John Hunt, Chairman and CEO of Wally Yachts, tells us that one of his major roles is to keep an inherently innovative organisation focused on today
There is much more to John Hunt than his role as Chairman and CEO of Wally Yachts. The serially successful entrepreneur and venture investor has created and co-created companies, with interests as diverse as digital communications, wine production, e-commerce software, espresso bars and luxury resorts.
Starbucks acquired the UK espresso bar he co-founded, Seattle Coffee Company, in 1998 as their European launch platform. Shortly after the web agency he founded, Syzygy, went public in Germany at €200 million. His holding company, Archimedia, launched in January 2010, was a founding investor in online ventures Betfair and Made.com and in November of the launch year, committed a significant investment to the growth and development of Wally.
A brand born from dissatisfaction with the market, Wally was founded in 1994 when Luca Bassani Antivari was unable to find a yacht that fulfilled his requirements. After designing and custom building a vessel that combined the ability to sail solo with outstanding luxury and safety, he was quickly inundated with requests from others wanting similar yachts. The brand has gone on to build over 50 yachts since its inception, managing a collaboration with Hermès along the way.
With Mr Hunt now at the helm as Chairman and CEO, Wally will be launching a series of new models and focusing on markets outside core demand in the Mediterranean. We are delighted to present our conversation with the serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist as the fifth in our series of 5 Minutes With…
In your time with Wally, what has been your favourite memory?
At the Nespresso Cup in Portofino this year I realised that the way Wally makes a boat smarter and simpler to operate meant that people who did not come from a sailing background could quickly learn to compete with the world’s best. Watching some of the Wally owners who are relatively new to racing get a huge thrill out of winning major races has been a real highlight for me.
Which market are you currently experiencing the strongest growth?
By geography, we are seeing strong interest outside of our traditional Mediterranean market, as far away as Australia. Certain economies are booming and people are investing in quality of life. By product sector, we are seeing the strongest growth in Wally sailboats, because they offer a unique combination of benefits – indulgent cruising plus exciting racing in the world’s premier fleet of ‘Maxi’ sailing yachts.
What is the next major launch you can tell us more about?
2011 is a landmark year for Wally as we will launch three important new product concepts:
The first is a new high-performance, racer-cruiser series called Wally//Cento. The Cento fleet was catalysed by the demands of two very experienced sailors, Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones and Charles Dunstone, who wanted super fast 100 foot yachts which can surf and plane and achieve speeds in excess of 25 knots downwind, yet can also provide bright, luxurious and comfortable cruising accommodation.
The second is a new long-distance motor yacht called Wally//Ace, which provides incredibly spacious and fuel-efficient ‘loft living on the sea’. These yachts can take 8-10 guests and 4 crew from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean on board a 26-metre yacht that rivals a traditional 45 metre for living space and deck space and our first owners are young and stylish people who are great ambassadors for this increasingly popular ‘slower and smarter’ style of motorboat.
The third launch is still a closely guarded secret which we will launch this summer in St Tropez and which we confidently expect to become the best selling Wally ever. I can’t say much about it now except that it will lower the Wally ‘entry price’ to a little over 500,000 Euros as part of our overall focus on ‘smarter’ boats.
What is the biggest challenge the brand will face in the coming years…
Our challenge now is to keep up with the growth opportunities and I like to quote Steve Jobs who says that one of his major roles at Apple was to say ‘no’ – i.e. to keep an inherently innovative organisation focused on today.
What one word best describes your strategy?
If I had three more words, then I would say innovation, quality and performance – strategic obsessions that have always driven Wally.
What is the next opportunity you would like your company to seize?
Wally is already widely seen as the de facto leader and innovator on the product side of the industry but we are looking now at the total experience of boat ownership and some opportunities where our innovative thinking and quality obsession can be manifested in making life simpler and more enjoyable for customers.
If you could change any aspect of the luxury industry what would it be?
I am not trying to change the luxury industry per se but I might define sub-sectors of ‘luxury’ more specifically and make a distinction between beautifully crafted ‘everyday’ objects such as shoes and watches and the more exceptional indulgences, which are authentic, experiential and rare such as a Wally!
For more in the series of 5 Minutes With … please see our previous conversations with luxury leaders as follows: