A captain of the super yacht industry

A captain of the super yacht industry

Stewart Macintyre, managing director of Sunseeker – one of the world’s premium boat brands - talks to Kenny Kemp at the firm's world-class manufacturing site in Dorset.

Sandbanks is one of the most exclusive residential spots in the world. It’s a lump of golden seaside real estate guarding the entrance to Poole harbour and a jet-ski ride from the Sunseeker factory complex and quaysides in Dorset. From here, a semi-circle of southern English waters spreads out from Durlston Head, around Bournemouth and Christchurch Bay to the Solent, the Needles chalk stacks and to St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight which is perfect for sailors and all those who love being on the water. It’s also the perfect place for Stewart Macintyre, the Edinburgh-born managing director of Sunseeker International, Britain’s most prestigious motor yacht marque.

Macintyre is a methodical, level-headed Scot, known for his calm approach, his practical applications to problems and a wry sense of humour. Even a spectacular fire on one of his brand-new multi-million pound boats as it was being prepared for a rich customer, doesn’t ruffle his savoir-faire. As any competent sea captain knows, conditions are always changing, and you need to handle the unexpected. Stewart Macintyre is the archetypal steady hand on the helm. In the days before the fire, Sunseeker has been exhibiting at the local Sandbanks Boat Show at the Salterns Marina with its new Predator 60 as a star attraction.

The new motor yacht is the ultimate in luxury, capable of 32 knots and the ability to sleep six in state-room style. There are a plenty of wealthy customers to satisfy with Sunseeker building 180 boats a year with a turnover approaching £300m. Macintyre tells BQ: “We’re heading into the busiest time of year for our boats. It is an ideal job for me as someone who loves being on boats. I’m the managing director of a pre-eminent boat brand and a brilliant world-class manufacturing business based in the UK.

It’s as good as it gets.” The legend goes that Poole Power Boats had started moulding and fitting out their own boats in the early 1970s when a boat dealer from the South of France asked if they could make a motor boat in white and wide enough to take a sunbed in the stern. Sunseeker, as it soon became, complied with the customer’s request, fulfilling the requirements to the letter and setting in place its philosophy as an English boat-builder. Since then, Sunseeker’s ability to create the “wow” factor in the boats it has designed and built has made it a British icon in speed, style and grace.

Its Predator series set the benchmark for luxury boating, winning over the rich and famous who want fun in the sun. In 2001, Sunseeker launched its 105 Yacht, a 105ft motor yacht with a top speed of 32 knots. This was a step-change into a new market as commercial vessels are subject to stricter regulations on crew and passenger safety.

Sunseeker moved from being a boatbuilder into shipbuilding and became the first British-built boat business to win the world’s most prestigious International Superyacht Design awards. This placed the company in the top echelons of world-class ocean-going luxury yacht building. Sitting in Shipyard 4, West Quay Road, Poole, in Dorset, Stewart Macintyre overlooks the extensive manufacturing facilities, where ten boats, in various states of completion, are on the production gantries.

After a refinancing and restructuring exercise and changes to the management team, Macintyre was appointed as one of only two directors operating the business in what are extremely challenging market conditions. He is seldom back in Scotland these days and his job involves regular pond-hopping around the world, to where sunshine and wealth converge at prestigious boat shows on the Med, on the Indian Ocean, the China Seas and on the Pacific coast of America.

“Our market is worldwide,” he says. “We supply all five continents in 65 countries. But we are a truly global business in that we are affected by both micro and macro economic events. There are changes to taxation and import duties. We build in sterling, so there are obviously currency fluctuations. We’re watching foreign exchange rates all the time.” Macintyre has also been keeping a beady eye on how developments in Tunisia, Libya, Lebanon and Syria, pan out – all political events which have a long-term impact on luxury boat buying. Increasingly, there are more sales in China and the Far East while interest remains strong in places such as Acapulco and Monaco.

“We’re certainly seeing growth in China and Asia,” he says. “There are increasing inquiry levels in the United States. We are also seeing activity in central and South America.” One of the clouds on Sunseeker’s horizon is the drying up of financing for buying a boat. “There has been a serious reduction in bank and finance house lending for people to purchase their boats,” says Macintyre. “There is no question about that – and this is worldwide.

It is somewhat less of an issue for us at Sunseeker because we are normally dealing with high net worth individuals rather than the mass affluent using asset finance to purchase their boats. We do not provide finance for boat purchases.” So what is being done at Sunseeker to keep everything afloat? “We’ve got to do as much as we can to keep our leading edge in technology and design. This means; by product design, by look, by materials, by speed. We have to be aware of what is happening in the wider market. Our flagship model is 40 metres.

“We are the Rolls-Royce of motor yachting: from a 15.7metre Portofino 48, which a day-sports cruiser, through to a Predator 60 at 19metres, to our fabulous, long-distance Sunseeker 40 metre (132 feet), which takes 12 guests and seven crew. The price tags range from £250,000 to £15m. Nearly 100% of our sales are exports.

“All the boats are made in Dorset and 90% of our boats are heavily tailored to our customers’ specification. That depends on the individual taste, where it’s going to be berthed in the world, how it will be used – if it’s for charter or private ownership. We tailor to our customer needs.” But Sunseeker’s success is significant in terms of the message it sends out about the UK’s manufacturing base.

“We have a wide procurement operation,” says Macintyre. “We buy items from all over the world – and we employ 2,400 people in Dorset.” The Sunseeker workforce is local and extremely proud of their seafaring connections. The business is the largest private company in the area and there are longserving and skilled workers who have relatives working in the business.

“We pull a lot of local expertise from Dorset and the surrounding area and we support a number of smaller companies through the supply chain. We support a lot of other small firms in the area,” says Macintyre. The factory has the latest kit with it’s computer-operated machinery cutting and shaping components, while the computer design fits with the manufacturing systems. Sunseeker is also proud of its Technology Centre where the helms and boat capabilities are tested. The hulls are glass reinforced plastic, moulded on site, while the marine engines are the latest high-performance. But it is the interior finish, the furnishing with its superior leather upholstery, and equipment, be that the latest Bang & Olufsen flat screen television or the audio system, that sets Sunseeker boats apart as a status symbol. The shipyard is a noisy industrial environment, where the smells of acetones, paints, and gel coats mix with the whirr of drills, the slosh-and-swish of sanding and planning.

“Sunseeker is in the heartland of advance manufacturing in the UK,” says Stewart. “It’s a very competitive market and the whole ethos of this business is continued brand development and enhancement and variations. We’re looking at modern materials and latest innovation in ship design.” During the working week, Stewart lives in an apartment in oneof the many nearby marina developments overlooking the coast.

“I’m very much involved with all aspects of the business, so it is very handy,” he says. “I also have fewer distractions than some of the locals!” During the summer, he was steering his small cruiser down from Scotland to a mooring in Dorset. He still has a family home in Aberlady in East Lothian and his son, Russell Macintyre is an assistant golf professional at Prestonfield Golf Club in Edinburgh, working with Gavin Cook and training towards a PGA qualification. One of Stewart Macintyre’s closest friends is leading Scottish dealmaker Malcolm McPherson, the lawyer and former Hibernian football club chairman, himself an accomplished ocean-going sailor.

McPherson brought in Macintyre when Henderson Boyd Jackson merged with Birmingham law firm Gateley Wareing. Stewart Macintyre was the managing director involved with the merger, the rebranding and the conversion to limited liability partnership status. So did Malcolm McPherson fall off his chair when you told him about your new jobs? “There were a few people surprised I was involved with this business,” he says.

“It did raise a few eyebrows. It does make a change from financial services, property or professional services.” McPherson, now senior partner of HBJ Gateley, is delighted for his former colleague. He says: “While it is obviously an exciting and glamorous job, what Stewart excels at is his understanding of how a business works. He is a very talented man who rolls up his sleeves and works very hard. I’ve watched in him in half-a-dozen businesses and what he does is find the key performance indicators of each business and apply his brain to this. He is first class with people and works to get them on his side.” The Scottish lawyer says he feels the owners were wise to select him.

“From an outside observer’s point of view, Sunseeker is a fantastic business with a zest for selling premium products. What they needed was a steady hand on the tiller, in terms of finance and running the business, which is what I think Stewart will bring. Stewart helps people understand the numbers and what numbers are important. He created much more interest in this when he worked with our law firm.” Robert and John Braithwaite are brothers of the founder, and remain key to operations.

“They are the combination of the corporatebrains at Sunseeker,” assures Macintyre. “John does the designing and Robert is the visionary with the products. They have been involved in the business all of their working lives and they continue to be so.” Macintyre was brought in as part of a new shareholder base with Robert Braithwaite remaining a major shareholder. The reorganisation was viewed as necessary to keep Sunseeker ahead of a flotilla of other luxury boat makers. “I was introduced to Sunseeker through Cahal Dowds at Deloitte and I was then asked to join by Robert Braithwaite,” he says.

Back in July 2009, Stewart started as interim chief operating officer and this became permanent on December 14 2009. The company was refinanced from Lloyds Banking Group to a five-year syndicated package by Macquarie Bank and Haymarket Financial, set up by Tim Flynn and several Goldman Sachs executives. After this was completed, Stewart was appointed managing director on July 1 2010. Among the investors is Stagecoach founder Sir Brian Souter through the Irish private equity company FL Partners who provided around £25m of new capital, with Robert Braithwaite the second largest shareholder. The Deloitte connection is a significant one.

Stewart Macintyre was involved with Rutherford Manson Dowds (RMD), the bright young turks of the Scottish corporate advisory world, established in 1986 and quickly becoming the white-hot dealmakers of the 1990s.

He was involved in the spin-out of the oil and gas team and when RMD merged with Deloitte, Cahal Dowds took on the mantle of senior corporate figure in Scotland, while Colin Rutherford went on to set up Intelli Corporate Finance, with former colleagues Gordon Neilly and Robin Archibald. Stewart Macintyre came in to help with the reorganisation of this entity.

His business pedigree has prepared him for the Sunseeker task. Before RMD, he was a former group finance director of WG Mitchell (Derry) Limited, and has extensive experience of the financial services, property investment and due diligence processes, he loves the challenges of manufacturing. Born and bred in Edinburgh, he attended Prestonfield Primary School and then Boroughmuir secondary school. He went off to college in the early 1970s, and trained on the job as an ICCA accountant with Associated Butchers for nine years.

He then went to work with Blyth + Blyth Group, a Scottish construction firm set up in 1848.

He switched to Faulds Advertising, then joined United Central Bakeries in Bathgate. Stewart was also finance director of Imagine Homes and Veritas Investments, businesses that are involved in the UK buy-to-let residential and commercial property markets and active letting management. He remains a non-executive director of Intelligent Office, a UK-wide outsourcing company for the legal and financial administration, and trustee of a financial salaries scheme.

“I would say I’m an expert in pensions but I’ve always been closely involved in that space,” he says. “I’ve always had a personal interest in pensions and how they work.” So how would he describe his own attributes for running Sunseeker? “My basic skillset now is that I understand how a business works. I’ve spent the vast majority of my working life in multi-site, multi-services businesses. I’ve never been someone who works with making widgets. “I don’t have any fear about working in multi-site businesses.

There is always a certain amount of regulation that’s specific to an industry. I’ve had a wide experience in different organisations.” He’s also been through recession before and he’s acutely aware about the importance of keeping a handle on cost without cutting corners and compromising the quality of the product. This, he says, is something that Sunseeker customers would simply not tolerate.

With most of us seeking our own sun this summer, Stewart Macintyre is making waves while the sun shines. His diary is full with trips to Cannes, Barcelona, Fort Lauderdale, then London again next January. He’s also bound for Hong Kong, Rio, Jersey and Singapore. He says with a massive smile: “There are dozens of boat shows, so we are very selective about where we go. We ensure we have representatives at the major shows, but I like to go along to explain to a buyer why our yachts are a great investment.”