Christie on the art of a deal, slow burns & bear markets
For a man who hates losing, broker Will Christie is in no rush to sell you a yacht.
The Briton has been busy since setting up Christie Yachts in 2021 but he says he is not keen to “ram yachts down people’s throats”.
“Some of these deals were real long burners, but that’s fine,” Christie tells us from a Christmas break in Switzerland. “I think clients like the way we’re very soft sell. I wouldn’t say we’re salesmen. We’re more consultants and advisers, and we’re not in a rush when working with buyers.
“I’m 46 now and I’ll be doing this for another 15 years minimum, so if you buy a boat tomorrow or next year it makes no difference to me. It’s important clients feel comfortable that they have all the information they need and feel fully educated on the market before they buy.”
With an asking price of €149m, the 95m Lurssen Kismet (now Whisper) was a “landmark deal” for Christie, who represented the buyer in September, but he says the recent sale of the 50m Plan B was equally special.
“I don’t like deals slipping through my fingers, I’m naturally a very competitive person so for me the first priority is making sure the deal happens,” he says.
“Plan B value-wise is about a tenth of the value [of Kismet], but it’s still important to me. No deal is plain sailing, and at the end of every one I feel a great sense of relief, generally because I know that even at the 11th hour anything can happen. Every time you do a deal you cement your position in the market.”
As a big door closed I hadn’t realised the amount of small doors that would open to me
Christie is building on strong foundations, having left his position as head of sales at Y.CO to set up on his own, fuelled by loyal clients, industry goodwill and a plan to keep overheads low, such as eschewing “an expensive office in Mayfair which is completely irrelevant now”.
“My wife was more worried than I was,” he adds. “Look, it was with trepidation but also excitement. The trepidation was tempered by the fact I had a number of clients who said, ‘If you ever go on your own, we’ll follow you’.
“I knew the first three years of any business can be quite challenging but as a big door closed I hadn’t realised the amount of small doors that would open to me.”
He hit the ground running and before long was acting for both the buyer and seller in the off-market sale of the 50m Heesen yacht Erica, via a referral “from someone I really respect”.
“Erica was really unexpected because at the time I literally had an email address and a mobile phone and I didn’t even have a website,” he says.
The client had seen everything on the market, but Christie used his network to unearth a couple of off-market options and was able to get “the whole lot wrapped up within about five weeks”.
Anyone can sell a boat in a bull market but in this market they need professional advice
For Christie, whose business is “95% repeat and referral” it’s all about the “power of relationships”, both with clients and the broking community, and offering “professionalism”, “opinion” and “value”.
“I think people are seeking a specialist, they’re looking for representation,” he says.
“Anyone can sell a boat in a bull market but in this market they’re seeking professional advice and want someone to be on their shoulder, being their right hand.”
The buyer of Kismet was a client Christie has known for many years and approached the Briton to help him create a shortlist of yachts.
“We went to look at a handful and Kismet was the one they wanted to focus on,” he says. “There was plenty of competition for that boat so it was about making sure my client won the day.
“It was my job to make sure Chris [Cecil-Wright, acting for the seller] knew and was able to pass on to the owner that my guy is the best buyer, he will act fast, he’s not a flake, he’s not going to pull out or mess you about after the survey or nickel-and-dime you because he found a scratch under a table somewhere. We had the sale concluded in about six weeks of the client contacting me with his requirements.”
The owner of Plan B was another old contact who gave Christie the job of selling his yacht, which was conducting scientific studies in the South Pacific, mainly around Fiji and Vanuatu. It took some “persuasion” for prospects to travel for inspections but Christie’s team also arranged a host of bespoke videos and online tours. Merle Wood got in contact representing a potential buyer and Christie went to work.
“With Merle, I was telling him, ‘This is what you need to do to buy the boat,’” he says. “Ultimately, it’s his job to present the buyer to the seller. The price, of course, is important but also the ability to complete the deal.”
Often 14 million tomorrow is “more attractive” than 15 million in six months, says Christie. “It’s all part of broking, working out what the seller’s motivation is,” he adds.
Completion was delayed to finish the expedition and conduct a survey in Australia but the time to get under offer was “relatively short”.
I must have gone for 20 different pints with 20 different people
Christie began his working life in equity sales with Cazenove (now part of JP Morgan) in London but was quickly disillusioned and took to inviting a host of his two older brothers’ friends out for drinks to quiz them about their jobs.
“I must have gone for 20 different pints with 20 different people and came away from each one thinking I don’t want to do that. I was beginning to think I was just incredibly work shy,” he laughs.
Another contact worked at Burgess as a charter broker so Christie arranged a visit. Having grown up sailing during family holidays on the Isle of Wight on England’s south coast, Christie was smitten by the photos and models of superyachts in Burgess’ then office on Pall Mall in London.
‘Gets you out of bed’
Fired up about his “dream job”, he later met Nick Edmiston who he deluged with handwritten letters for about a year.
“Eventually he called me in and said, ‘You won’t leave me alone, I think you’ve got the persistence and tenacity to sell a yacht,’” he says.
Offered a desk and a commission-only job, Christie was essentially running his own empire, dipping into his own pocket to fund flights to see clients. “It doesn’t half get you out of bed in the morning,” he says.
“Fortunately, things went well and after about a year I sold an 81ft Swan which was a small boat but put enough money in my pocket to keep me going. The second boat I ever sold was Nahlin, a 91m boat which we sold and then brokered a total rebuild of in Germany.”
With swelling coffers, he broadened his search to Russia, where “in those days there was business to be done and not many brokers”.
“I remember one trip, I had to stay in a very expensive five-star hotel – it wasn’t the safest place to stay somewhere cheap in those days – and I literally had one meeting arranged but by the end I’d met six clients,” he says. “Another time I went to see one client and I ended up selling three boats to others off the back of it.”
‘We are servants to our clients’
After nearly six years at Edmiston, Christie moved to Y.CO in 2009 and became head of sales in 2018. One notable boat he was involved with began to take shape during one Christmas holiday when a client contacted him from his ski chalet to discuss a new-build while his family were on the slopes. These initial ideas would become the award-winning 75m Admiral motor yacht Kensho.
“We were literally sending sketches and photos backwards and forwards on WhatsApp all over Christmas and New Year,” says Christie.
“Owners tend to focus on buying boats when they are less busy. It’s a fun thing and they’re in the frame of mind where they can lend time to thinking about buying a boat.”
A lot of brokers want to play in the same playground as their clients and live the high life
During the Kismet deal this summer Christie was in Switzerland with the family but had to drop everything and leave three times to work with the client.
“The harder you work, the luckier you get and it’s so true in our business, you can’t switch off for a second,” he says.
“We are servants to our clients. A lot of brokers want to play in the same playground as their clients and live the high life. I’m not one of those – I think you lose the sense that you are there to serve them. It’s better to separate work and play in my opinion, although some of my clients have become good friends, naturally, rather than through me forcing myself upon them.
“I’d rather be in a pub watching the Six Nations [rugby tournament] with a pint of bitter and some pork scratchings than in Club 55 in St Tropez.”
Looking forward, Christie says 2024 could be a “challenging year” for the market given the “uncertainty” in the world, particularly in the Middle East and the upcoming US Presidential election, but says he is “confident” with some ”good discussions going on” and plans to expand into charter.
“People only buy boats when they see blue skies ahead,” he says. “Ultimately, it’s a luxury.”
But he adds: “I like these bearish markets where it gets a bit quieter. I feel brokers who work hard and add value to clients thrive in these markets. I think it will throw up a lot of opportunity, both for us as a company and for clients. But I’m not in a rush.”
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