may well still fit some of the smallest players, it most certainly cannot be applied to the biggest and brightest, which I’m sure we all realise are simply getting bigger and more powerful with ever passing season.
The reason I’m beating this drum just now follows a recent visit to Fairline, by my estimation Europe’s seventh-largest pleasure boatbuilder. To suggest this progressive operation is anything other than a world-class business would be ignorance in the extreme. And, more importantly, for some of the smaller builders, to assume competing with big guns like it will ever get any thing other than harder without them raising their own games substantially, is a road to nowhere.

“Now I like Fairline, not least because for the past 10 years or so it has frequently impressed me and continues to do so...” 

I like Fairline, not least because for the past 10 years or so it has frequently impressed me; and it continues to impress. I’m not taking here about the Fairlines themselves, although I know well enough that they can stand proud in their particular market sectors. No. What has really registered with me is the way the company is managed.
For instance, I was extremely impressed six or seven years ago when it went through a very thorough brand-evaluation programme with the help of heavy-hitting firm of consultants from outside the industry. It used what it gleaned from that exercise not only in its marketing strategy, but also to understand what its brand really means and to educate everyone in the company as to what the business behind the brand needed to be in order to leverage it all to best effect.
Then three to four years ago it impressed the hell out of me when it embarked on a ‘branded-environment’ programme, using consultants that previously had worked with the automotive industry; that has led to a cohesive corporate image at boats shows and in the media all over the world, as well as at all its international dealer outlets. I know of no other boatbuilder in the world that has gone further on that score.
And a couple of years ago I was equally impressed when boss Derek Carter led a 3i-backed MBO and even more so when a few months in to its new era it wound up a longstanding arrangement with one major distributor that had been responsible for something like half of its annual production. The reason it took what at the time appeared to be a rather risky move was all about creating a level playing for its international dealers and getting it closer to the end-users.
And most recently of all I’ve been blown away by its lean-manufacturing and supply-chain management initiatives. It maybe only 18 months into what will eventually be a three-year implementation programme, but the pay-offs are already evident all over the company accounts and there’s a lot more to come.
From Fairline’s major competitors I guess this stuff will provoke knowing nods of approval. For everyone else I suspect it will fuel a growing unease that the views from some cosy old cottages are being obliterated by some very big, very modern executive homes!

© Phil Draper