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.
This month, we are speaking with Guillermo Houwer, who is Brand & Product Development Manager at Wally Yachts.
Featuring Guillermo Houwer, Brand & Product Development Manager of Wally Yachts
How did you get your start in yachting?
I have always been in love with the sea. No one in my family enjoyed boating, and yet, from a young age I would spend hours drawing boats. In school I would be constantly told off for making boat doodles instead of taking notes. This was rather strange, perhaps some remnant of my Dutch heritage, but certainly not something a kid growing up in Argentina would be into. Up until this point, I had not had much exposure to pleasure yachts, so my drawings consisted mostly of ferry boats, tankers and whatever else I could see through the window of the school which was facing the River Plate.
As I got older, we would often vacation with my family in the British Virgin Islands, and this is where my real passion for yachts, sailing and the sea started. There I learned to sail, and boating became second nature. As fate would have it, my family ended up moving to Monaco at age 12, and this is where, for the first time, I was exposed to the world of yachting. It is here that I decided that I would like to become a yacht designer.
After finishing high school, and not really knowing how to pursue this career path, I ended up going to University in the USA to study Business Administration and Finance, and subsequently moved to London after finishing my undergraduate degree. It appeared that the yachting bug had been contained. That is until one day, I found out Southampton had some of the best schools for yacht design, and so I drove down and enrolled the very next day. The bug wasn’t dead after all.
Upon finishing my degree in Naval Engineering, an opportunity came up in Monaco to get involved with the design of a new series of yachts by local yacht brand Wally. There I worked in the development of the Tender X (the outboard version) of the classic wallytender, and following its success I decided to stay on as Commercial Director. After being taken over by Ferretti Group I was tasked with merging Wally into the new structure.
This year will be my eighth year with Wally and my third as Brand & Product Development Manager for the brand.
As a younger professional in the industry, what trends have you seen, and what do you predict for the coming years?
As cliché as it sounds, I think sustainability will be an enormous focal point in the coming years. This is true not only for the operations of the yachts themselves, but the whole construction chain and product philosophy.
Today, many yachts present themselves as “green” or “efficient”, but the reality is the industry has a long way to go to achieve true carbon neutrality. We are in a transition period where the technology available is still too expensive and limited to offer a realistic alternative to fossil fuels. The challenge will be navigating the next few years, as regulation becomes more stringent, and clients become more conscious of their carbon footprint.
I do see the general trend moving in this direction, but the trick will be achieving carbon neutrality without giving up comfort, utility, and the experience that owners require onboard.
Another trend that is emerging and is becoming more prominent is the explorer segment. This is nothing new in the larger 500GT plus sector, but more and more I am seeing customers requesting smaller long-range capable efficient cruisers, especially among younger buyers. In the 20-40m segment, clients are no longer as concerned with top speed and are willing to compromise to get more volume and the ability to go further afield more efficiently instead.
What kinds of challenges have you faced in yachting, and how have you overcome them?
Challenges come in many ways, and this is especially true for the fast-paced dynamic industry that is yachting.
We constantly must deal with emergency situations and there is no such thing as a weekend or holiday when these things happen. When challenges crop up, it is usually all hands-on deck. The best way to overcome this is to have a great team of people, which I am lucky to have, all working around the clock to solve whatever the situation is and make sure things keep running smoothly.
From a broader perspective, the biggest challenge was taking a relatively small company that was Wally and incorporating it into a much larger and formal structure that is Ferretti Group.
In three short years, a complete range of new yachts was designed and launched to the market. As if this was not challenging enough, half of this had to be done under complete and partial lockdowns which complicated logistics on both the production side and the commercial side.
We are still very much dealing with the aftermath of this with the supply-chain issues. Despite these issues, I am extremely proud of the results and achievements by the whole team.
My approach to these challenges is always the same:
- breaking up the problem into small manageable bits and from those,
- create a list of actionable steps
to ensure the overall target is met.
While most things seem overwhelming at first, it is important to section off, prioritize, delegate, and regularly follow up to ensure the end goal is not forgotten.
What are some of your most memorable and successful moments?
I think my favourite moment is always the launch of a new model. I love taking an idea into a concept, overseeing the design, agonizing over every detail of the production process, to finally being able to sit in and sea trial the boat in real life. This is especially true for the moment we launched the first wallytender X, it being the very first project I got to work on, but nonetheless it’s still my favorite part of the job. This is especially gratifying when I get to interact and explain the product to a happy new customer.
What advice would you give to someone looking to join the yacht world?
My advice would be to get involved in the industry as much as possible, meet and interact at yacht shows. The yachting world is a tight knit community and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. There are many cases of people who come from all sorts of backgrounds, but they all share the same passion. This means that unlike some careers where the path is very clear and pre-determined, yachting is more about making connections, getting involved and understanding where the opportunities are.
The other thing which I think is very important is to work hard and try various aspects of the industry.
It is key to understand the process from all perspectives to be able to understand the pitfalls and successfully manage a yachting brand.
I was lucky to be involved in the strategic, design, commercial and even technical processes which allowed me to get a very broad perspective of what a client, a broker, a technician, and everyone values and expects. You shouldn’t be afraid to do the dirty work because you will always learn something from it that will help you later when you least expect. Also, don’t expect regular office hours and days…that’s not how the industry works!
What do you aspire to for the future?
I think my end goal would be to be able to retire one day and live aboard a boat I designed for a few years, to explore the world and see all the most remote locations.