Looking to the future of yachting, YATCO interviews several fresh faces in the industry to discover how they got their start, their career highlights so far, and what they predict for the future of the yacht market.
Sipke Halbertsma is Commercial Director for Feadship America.
Featuring Sipke Halbertsma, Commercial Director of Feadship America
How did you start in yachting?
I grew up in Amsterdam, with a father who had a passion for sailing. He would take me and my siblings out almost every weekend when the weather allowed. Naturally, this passion was transferred to us and throughout high school I started to spend more and more time on the water. When I was 19, I moved to St Maarten, to work for the yacht club that also organizes the Heineken Regatta. During this time, I was supposed to work on a thesis for my marketing studies but instead filled every day with sailing, and every night with the stuff any 19-year-old prefers over his studies!
This time turned out to be quite a decisive time as it was my first real introduction to the yachting industry and I met a great friend, Manu Deceuninck. Once back in Amsterdam, I quickly did the work that was needed to finish my studies and get to work. As a “grown-up”, I thought I needed a real job, in a real office so I (briefly) left yachting behind. Although I did enjoy myself for a year, at 21, I could not resist the call when, Manu (now back in Europe), asked me if I wanted to start a brokerage firm together in Belgium. Thus, Yacht Consult was started, and Manu still owns and runs the company today.
Mind you, at the beginning, all we knew about yachts was that they were white big things on the horizon looking at you while sailing in a regatta. Luckily my friend had a little more experience, but we were learning on the job. Although it didn’t come easy, we did manage to set up a successful organization and most importantly, I decided to never leave this industry again.
After five years, the realization came that I wanted a change and by luck and a little push here and there, I got in touch with Henk de Vries, the CEO of Feadship. Henk and I had a great connection, and thanks to some help from Henk and my future colleagues at Feadship, I made it onto the team, and it’s fair to say that was one of the coolest days of my life! I can honestly say that I’ve never learned as much as I did during my years in the office with my commercial colleagues at Feadship in the Netherlands.
In 2018, a very cool opportunity popped up and once again it was my colleagues who pushed me in the right direction, and I think it was Henk who really planted the seed in my head that it would be cool to move to Florida and take up the role as Commercial Director at Feadship America.
Although this has always been one of my dreams, I never expected it to happen when I was only 30. Here I am, almost five years later and I couldn’t be prouder than to represent, what I believe to be the most beautiful yachting brand in the world (and of course, the Miami nightlife is a great bonus!).
As a younger professional in the industry, what trends have you seen, and what do you predict for the coming years?
As we can all clearly see, the changes that are happening in (finally) making the industry a more sustainable environment are incredibly important and without them, our industry will lose its right to existence. Another subject, that is almost equally important to me, and I believe will change us in the future is that we are already more and more moving into an age of transparency, which will influence our industry on all levels.
First, it is almost impossible for owners to hide their identity whenever they own a large yacht and are using it in popular and crowded places all around the world. If this is a good or a bad thing I will leave up to the reader, however, it is something that we must be prepared for, and prepare our clients for. And I believe that in the current situation, with some floating assets being frozen, does show that completely anonymous big yacht ownership is already a thing of the past.
Second, these exact same clients will benefit from this transparency, and I think it is a good thing. It will be more and more difficult for shipyards, owner’s reps, crew, brokers, and sub-contractors, to spend a clients’ money without a thorough explanation of where it’s going.
We all know of nightmare projects on refits and new builds or during management times, where millions and millions of a yacht owner’s money has been wasted. A more transparent industry will hopefully not allow for this to happen. In today’s world, it should never be “awkward” to ask who is making what and where, and why the money is being spent.
What kinds of challenges have you faced in yachting, and how have you overcome them?
Let’s start with saying that I’ve been extremely lucky throughout my career, so my challenges have not been the same as what some others have faced. One of the things I would like to point out, as it’s still a struggle for a lot of people to this day, and I do feel that we miss out on a lot of talent because of this: entering the yachting industry if you are not from a wealthy background is an extremely difficult thing to do.
I remember well that when we started our brokerage firm, another young and talented broker told me and my friend, “what are you doing in Belgium, you should move to Monaco, invest in yourself for one to two years and the deals will come at some point.”
Well, this all sounds great, but for our big adventure of starting a company, we struggled to get more than €20,000 together and moving to Monaco was not really an option. Although I realize that starting a company is difficult in any industry, it seems to me that in yachting, it’s even difficult to just get a job at one of the major firms. Most people don’t know about the next generation, and if they do, who do you approach?
The amount of talent that we miss out on is enormous and it’s our responsibility to get these people in if we really want to make our industry more sustainable in the future.
What are some of your most memorable and successful moments?
Memorable and successful sometimes overlap. Of course, I will never forget the first boat we sold as a brokerage firm; and I will never forget how the de Vries family let me into the world of Feadship; and I will not forget the first Monaco Yacht Show I ever went to; or the first time I stood in an elevator with Henk de Vries, when he shook my hand and said, “I think we just sold a boat.” This industry is filled with so many beautiful moments that it’s hard to pick the best.
However, some of the most memorable ones might also be the ones that had nothing to do with work – sailing trips with friends, long days and nights of celebrating our best life and whatnot.
I’m looking forward to everything that’s to come!
What advice would you give to someone looking to join the yachting world?
It sounds boring but start at the bottom. The industry isn’t as closed as it looks; I realize it’s filled with egos, and people who look a lot older than you (I’m now one of them!) and who might look more successful. But not so long ago they were exactly where you are now.
It’s a steep ladder, but as it’s a huge industry and not a lot of people know about it, I strongly believe that anybody with the right mentality, a bit of talent, and a little bit of luck can find their place in this industry.
Also, realize that we probably won’t become Feadship clients ourselves by working in the industry, but we can enjoy our time here and strive for the best!
What do you aspire to for the future?
One day I’d like to be mentioned in the Next Generation of Yachting interview series of YATCO!