Farouk Nefzi

Chief Marketing Officer
"We are marketing a desirability, a private retreat."
Farouk Nefzi is the Chief Marketing Officer at Feadship, the Dutch shipyard that built superyachts for an exclusive clientele. We talk to Farouk about marketing, innovation and sustainability in this ultra-niche. Spoiler alert: a superyacht is not a luxury (or is it?).
Please tell us about the history of Feadship.
‘After World War II, the yacht builders in Holland didn't have any clientele because everybody was busy rebuilding Europe. Seven yacht builders and a naval architect joined forces and focused on the aristocrats in America. After all, they were still spending money. They built a first yacht and brought it to the New York Boat Show, where it was an immediate success. Later, a few of the shipyards were taken over by the two shipyards that are currently the shareholders.’

At the time, the first Feadship yacht must have been a risk for the entrepreneurs behind it.
‘Indeed. They built a ship without a client because they needed to showcase something. In those days, what you saw is what you got. The powerful effects of tactile, touching, seeing, witnessing; these were very defining in those days.’

You said once that a superyacht is not a luxury product. Please explain…
‘Everybody treats the physical product as a product. You look at the aesthetics, the shape, and you define it as luxury because there is a certain value element to it. But that's not what we're building. Our clients are looking for an oasis in the midst of their hectic, publicly profiled lives. We are providing that retreat. If you are a billionaire, with the cacophony of running your businesses and the paparazzi chasing you, that Zen element becomes a real necessity.’
And only a superyacht provides that?
‘There is no necessity for a superyacht, just as there isn’t one for owning a private jet or a huge mansion. It’s always a value proposition. If money doesn’t matter anymore, and you cannot go out without a bodyguard, then what is the value of a yacht? How do you value that type of freedom? This goes beyond the element of luxury.’

On the other hand, the yacht owners do like to show off their luxury products in Saint-Tropez.
‘Our type of clientele goes hand in hand with a lot of confidentiality. They are not there to showcase but there is a lot of pride in what they're making, especially in terms of innovation.

What makes your yachts the very best?
‘We don't cut corners. It's a heritage. Feadship has become a leadership firm on its own because it puts so much effort into the level of innovation. Our clients can dream up whatever they want. We never say no. On top of that, it has to be perfect. Our credo is: people, passion, and perfection. You see this in the immaculate way we put in a deck on a yard, the solutions we provide, the perfectly silent air-conditioning. We build yachts that are made to keep the crew happy and with a happy crew, you have a happy owner.’
How big are these yachts typically?
‘The sizes range between 40 and 170 meters. We never build for more than 12 passengers on board, including guests. You could have a crew from five up to 40 people, depending on the type of yacht. There's a lot of misinformation about the monetary value of a yacht. In the size brackets we are active in, prices could start from 30 up to 500 million. Everybody thinks it's a million per meter; that is a total nonsense.’

What are some of the most common misconceptions of luxury yachts and the reason why people buy them?
‘There is a stigma that goes along with ultra-luxury and wealth. Another one is that yachts are polluting the world. And that they are unnecessary. But there is no knowledge on the economic impact. Think of the build time, or the impact on every port that they're going in, the provisioning that comes along with that, every piece of maintenance throughout a yacht’s life cycle. There's a huge employment factor. Everybody sees Holland as a maritime nation, which we are, but the superyacht industry today is way larger than the total maritime industry in this country.’

Bigger than cargo?
‘Yes, nobody knows that but this is a fact. Furthermore, the superyacht industry is highly innovative and progressive towards the future. The yachts and their owners are making an enormous effort to clean the oceans.’

Sustainable superyachts, it seems a contradiction in terms...
‘As are private jets and cars. The majority of cars worldwide are still driving on fossil fuels. The pollution of the oceans comes from land-based trash. Ten, twenty years ago yachts used fossil fuels. But look at our order portfolio at this moment; just today we delivered Obsidian, a yacht that creates 90 percent less pollution due to its use of biofuels.’

Do your clients increasingly demand more sustainable solutions?
‘Yes. It's a 50/50 joint-venture between the company and our clients. They have the means to drive and accelerate the innovation process in this direction. Our clients have children and grandchildren, and they are so conscious of the sustainability element. What everybody forgets is that the backyard of a yacht is the ocean. And nobody wants to sail in a filthy ocean.’
Do your millennial customers care more than your traditional ones?
‘Conscious consumerism is ingrained in their DNA. These newer generations will determine the future orientation of this industry, which has to be greener. Sustainability is not even a topic anymore. If you’re not steering your company in that direction, you become obsolete. But what sets you apart from your competition is: who comes first? Who is driving better innovation? We have created a measurement tool called YETI: the Yacht Environmental Transparency Index. This shows how green your yacht is.’

You only sell four to six yachts each year. What does a chief marketing officer do in this ultra-niche?
‘We have 2000 employees and apart from those four to six yachts per year, we have many more in our order books. We have a three- to four-year bill time per yacht. We're selling and marketing to the most difficult, most demanding clients in the world. They are well-informed, very intelligent. They are the leaders of the entrepreneurial world. They receive a lot of specialized information from a huge circle of people. All these people funnel a certain desirability to this one client, and they have to end up knocking on our door. The one thing we never do, is actively go to a client and ask them to buy a Feadship. They have to be convinced already. Most of the time we serve clients that are very experienced in yachting. They owned different yachts before and they know what they want. They want to build something that doesn't exist yet, and that's when they come to Feadship. We are marketing a desirability, a private retreat, a personal dream. You are going to create a suit that fits only you.’

The videos on your website are selling a lifestyle, without showing the interiors of the yachts.
‘I have to work with confidentiality, we're building people's private retreats. Our strategy is fully focused on building a love brand that comes with a lot of mystical elements, a lot of sensuality, and a lot of storytelling. Our strategy is a combination of marketing and branding. We start with defining our DNA. In the center of it, we build an amazing experience because it's about the customer journey. They have to wait four years before they have their dream. The journey towards that is an exceptional one because our customers are going to do something that simply nobody else has done before.’
Describe Feadship’s DNA, its character?
‘We have a certain flair of arrogance, but at the same time we're also humble, and we want to be the best. Our employees are obsessed with giving the clients exactly what they want. That combination creates a certain characteristic.’

How about your own DNA?
‘Being a second-generation immigrant son from Tunisia, I had no nautical experience. I would never have imagined myself entering this industry. At the age of 18, I was invited on a boat with a few students. For the first time I experienced that element of tranquility and fun. I thought: ‘Oh my God, this is so cool. This is so elevating.’ It was a defining moment for me.’

How does your upbringing help you in your current job?
‘It seems like a world removed. I was six years old when I moved from Tunisia to Holland. We were a poor family. Through that, I learned what it means to be part of creating your destiny. My father had two jobs. When I was 13, he started taking me along to help him. He always said: ‘If you want to do this for the rest of your life, then don't study.’ From that moment on I always combined my education with work. Through this, I see my colleagues - whether they’re welders, carpenters or cleaners – as my equals. We all serve the same purpose of doing our best for this one specific client. We're all on this same journey together.’
What do you love most about being a chief marketing officer at Feadship?
‘This job is a lifestyle. It's not nine to five. I love working with a beautiful family company, because that's the origin of both shareholders. That family’s DNA is so encapsulated in this company. I also love being allowed to be creative. I’m in the fortunate situation that my shareholders dare to be disruptive.’

How are you disruptive?
‘We have done so many things that many other yacht builders never do. For instance, we started doing interviews. This was always a very closed industry because the perception was that sharing knowledge could only boomerang back to you. So, we lifted the veil of secrecy a little bit, just to make people understand.’

What advise do you have for our younger listeners?
‘The first one is networking. It's still all people's business, don't forget that. Your life’s not just digital. You may learn something new from the interaction with peers. Secondly, have a little patience. Pace yourself into learning, accept that someone else may know more. Thirdly, dare to participate. Don't be a passive participant. So what if you say something wrong? You learn from your mistakes.’
About Farouk Nefzi
Faroul is the Chief Marketing Officer at Feadship. Before joining the superyacht builder, he worked a.o. as director at HMM Exhibitions BV/HISWA te Water, director at FairPromotion (dedicated boat show services) and Sr Project Manager at RAI Exhibitions. As a board member of the Superyacht Life Foundation, he also works on improving the reputation of the industry.

About Feadship
Founded in 1949, Feadship (First Export Association of Dutch Shipbuilders) is a cooperative venture between two shipyards: Royal Van Lent Shipyard and Koninklijke De Vries Scheepsbouw. Feadship designs and constructs high-end luxury yachts and is one of the leading builders of custom superyachts. Headquartered in Haarlem, Feadship has a turnover of more than $200 million.
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