Cecil-Wright on the art of a broker

Chris Cecil-Wright founded Cecil Wright & Partners, superyacht brokers.

Chris Cecil-Wright recovered from a broken back to forge a career as a broker. Photo: Stuey Burnett.

Money is a useful by-product of selling a superyacht, but broker Chris Cecil-Wright insists he is driven more by a psychological” need for acceptance and to make people happy.

The Briton, who changed tack when a broken back scuppered his Army career, says he feels an “acute sense of responsibility” not to let his clients down.

And judging by his involvement in yachts such as Madame Gu, Kismet and Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Hampshire II and Sherpa, it seems to be working.

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“When I actually sell them the boat and they’re happy, it’s both a huge sense of satisfaction and a huge sense of relief,” Cecil-Wright tells us from his home in Hampshire, UK.

“Because I’ve satisfied their desire and they’ve proven, by the very fact they’ve taken my advice and bought this boat, that they like me. In my own psychological way, that’s what draws me to it. I like the money, I’m not daft, but that’s not what drives me to make deals.”

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Sir Jim Ratcliffe's superyacht Hampshire II.

Cecil-Wright was instrumental in Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Hampshire II.

Cecil-Wright’s career had been on a very different trajectory before he broke his back in a paragliding accident in Germany, leaving him hospitalised and convalescing for a year. In the Army, he had been on the verge of converting from commanding tanks in a reconnaissance regiment to flying Apache helicopters, but with his injury he knew his military days were over.

A deep love of boats from growing up on the south coast of England and sailing Nicholson 55s in the Army led him to calling Nick Edmiston, the uncle of a friend, at Camper & Nicholsons. In 1992, with little knowledge of superyachts, he was taken on unpaid to learn the ropes and see if he could shift any boats.

Gold pen

Cecil-Wright’s first successful sale out of Camper & Nicholsons’ Bruton Street office in London was a sailing yacht called Bolero, a 32.5m (105ft) German-Frers design, which he says was a “glorious boat”.

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“A guy walked in off the street, and I sold it to him,” he says. A couple of hours of relationship-building and exploring the market together laid the foundations. “When he left, I found his gold pen under a pile of papers so I had it wrapped up and couriered to his house down in Barcelona,” adds Cecil-Wright.

“About two hours later his wife came running in, breathless, saying, ‘His gold pen, he’s lost it, it’s a family heirloom…’ I said it was already on its way to Barcelona. She said, ‘Oh, thank you, thank you.’ He never forgot that and ended up buying this boat, so that was fun.”

Madame Gu is a 99m (325ft) Feadship built in 2013. Photo: Jeff Brown.

Madame Gu is a 99m (325ft) Feadship built in 2013. Photo: Jeff Brown.

Cecil-Wright was up and running, and two years later jumped ship to the fledgling Edmiston company, but about 15 years ago he says his “head was exploding” as he tried to cover the entire market. He was close to walking away but, recognising a “growth industry”, he decided to narrow his focus, setting up Cecil Wright & Partners in 2013 to specialise initially in northern European boats over 50 metres.

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“I knew a lot of boats and most of the senior captains and I knew I could add value to sensible buyers,” he says. “All buyers spending €30m on a boat tend to be good at making decisions but they need good information, so it became my mission to supply these clever people with good information so they can make their own decisions and basically that’s our principal.”

He adds: “In our game it takes quite a long time to build your name and get the credibility and gravitas to be able to talk to a guy worth €100bn euros and tell him the yacht he wants to buy for €500m is worth what it’s worth. It takes some time to get to that place, so I saw a future in it.”

Ratcliffe's Sherpa was another Cecil-Wright project. Photo: Tom Van Oossanen.

Ratcliffe’s Sherpa was another Cecil-Wright project. Photo: Tom Van Oossanen.

Depth of knowledge

His crystal ball proved accurate, and he went on team up with old client Ratcliffe, boss of petrochemical giant INEOS, to launch the 74m (242ft) explorer yacht Sherpa in 2018, to add to the 78m (256ft) Feadship Hampshire II he helped devise and build for Ratcliffe in 2012. “I’ve been all around the world on it, including the Galapagos, so it’s rewarding in that respect, too,” he says of Hampshire II.

A deal Cecil-Wright is working on now – which he hopes to wrap up before Christmas – would be the result of two years of working with the buyer, a “very analytical fellow”, supplying forensic assessments of the market.

“We identified the boat we wanted to buy two years ago, but it wasn’t for sale,” he says. “We tried a number of different angles but none of them stacked up, and then suddenly it became available, off market. It’s the perfect boat for him.”

Cecil-Wright’s knowledge of all the key players in the deal helps enormously”. “I have known the seller for 20 years, I sold his three previous boats and I’ve sold six or seven boats in the same world as this particular boat. I have also known the captain for 20 years and know he is fastidious about maintenance,” he says.

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Superyacht Kismet was sold by Cecil Wright in September.

Kismet was sold by Cecil-Wright in September. Photo: Stuey Burnett.

‘Completely unique’

In September, Cecil-Wright was introduced by a mutual friend to the owner of the 95.2m (312ft) Lurssen-built Kismet. He was looking for a mid-size broker in Europe to sell the boat after a lack of success in the US. Cecil-Wright was taken on, listing Kismet at an asking price of €149m.

It drew the attention of UK broker Will Christie, who had a very loyal client actively looking for a similar yacht. “Once Will saw it was with me, he rang and said, ‘Let’s do a deal.’ I said, ‘You’re on,’” says Cecil-Wright, concluding the sale in about four weeks. “Having a good reputation with other brokers in the market is very important.”

Perhaps as a nod to his military career, Cecil-Wright and his team regularly play “war games” by studying past deals and their own strategy to see how they can improve.

“We dissect every deal we’ve ever done and try to draw some sort of similarities and invariably the one thing that is similar about all the deals is they’re all completely unique,” he says.

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