Interview with General Manager of Simpson Marine

SSA met up with Mr. Paul Whelan, General Manager of Simpson Marine for an exclusive interview.

Paul brings with him 24 years of Marine Industry experience. Here, Paul shares with us how he became the General Manager of Simpson Marine, his views on the yachting industry, and the recent opening of Simpson’s Office in Indonesia, Jakarta and Bali…

SSA: Welcome to SSA, Paul. Did you know that you have been competing with YP Loke as “Mr. Nice Guy” in this industry in Asia? YP was also awarded the “Golden Carrot” award as Mr. Nice Guy in the last Asia Superyacht Conference in 2010. How do you feel about this?

PW: YP Loke is very nice and it’s definitely a tough one to follow. But it is nice to compete with someone of his statute. I would be delighted to see a “Carrot” in my cupboard, sitting together with the other trophies in my cupboard though.

SSA: How did you end up in Singapore, with Simpson Marine? What is the industry scenario in Singapore?

PW: I first came to Singapore back in the mid 1990’s in a superyacht in 2 occasions, cruising South East Asia (SEA) and ended up in Raffles Marina for a month in each occasion. That’s my first introduction to Singapore till I got a job with Simpson Marine. (Originally Australian, he successfully sold his business in Australia and was looking for new challenges. He was introduced to Mike Simpson for a position in HK, but was offered in Singapore. After consideration, he took up office with Simpson Marine.)
It has been a great experience living in Singapore with my family. Singapore now has become very dynamic and more mature. However, the industry is still very small compared to Australia, Europe and America. Although the industry is small in Singapore, I have been given a fantastic opportunity to be in Singapore to run the Simpson office. Asia, or SEA, is going well for the last 18 months since I last joined; the good timing and great team paves it as a good combination to make things happen in the positive way.

SSA: Why work for Mike Simpson, the man himself, rather than with ex-Simpson staff or even start something new in Asia?

PW: Because Mike has confidence in me in running the job and decided to take up the offer. I was originally interested to work in HK, but the position was offered in Singapore. After consideration, and looking for new challenges, I took up the position in Singapore with Simpson.

SSA: So what is your job exactly?

PW: General Manager for Simpson Marine, looking after the Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesian teams.

SSA: Regionally, there are boats, yachts in Singapore, Malaysia, but not much in Indonesia. What do you think of Indonesia?

PW: Indonesia is a market that Simpson has been talking about some time. There are many excellent Indonesian clients, and Simpson would want to support these customers and give them our best support, even though they may keep their boats in Singapore.

SSA: What is the competition for Simpson in Indonesia?

PW: There is not one company that is really established in Indonesia, except for independent brokers who borrow an office and work on commission basis. Continuing on the notion of providing the best support for our Indonesian customers was to invest and set up an office in Indonesia. This shows our seriousness in engaging with the local Indonesians as we see a good future in Indonesia. Simpson Marine has recently opened offices in Jakarta and Bali.

SSA: Simpson Marine was the Founding Member of the Superyacht Singapore Association. What do you think the industry has achieved over the last few years in Singapore and in the region? How do you feel Simpson benefitted as a Company?

PW: SSA raises the profile of Singapore, and to a certain extent of SEA as a whole throughout the world. Through the Monaco Yacht Show, SSA’s own Asia Superyacht Conferences, the inaugural Singapore Yacht Show, SSA has done huge things to raise the profile of Singapore… However, it’s rather difficult to say what benefits it has exactly achieved for Simpson. Inversely, or even slightly negative, because it opens up to the world of a market here and thus invite more competition.
But competition can be good, because it makes us improve. It’s natural that as market grows, you can see more players and competition. Simpson is a strong brokerage house, amongst the popular names of Fraser, Edmiston, and Northrop Johnson. Simpson has a great team, and it is important that our staff strength work on commission basis, bonuses; in other words they are well taken care of. Compared to other brokers who work on an independent basis and on commission and which may lose out on the rapport built with their co-workers.

SSA: Are you looking for good staff? What’s your definition of ‘good people’?

PW: Yeah, we are constantly looking for good people. There is no shortage of intelligent and well educated people in Singapore. However, in the marine industry, it’s difficult to look for people here with experience - not self-starters, but shows good initiative, self-starting, can think for themselves, good communicators. It’s difficult to find in Singapore, and if there are, it will be good to catch these people, and bring them on to this industry.

SSA: What is your greatest achievement since you joined Simpson Marine (as General Manager)?

PW: Getting the team to work together, and able to work exceptionally well together with a team of 15, and with diversity which was lacking in the past. Exposure gained through recent boat shows and events (Singapore Yacht Show, and Asia Superyacht Conference) has helped raise the profile of Simpson Marine. I would like to think that I have brought Simpson in people’s minds and the industry that Simpson is the industry that people would like to do business and work with.

SSA: What does Simpson Marine see in the next 5 years?

PW: Simpson is a big company who has been in the business for 26 years. As a big company, Simpson has large targets, and my primary focus is in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. This year (2011) is a great year in Indonesia. I would like to see big steps in Indonesia, obviously with sales, and recognition in Indonesia. Simpson sets distinct trends in larger and larger yachts. These are the 2 distinct areas that I am focusing on – Indonesia and larger yachts. Malaysia is already making requests to Simpson for larger yachts (50M+). There seems to be more clients for larger yachts in Malaysia than in Singapore.

SSA: What does China hold for SM, and for the future?

PW: China is the next big thing, and definitely for the future. Simpson is building offices in Hainan, Sanya, and some other parts of China.

SSA: Would you like to your daughter to be part of this industry?

PW: Yeah; my wife grew up in sailing, and have a 36-feet yacht in Stockholm and sails in summer. I would like my daughter and future children (expecting twins in November) to be part of this industry. I’m delighted that my children will be raised in Singapore which is clean and very stable.

SSA: What are your concerns in the yachting industry?

PW: Quality of contractors, getting quality contractors with can-do attitude, instead of saying it cannot be done. Pricing of services is very expensive. Captains here need better training for the vessels they command. It goes further than knowing the rules on the road; understand the systems, correct maintenance, to coping to situations unexpectedly. The ability to react to situations would be more critical than just knowing how to drive the boat. It is also important to set out responsibilities of the captains and owners of the yacht in the contract.
There must be mutual communication between the captains and their owners so that they could bring across the right messages, and for the Owners, it is crucial to understand how to maintain their yachts/boats in terms of dollars and cents. It requires efforts to bring the captains and owners together to understand things on the same page; this is expected on a fast-moving industry.

SSA: If SSA were to open a Singapore Superyacht Training Centre to fill up the gaps in the yachting industry, what are your thoughts?

PW: It depends on how the training is conducted, who runs it, and what is the curriculum. In Switzerland, training would be conducted in hospitality schools, and it is important to recognize premium services are paramount in the yachting industry. However, safety would be a more critical factor; a good crew should be able to do everything. At least, they should be aware of the fundamentals of the engine room, right through to presentations. Additionally, smartly-dressed Captains would be encouraged, who takes pride in themselves and the boat they represent - they want their boats to be reflection of their own standards. This often arise competition between crew and their captains; they want their boat to be the best looking boat in the marina – and this should be instilled to the captains and crew. Obviously, there is a big difference in the presentation of captains working in bigger yachts in Europe, and Australia. This arises from the different types of people working in the industry here in Singapore.

SSA: Would you call that a superyacht industry or an activity in Singapore?

PW: It wouldn’t be called a yachting industry here yet, as this is still a new here. It is growing, supported by services, logistics like Asia Superyachts. At times, the industry is hindered by shortage of services requested or shortage of infrastructure. As this is a small industry, it can’t be compared to the bigger players like Fort Lauderdale, Palma…

SSA: Do you think Singapore can make it big in the yachting industry, something significant?

PW: It is getting there; as far as 15 years ago, Singapore has been touted as the ‘Monaco of the East’, the hub of Asia, and now Asia is the ‘3rd cruising ground’. Through the years, Singapore has achieved more, but hindered by issues of piracy in the Gulf region back in the 90’s, and that’s slow down the growth in Asia. That having said, there are still yacht owners who want to visit and continue to see Singapore on their own, a fantastic cruising ground, or through transport companies delivering their yachts to the designated countries. But still, yacht visits from the Med or America to Singapore are relatively thin. However, it is encouraging to see more and more new Asian owners with big yachts cruising the local area rather than attracting European and American yacht owners here. Traditionally, we have been attracting yacht owners from the Med and the States and these owners also want to venture to new places and pride themselves with their trophies of boats. So for the yacht owners who travel to Asia, it’s a different breed of owners altogether.

SSA: How is the charter market in Asia?

PW: It’s tough to sell charters in Asia. There is shortage of boats, and generally charters generate more income in Europe than here in Singapore. This is purely an economics viewpoint, as it’s not attractive enough for the owners in Europe to charter in SEA from a business viewpoint. However, if the yacht owners decide to travel to Asia and able to secure a charter or two, it’s not exactly value added as its more worthwhile chartering in Europe.

SSA: Simpson won the Best Charter Company Award in Asia. What are your thoughts?

PW: I believe it is a fair process, and hopefully others will get a chance to win next year...

SSA: What are Simpson’s plans for year end to December?

PW: Simpson will be busy with greeting the arrivals of Azimuts, Beneteaus. Sales are looking good, with delivery into the early quarter of 2012, including some brokerage boats. Simpson will scale down with activities over the F1 period, which in previous years sponsored some events. Instead, this year, Simpson will take some boats to the Marina Barrage. After all, people draw themselves to cars during the F1, and will not divert their interest to boats.

SSA: What do you reckon of a SSA superyacht gathering around the Southern Islands during the F1?

PW: Any event to get boats out of their berths would be good. We are fortunate to see the marinas have big boats. Here we can see yacht owners are passionate about their boats; this sets out apart from the boat owners from SEA to China. It is definitely more encouraging having passionate owners who enjoy the sea. And yacht owners usually also upgrade their boats as over time.

SSA: Can people really enjoy boating in Singapore?

PW: Yes, they can, although many think there’s nothing to do here. However, you don’t need to go far to enjoy boating. The nearest place would be in Malaysia, with simple clearance at the customs, either by sail boat or power boat within 4 to 5 hours. An hour away from Malaysia brings people to Indonesia with their beautiful islands. Whilst in Singapore, people could pop by to Lazarus Islands for a barbecue. Owning a yacht opens up to a world of possibilities really…

SSA: What’s your best experience in Singapore?

PW: It is very easy and accessible to get food around in Singapore, from local food at hawker centres for a mere $10, to restaurants for a fantastic meal with good service. Things are going well and it’s enjoyable to be in Singapore; it’s almost like halfway from Europe to Australia (Paul’s wife is Swedish, and Paul is Australian).

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