Flagship: Tim Johnson – from colour sergeant to superyacht CEO
After 14 years in the British Army, running a superyacht charter brokerage might not seem an obvious career choice. But it is one that is paying off for TJB Super Yachts’ founder and CEO, Tim Johnson. Superyacht Investor caught up with the British broker to discuss how his military experience influenced his business career, why he joined the superyacht industry and the challenges that come with starting your own charter firm.
Johnson (pictured) served in the reserve and regular army having joined the Honourable Artillery Company regiment in 2001 and did two tours with the British Army: one in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and one in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010. He eventually earned the rank of colour sergeant.
“The Honourable Artillery Company is the oldest regiment in the British Army and it felt quite prestigious to be a part of it,” he tells Superyacht Investor. “We all joined as troopers and you can work your way up to officer if you are willing to put in the work.” But the British native says he and his comrades in the regiment had joined “for the soldiering” rather than a career in the forces, since they all had day jobs in London.
The experience and life skills gained during his time in the forces in many ways prepared him for a life as a businessman in the superyacht industry. “It gives you a lot of strength and fortitude. You can suck up the pain of running a business a lot more,” says Johnson. “It’s good for management. You are trained with structure, become disciplined, learn to focus and plan. You can push yourself a lot harder and with that, become better at dealing with high intensity situations.”
Johnson’s first introduction to the superyacht industry was not from the sea, but the sky. “I started out as a jet broker in private aviation with NetJets. There was a partnership with Edmiston so that was the first time I was introduced to the superyacht industry,” he says. “I would often meet yacht brokers and it just got me thinking. Their job just seemed more exciting, more rewarding and more fun.”
He made the move to Edmiston in 2011 and worked as a charter broker for two years before deciding to move to Fraser. “But I had a young son and was finding it difficult to cover the school holidays. I just thought I have the contacts, if there is ever a time to strike out on your own, it’s now,” he says.
Having set up TJB Super Yachts in 2013, Johnson says the first year was difficult, but he made enough to scrape by. “I think the biggest challenge of being a charter broker is breaking in and being accepted as a new brand. No one cares when you are a one-man operator, in fact, the bigger companies will pat you on the back,” he says.
“But once you start growing, a lot of companies want to keep it how it has always been and that can make things difficult.” The only way you can overcome that is by cracking on, he added.
After the first year, business picked up. “The second year we had 30 charters and made a couple of hundred thousand in revenue,” says Johnson. “This grew to 50 the next year and 75 the year after, then it was 120 and then 170. Every year our revenue was doubling.”
Johnson says his family, passion for his business and time in the military is what drove him to succeed during this time. “It was always a case of: ‘What is the next level we can go to?’ You have to believe that there is no limit. Just try and hit that target. If you are not growing, you’re shrinking.”
During his decade in the superyacht industry, a lot has changed. For Johnson, the growth of social media and digital marketing has been the most significant.
“People are more plugged into a luxury lifestyle. It’s fed into your handheld device now. Before it was on a page in the magazine,” he says. “The industry and crew have become far more professional too.” And there are thousands more yachts.
One big challenge is the potential impending crisis with marinas, says Johnson. “Where are we going to put all these superyachts when they get built?” he asks. “The marinas aren’t getting bigger. Every year the fleet grows and it is becoming a fight for space. I was in Miami recently and it is jam-packed.”
But the biggest challenge for brokers, as Johnson sees it, is staying relevant. “We have to make sure that we don’t let technology surpass us and that we still have value to add for our clients,” he says. “But I think we will be fine. You can never automate things so much that there is no need for the personal touch of a broker.”
Everything in life is a challenge, says Johnson. “You have to find a balance. Home life, work life, friends and health.” But given lessons learned from his life experiences in different professional fields, he says he has the tools and drive to continue to grow his company.
“Combining my experience in recruitment, broking, startup jet broking, multinational broking company and then my time in the army gave me a broader life experience perhaps more than other people in the industry, where all they ever knew was yachting,” he says.
“I love what we do here. One of the biggest things that drives me is wanting to compete with others in the industry and to just do the best we can.”
Above: The superyacht Miss Candy is one of the vessels offered for sale by TJB Super Yachts.
Top: Tim Johnson TJB Super Yachts’ founder and CEO pays tribute to his British Army training.
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