Expert piece by Steve Puckering, CEO at Smart Technology Advisers
Ethics still seem at a premium in yachting, but are we finally on the edge of a morality revolution?
We have all experienced the anger and frustration of knowing your latest quotation has been passed to a competitor and you’ve lost out on another contract to a ‘preferred supplier’. Or perhaps you have been ‘black-balled’ by a key decision maker/influencer because you won’t pay the commission they demand to put you forward.
You hear words such as ‘ethics’,’ transparency’ and ‘accountability’ taking on greater meaning today in the yachting press and at industry events. Perhaps it was the ISS under Ken Hickling’s guidance that got the ‘ball rolling’ with the publication of its ethics programme and its ‘Superyacht Business Principles’ paper. Around 80 people/organisations have so far signed up to this. Our company, SMART, has just added its name to it, but there are some very notable omissions.
As such, it’s about time that the word ‘ethics’ started coming up in conversations more and more. The industry seems to be starting to address what has until recently become the norm in some areas; that to win the race to secure the next order, you need to be prepared to pay. Is it any wonder we have seen a growing number of owners becoming disillusioned at the ever-spiralling costs of yacht ownership, deterring new would-be owners from entering the market? Surely the re-emergence of the ‘shared ownership’ model signifies larger perceived risks surrounding owning a yacht in today’s market?
The ’10 Year Blueprint’ discussion at the Superyacht Forum (held during this year’s METS) looked at how the industry must change in the next decade, in order to remain attractive to owners. Several industry-leading experts all expressed a desire and an impatience to see ethical concerns addressed. Even recruitment is getting an ethical makeover, with Scott Molloy of Just ETOs recently expressing his wish for a better approach to hiring crew.
With such large sums of money involved in the build/refit and operation of yachts, even a small % paid can provide you with a substantial extra cost (or benefit if you are the recipient). But who ultimately pays for this? We all know the answer; it gets added to the bill and becomes an extra cost for the owner. In some instances, these incentives may not only be unethical but illegal too. Would you risk going to jail just for the sake of a slightly higher profit?
Paying commission/incentives/success fees, providing excessive hospitality and other forms of ‘encouragement’ – some disclosed, some not – are still common in the industry and so many may see it as a normal way of operating. However, it is clearly not ethical.
Who cares? Well, owners and a growing number of professionals in the industry clearly do. It’s not yet too late to show our owners that we care and are listening to their concerns. But this will require some businesses to change their behaviour, and demonstrate to their peers that they are serious about protecting the long-term integrity of the superyacht industry.
When we set up SMART five years ago, we knew wanted to be different. We decided to act completely independent of any supplier/influencer. We introduced our own ethics policy for both our clients and, just as importantly, our staff. Many people in the industry were sceptical about this and thought we would end up mimicking other more established advisers, who ultimately want sell their own solution rather than concentrating on doing what’s best for the owner. It’s been very pleasing to prove our doubters wrong. We have demonstrated that you can be successful, ethical and profitable. After all, a happy yacht owner, with access to all the facts and costs on an open book basis, is a repeat owner.
Going forward, businesses must be prepared to act ethically and responsibly. Fundamentally, they must trust in their ability to win new work based solely on ability, reputation and expertise. It is a bold step, but one which is needed in order for the industry to progress. That’s SMART’s solution, and we hope you’ll join us.
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