IYC’s Sauleau on ultra running and the art of the CEO

Raphael Sauleau, CEO IYC

Raphael Sauleau joined IYC as CEO in 2023.

Endurance athletes need a goal, a plan, discipline and determination, and the flexibility to react to hardship along the way.

The same is true of CEOs, according to Raphael Sauleau, who should know, being both the boss of all-service brokerage  IYC and an accomplished ultra-marathon runner, Ironman triathlete and long-distance cyclist.

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“I am a very keen sportsman and I set myself objectives,” says Sauleau who has run the 106-mile Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc (UTMB) in 35 hours and the 105 miles of the Diagonale des Fous on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion in 43 hours.

“Irrespective of what comes my way, I really go and look forward to completing that objective, and in business I apply the same motto. There is a lot of correlation between business and sport. Obviously, the sports I practice are individual so you can’t apply a team strategy to it but it’s very similar. It’s how you set the objective, how you prepare yourself, how you establish your plan.”

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Raphael Sauleau is a keen ultra-distance runner, cyclist and triathlete.

Sauleau is a keen ultra-distance runner, cyclist and triathlete.

‘Be more visible’

The Frenchman took over at IYC in 2023 after seven years at the helm of Fraser Yachts and has laid out ambitious plans to continue “growing all divisions steadily” and “extending its footprint” to enhance IYC’s reputation as a “consistent player in the industry”.

“We have a challenging, or shall I say exciting, three-year plan ahead of us in terms of growth,” he says. “The idea for us is to remain and enhance our positioning in the leadership of the industry within all divisions and all segments of the market.”

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One main pillar of this strategy is to “increase our sales objectives” across all segments.

“We’re looking at close to doubling it so to do this we need to strengthen our position within the regular segment market up to 60m and be a little more visible in the over 60-70m segment of the market and be consistent in attracting larger yachts,” he says.

“Not that we want to specialise in larger yachts but we want to be seen throughout all segment markets and that will have a ripple effect on our charter management and our yacht management fleet.”

‘One-stop shop’

Sauleau says IYC has already “doubled” its yacht management division and will look to further develop the fleet, including new-build projects and refit teams, and is aiming to dominate with its charter fleet “which is the largest today with 150 yachts”. Crew recruitment and training, and investment in digital and IT, including a focus on artificial intelligence to streamline management services, are also key pillars for IYC, according to Sauleau.

“We really want to establish ourselves as a one-stop shop going forward through all segments and for all services the industry covers including insurance,” he says.

Sauleau believes the industry has been “relatively resilient” during recent geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and the Middle East and is broadly optimistic that the sales market will settle back into a period of low growth following the “craziness” of the post-Covid years.

But he foresees some consolidation in brokerage as a softening market exposes some of the proliferation of “one-man bands” and “opportunists” that sprang up with little “bandwidth” to fall back on.

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Raphael Sauleau competing in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.

Sauleau competing in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.

‘The key to success’

Sauleau’s own career began on cruise ships where he learned “discipline” and “hard work” before he landed at VShips, the global ship manager, in charge of crew operations for the leisure division and then also as head of the cargo in Monaco, responsible for 60 shore staff and 6,500 sea-going crew. “This was another strong school because it’s not only hard work but it takes a lot of flexibility when you’re selling services to owners who expect you to deliver regularly,” he says. After 15 years he left to establish a family office for a ”Chinese tycoon” in Monaco, operating a number of hotels and yachts under the Parkview Private Collection umbrella.

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One big takeaway from this role was the need to be agile and prepared to work across different, often unrelated projects, according to Sauleau.

“I’ve been asked to work on projects I really have no idea about but that’s the beauty of it,” says Sauleau, who sees himself as a “people person” and “able to get the best out of people”.

“It could be a philanthropic exposition and charter a yacht, for example, so that flexibility was very enriching.

“I was involved in the cosmetic world which I’ve never done in my life. So you get yourself acquainted with the basics and ask questions and that helps you to lead the project. You make sure to find the right individuals to work with you, that’s the key to your success. I don’t pretend to master it myself but it’s important to have your finger on the pulse.”

‘Like taking a teenager into adulthood’

In 2016 he took up the “challenging but extremely rewarding” role as CEO at Fraser Yachts where he stayed for seven years, which included the acquisition by MarineMax of the US in 2019, and grew the business during Covid.

“It was a really good ride there with a really good bunch of people,” he says.

Moving to IYC, as a privately owned company, is “a different approach, different culture” again, but “with the same end to be a key player of the yachting industry”.

“It has been extraordinarily challenging and exciting, it’s like taking a teenager into adulthood,” he says.

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Raphael Sauleau crosses the finish line in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.

Sauleau crosses the finish line in Monaco.

‘You get to learn a few tricks’

Sauleau believes his experience of rising through various management roles has worked to his advantage with at least one client of a “big account” looking for a more “corporate” rather than “yachting-like” approach.

“We came across with a broader corporate vision which I believe appealed more to the principal so we won what was a rather large contract,” he says.

Despite the pressures, Sauleau makes it his business to learn from the wealthy individuals he calls clients.

“We’re very fortunate, yachting is a lot of fun dealing with a lot of very intelligent, successful individuals, where you get to spend some time with them and learn a lot from them,” he says. “You get to learn a few tricks here and there, you know. It’s very enriching.”

One useful trick he passes on the ability of these UHNWI to micro-manage their time. “Everything is time, they are super disciplined,” he says. Another is the way in which many of his clients treat other people.

“A lot of these individuals – because of the way they have been running their companies – have respect for everyone, from the janitor to the CEO,” he says. “They have that talent and self-behaviour which quite amazing. Then there are a few geniuses, guys out of this world, who come up with algorithms they can sell to allow them to have a good time.”

Sauleau sounds like he is having a good time, relishing the business life and carving out time for his personal pursuits. This weekend he is off to run a marathon in Marrakech, Morocco. Planning, discipline and flexibility will be key. Just like running his business.

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