N&J’s Coote on ‘dream job’, US elections and carrots
His schoolfriends stuck pictures of Pamela Anderson or Harley-Davidson motorcycles on their bedroom walls, but Patrick Coote only had eyes for superyachts.
A trip to the Earl’s Court Boat Show in London as a 10-year-old ignited his lifelong passion. “My mother was a lecturer and my father was a bishop, so big, shiny expensive toys didn’t feature in my world at all. I was bowled over by it all,” he says.
When he later became MD of the Blohm & Voss shipyard that built two of the yachts – Lady Moura and Eco – that had decorated his boarding school walls, Coote felt a “huge sense of achievement, satisfaction and pride”.
Now, as the MD of Northrop & Johnson’s European business, Coote is in his “dream job”. “It’s what I always wanted to do as a kid,” he says of the superyacht world.
But from his vantage point plugged into parent company MarineMax’s extensive superyacht division, which includes Fraser Yachts, IGY Marinas and a suite of yacht service businesses, Coote can see a market in transition.
“On the sales front there is an underlying sense of a forthcoming dip, for sure,” he says. “Clients are becoming hesitant to pull the trigger. They all cite slightly different reasons, but it is a sign of difficult times to come.”
Geopolitical instability and economic uncertainty are the primary drivers but climate change, corporate social responsibility and bad news such as the “displacement and suffering of people” are playing an increasing part, he says.
“People are reticent to make a blatant purchase of a somewhat unnecessary luxury item when they can see bigger issues all around them,” adds Coote.
‘Not that rosy’
Another headwind persuading clients to hold off is the US presidential election in November next year. “One hundred per cent. They want to know what economic environment they’re going to be operating in,” says Coote.
“People will hold off many months, if not years, in advance of imminent elections. Wealthy clients tend to be fairly risk-averse, particularly US clients, and the level of risk is unknown until you know who is going to be in the White House. I guess it’s just prudence. Before you make a big call, you’d like to know the rules of the game.”
This creeping inertia is impacting the brokerages which rely on commission from deals but it is also spreading into the charter side of the business.
“Thankfully, we have the whole yacht management side which is a steady cash cow but it’s brokerage that is the big earner and with uncertainty, that goes on ice,” says Coote. “Winter charters are down, charter enquiries are down across the industry for next summer. It’s not that rosy right now.”
Coote joined Northrop & Johnson in May 2020, shortly before its acquisition by MarineMax, in the latest chapter of a career which has spanned the superyacht industry.
He began with a brief stint at a brokerage after a degree in European business management with marketing and moved into media and events before eight years as marketing director at Fraser. He has also held directorships at Azimut Benetti’s Yachtique brand, Blohm & Voss shipyard (2013-2017) and Vripack design studio alongside other yacht ventures in investment, business development, marketing and consultancy.
This eclectic mix gives Coote what he describes as a “well-rounded understanding” of the industry. “Some might argue that makes me a specialist in absolutely nothing but at least I’ve got a basic understanding in all of the elements,” he laughs.
He adds: “When I was at Fraser we grew the business considerably, not only financially but in terms of stature and position in the market.
“Since I’ve joined Northrop & Johnson we’ve grown the European division from 4% of global business to 35% of global business in the last three years and grown the team from 16 people to about 60. That’s very satisfying to feel like you’re making a difference.”
The people part of the business comes up frequently when talking to Coote, along with happy clients.
“As a company we’re not driven by numbers,” he says. “When I joined the team the only direction I was ever given was look after the people. We’ve found if you focus on the people then the numbers are simply a by-product of a happy, well-managed team.
“If you break it down to a carrot or a stick, I’m a massive carrot fan. I love watching my own team succeed and grow and develop.”
As part of MarineMax, Northrop & Johnson’s clients have access to a vast superyacht division “twice the size” of any other competitor with extensive ancillary services, marinas and reciprocal arrangements on tap. It’s that scale that also “gets you a seat at the table” when trying to penetrate markets such as Saudi Arabia, he says.
“There will always be space for the one-man band boutique brokerage but it’s the scope of our group that gives us a unique position in the market,” he adds.
Away from global headwinds, the superyacht world also has some internal challenges to face, including the proliferation of people “clamouring” for a slice of the action, according to Coote.
“We’ve seen a growth in the amount of chancers in the business,” he says. “We’re an unregulated industry, you can print a business card and you’re a yacht broker and I don’t think that’s good at all for the industry. You have to earn your place at the client’s top table.
“If you’re going to sit next to a billionaire’s tax adviser and his financial adviser and you’re going to be his yacht adviser, you need to be damn good at what you do.”
But he thinks the idea that the industry is challenging because of demanding clients is a “misnomer”.
“Our clients are paying top dollar for the advice they get and they have every right to expect that advice to be correct, complete, prompt and professional,” he says. “They just want honesty, transparency and professionalism rather than being particularly demanding.”
The schoolboy has grown up, but the love of yachting is as strong as ever.
(Photo credits: Guillaume Plisson, Marc Paris, Martin Francis.)
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