Benetti recently launched three gigayachts in 100 days, a feat that pushed the builder to its limits. Benetti’s new CEO, Franco Fusignani, and group president Paolo Vitelli reveal just how they came to terms with the mammoth task and the builder’s plans for the gigayacht sector going forward

At the end of March, Benetti launched three gigayachts in 100 days – FB277 (107m), FB272 (100m) and FB275 (108m) – a feat that pushed the builder to its limits. IBI was there for the most recent launch and interviewed Benetti’s new CEO, Franco Fusignani, and group president Paolo Vitelli about the trials and tribulations of launching gigayachts and their plans for the future

Tell us about the Herculean feat of launching three gigayachts in 100 days

FF: “I came to Benetti in 2017, bringing my experience from a different industry to the shipyard. The construction of these three yachts started at the same time, and it was important to get it right and deliver them on time. We used careful planning, strict quality control, and created dedicated development teams for each yacht, with other structures providing external reinforcement. They were big teams, with 40 to 50 people working on each yacht. In essence, there were three shipyards with offices onboard the ships. We all worked Saturdays and Sundays. What’s in the water now is 5 million hours of work, more than 1000km of electrical cables, and 7,500m2 of furnishings. Every day there were 770 people aboard those three boats.” 

What did you learn from the experience? 

FF: “We gained experience in planning, in technologies. These three gigayachts are very different in terms of displacement, equipment and features. I believe that by investing in research on hulls and superstructures, with a certain degree of standardisation, we could achieve a modularity that will help us in production, reducing time and costs.”

Was there a moment you were concerned about the scale of the task?

PV: “I can’t deny that there was a moment where we stopped to reflect, when the bond and shareholders became aware of the difficulty of building three gigayachts and that, from their original investment of €50m, we needed to achieve €100m. However, we decided that running away wasn’t an option. We decided to change our management, strengthen our teams, to side with our clients instead of fighting them, and to stop making excuses and work transparently. The Azimut division’s profits went to support Benetti. We maintain the group profit but what exceeds that is what we’ll have when Benetti is in full swing: we’ve positioned this brand at the apex of an industry where our only competitors are the Germans and the Dutch, who have higher labour costs.”

What do you see in terms of the future?

PV: “Our goal is to build one gigayacht per year. Worldwide there are four gigayachts delivered every year, and this year our three represented 75% of the total market. The right balance is for us to control 25% of the market, which works out to one launch per year. We need to reinforce our position, using both design and what we’ve learned from these three gigayachts to improve the production of our smaller yachts. This is the key to gaining the respect of the buyers, taking our quality level up a notch.” 

Have your clients changed?

PV: “They are getting younger; they’re also getting more creative and don’t simply accept what the shipyard proposes. Instead, they’re competing with each other regarding who is smarter, more astute, better able to create something that expresses their personality… The yacht is a tool for expression following a lifetime of business success. Now the markets are completely internationalised, it’s no longer just the United States and Europe. We’re waiting for China to open up. I think that will happen with a new attitude on the part of the President.”

FF: “The results also stem from the client’s attitudes. For these three gigayachts we had two buyers with very determined and demanding teams checking every step of the way, and then a much more easy-going customer, although one who was still very sure about what he wanted. We produce our best results when the client knows exactly what they want and works with us. It took from seven months to a year to work out the engineering on these gigayachts, but our goal was to reduce construction times by up to 50%, in order to protect ourselves from penalties due to delayed delivery, having to redo some of the work, or other additional costs.” 

In terms of the Group, is there anything in the rumors about the sale of a business unit; or might the company be listed on the stock exchange?

PV: My daughter Giovanna is determined and so are my grandchildren. Our family is planning to keep our hands on the reins for another 50 years … The company will not go public, this is something I’ve always said. It’s always a challenge to keep a small business going, but those difficulties are mitigated by the strategies a family with vision can give its managers. We are convinced that the best course is to delegate more in order to make the divisions more autonomous.”