Hallmark of a legend
When you have the chance to interview an industry legend, you always come up against ‘what questions to ask that we haven’t all heard before.’ Set against the backdrop of a category 5 cyclone that hit Queensland in mid-February, Hillary Buckman interviewed Bill Barry-Cotter and his team at Maritimo to find out just what makes him tick and why everybody refers to caskets when they speak about longevity with the company.
Text Hillary Buckman Images Mark Burgin
We could talk about Bill’s 55 years in the industry, how he has won more than 20 awards (the most significant being Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010) and has built over 4,800 boats. But haven’t we all read that before?
Over all the years I have known Bill, spending time at his yard with his dedicated team, one thing I do know is they all respect and admire him. Yes he can obviously be tough, and at times quite intimidating, but with a fire in his belly and genuine zeal that inspires loyalty in all who come into his orbit.
I recently had the opportunity to probe him with questions that I hope didn’t ruffle his venerable feathers.
You have a reputation for being very hands-on and at the factory most days, overseeing every step of the process, people even have you sweeping floors and turning off the light each night! But really, after 40 plus years in the business, what keeps you motivated and interested in the design, manufacturing process, and marketing of new models?
BBC: I still enjoy the whole process. It is a challenge to improve and better each boat that we design and build. I am still passionate about the race team, although I don’t actually race any more, and I get a thrill out of working with the team designing new models from the ground up and then seeing them become reality and be met with demand in the market place. Boat building has been my life and I really can’t see myself not being involved. The bottom line is, I enjoy it.
Why did you choose to apply your considerable skills to the boating industry rather than any other business?
BBC: I first got attracted to the water and boating through competitive sailing and one thing led to another. If I had not gone into boat building then I probably would have gravitated to the building sector.
How much more can Maritimo grow in terms of sales and exports at its current premises?
BBC: We have plenty of capacity here at Coomera and also at Hope Island so that is not a problem. I think we can increase sales and exports as international markets continue to improve. We are not focused on being the biggest boat manufacturer, just the best boat manufacturer. Our drive is to improve each new model in terms of performance, fuel efficiency and overall quality. That has been our focus for the past few years and will continue to be into the future.
Is expansion on the cards?
BBC: We will gradually increase production in line with demand, but I am not in any hurry to go out and double our production. We will continue to revise and study markets here and overseas and take opportunities when they arise. Europe and the USA still hold a lot of potential for us to grow.
With the drop of the Australian dollar, which country do you think will show the most growth in sales over the next year and why?
BBC: I think both North and South America have great opportunity for us particularly with the falling dollar and the interest shown at the Miami International Boat Show gives me great optimism. We are certainly far more competitive this year than we were this time last year. I think Europe will also continue to improve. Asia is also a prospect, but challenging.
How important is the Asian market to you?
BBC: The Asian market has the potential to be significant, but it is not without its challenges both economically and culturally. We are actively increasing our presence through established dealers in the Asian region. A lack of marina facilities in some areas can negatively impact on boating generally.
Can you tell us what is currently on the drawing board?
BBC: We have the M65 and M48 cruising motor yachts due for their public release at the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show in May and we are currently working on an M61 cruising motor yacht and also an S61. It will be a smaller version than the M65 and being that bit smaller we can achieve benefits with power plants and there is also the added benefits of smaller berthing being required. We hope to have the M61 ready for the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show in 2016.
With Australians buying more catamarans than ever before, will we ever see a Maritimo catamaran?
BBC: We have done some tentative designs for a 53 catamaran and we will be doing more focus groups to ascertain the demand and then decide if we will proceed. The issue will be that the ultimate cost of the boat won’t be cheap and also the added problems for owners with berthing a cat. We will continue to do research into it. In terms of efficiency, our monohull range is achieving the same savings and while you certainly get the benefit of space in a catamaran it won’t be a cheap boat to deliver. We will keep looking into it.
What is your favourite boat you have built and why?
BBC: My favourite boat is always the next one. I am building an M65 at the moment which we will enjoy using and after that who knows. In terms of design the M65 is a fantastic boat and with the full-beam master suite and large sky lounge there’s plenty of room. Historically I think the original Mariner Pacer remains a favourite. We built 50 to 52 a year for a period of nine years and in terms of volume and technique it was very similar in those days to now in terms of high labour costs and until recently, a high currency. We produced a lot of that model with a relatively small team and they were a big success. Probably one of the most profitable boats I have ever built.
You have a great team behind you at Maritimo. How have you managed to retain staff throughout a very difficult time in our industry and keep them motivated?
BBC: Many of the key people at Maritimo have been with me for years in one role or another with a few following me from Mariner to Riviera and then onto Maritimo. Involving them in the whole process is the key to keeping people motivated. Everyone from the apprentices up to the senior management team is able to contribute and that builds on the success of the company and also keeps morale high.
In the boom days at Maritimo we turned over $75 million a year and had a staff of 480 people. At that size it is very difficult to get around the whole team and to maintain a personal relationship and thus high morale. Last year we turned over $37 million with a workforce of 120. The efficiency we have been able to achieve is as good as it was in the 1970s. The key to keeping people happy is to keep them involved and value their opinions.
We are never happy to rest on our laurels and just say ‘well we have achieved a lot, that’s the best we can do.’ I have a great deal or respect for the people who form part of the key Maritimo team and I know that they know I am always striving to be better. We have a tight team of very skilled people that work well together and we all have a common goal. That is one of the key things that keeps us together and I think it is pivotal in them staying with me.
Is there a deadline in sight for your semi-retirement, winding down to handing on the reins, or selling the business?
BBC: I will keep working until they cart me out in a box! I want to stay involved, but we will do more holidays and keep enjoying life. I enjoy it.
Well, it looks like we’ll be seeing Bill around the boat shows for some time to come, that is, if there isn’t any F1 Racing on! Thanks for your time Bill.
GARTH CORBITT, CEO
Originally from Sydney, Garth has always had a fascination and passion for manufacturing and has spent the majority of his career involved with publicly listed companies and multi-nationals specialising in growing companies and improving profitability.
A decision to seek a better lifestyle for his family saw him move to the Gold Coast in 2002. He joined a private publishing business and remained with them until 2005. Garth then secured a role with Neumann Petroleum, where he coordinated the acquisition of Matilda Fuels and grew the company by more than three times over two years.
When the challenge arrived in August 2010 to join Bill at Maritimo, it was one he seized.
By February 2012 he had earned the role of CEO and he now leads the management team running the manufacturing business and also manages the day to day operations of the Barry-Cotters’ extensive property and investment portfolio.
“My role with Bill provides immense variety and we start each day with a target to improve how we do things and the quality of our product,” he said. “My job was to revitalise the brand, improve the corporate culture and grow the sales and profitability, and we have done that. We have a fantastic team at Maritimo and the skill sets of our core management team is second to none.”
GREG HAINES, SALES AND MARKETING MANAGER
Greg Haines, the son of legendary Queensland boat manufacturer, the late John Haines AM joined Maritimo in April 2012 as head of sales and marketing.
Greg had, until recently, worked in the family-owned Haines Group where he was heavily involved in expanding the Suzuki Marine dealer network. He retains an interest in the company along with his brother John.
“John and I have been part of the boat world since we were young kids,” he said. “We have come up through the ranks from the factory floor working on plugs right through to developing dealer networks and expanding our product offerings.
“I had reached a stage where I wanted to try something different, wanted new challenges and wanted to be part of the larger luxury cruiser market, so when the opportunity arose to join Bill Barry-Cotter and the Maritimo team, I jumped at it.
“My father and Bill knew and respected each other and both achieved significant goals in their respective areas. I have also had a long association with several of the long-time Maritimo people, including some who we raced against over the years, so it seemed like a natural progression to take this role.
Greg lives on the northern Gold Coast and owns a Maritimo M58 called Exhale which was one of the showstoppers at last year’s SCIBS. Greg added every bell and whistle including a B&O sound system, Wenge timbers and a host of other features.
“We’ve done 200 hours in the boat in less than one year so I know the product and I know how well it works,” he said. “I have no troubles singing the praises of the Maritimo and Mustang ranges.”
Phil Candler, General Manager/Operations and Craig Jones, Customer Service/Costing Manager.
PHIL CANDLER, GENERAL MANAGER / OPERATIONS
Phil has known Bill for over 24 years, starting at the Riviera factory in 1989 where he was the foreman of research and development. He stayed for 19 years and when time for change arrived, he left and went to work at MTU Detroit Australia as GM based in Brisbane. After four years in this role, he then re-joined Bill at Maritimo in June 2013.
“I have a passion for developing people and seeing them reach their full potential. I also love boats and boat production so by re-joining Bill again I knew I could fulfill both of my career objectives.”
Phil is now involved in the full spectrum of the business and that ranges from introducing ‘the voice of the customer’ focus groups and customer interaction, to empowering staff, training our people and working with the team in designing world-class boats.
He has also introduced a tight global warranty loop which gives direct feedback to the production floor which has translated into significant reduction of warranty costs and improved customer service satisfaction.
“I knew after years of working with Bill what a creative genius is inside of him and I am very happy to be actively engaged again with someone who is as gifted as he is. We are a fantastic team at Maritimo and I am very happy to be part of it.
We are totally focused on delivering what our customers want and designing world-class boats. I couldn’t be happier.”
CRAIG JONES, CUSTOMER SERVICE / COSTING MANAGER
Craig did his shipwright/boat building apprenticeship at Sydney Technical College and was at Mariner Cruisers when Bill purchased it in 1978. Craig is Maritimo’s customer/dealer liaison person and works with owners on things like their custom extras and fit out selection. He basically hand-holds them from sign up to delivery. When Bill sold out of Mariner in 1978, Craig remained and was manager when BBC bought it back in 1988. Craig was there until BBC moved the whole operation to the Gold Coast in 1999. He moved up with Bill and became production manager at Riviera. He remained at Riviera until Bill sold out and then a couple of years after that he moved across to Bill again when he started Maritimo.
Craig knows boat building from the ground up and he says the old timber boat building skills are still very important today in terms of producing top quality plugs. He has worked with Bill for his entire career and is an important member of the team at Maritimo.
“It never ceases to amaze me that Bill can identify what the customer wants and then deliver that in the fastest time possible while maintaining world-class quality. He is very innovative and has a knack for seeing things differently that ultimately work well. It’s great being part of this team.”
Mandy Beale, Marketing and Production Assistant with Chris Spriggens, Production Supervisor.
AMANDA (MANDY) BEALE, MARKETING AND PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
Mandy got her first ride in a powerboat at the age of seven in a Haines Hunter. She fell in love with boating on the spot and her passion continues to this day.
She started water skiing at 18, mainly on fresh water lakes, which lead to her being introduced to the legendary Alan Beale (now her husband). At the age of 20 she became part of his powerboat racing pit crew “Psycho” and worked for his company “Stephen’s Boats for 15 years.”
In 2003 they packed their bags in Melbourne and headed north. Once settled, the first resumé she sent was to Maritimo in the hope that they had a position going. To her mind, it was the perfect job. The boats may have been four times larger than what they use to build but they still had engines, props and skegs and they had a race team, which was an added bonus.
In May 2005, a position came up when Maritimo was still a fledging company. Mandy has worked her way up, through the good old days and the dreaded GFC.
“This is a crazy position and I wouldn’t have it any other way. A day can entail taking/typing minutes of the production meeting, dressing a boat for a photo shoot, provisioning an export boat for a voyage to Sydney, preparing the owner’s manual and HIN certificate for a handover, wrapping and shipping parts to the USA, organising lunch for a media presentation, helping set up for a boat show and booking flights, hire cars and hotels for staff traveling interstate or overseas.
“Bill is an icon in the industry and I consider it an honour to be working for him. Not only am I married to a boat racing legend but I am also surrounded with boating legends on a day-to-day basis. I have the marine industry in my blood.
“Maybe I will take my last breath at my desk but it will be with a smile on my face and a great sense of achievement, that’s for sure!”
CHRIS SPRIGGENS, PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR
Originally born in Calcutta India in 1957, Chris moved to Auckland, New Zealand with his parents in 1964 where he did his boat building apprenticeship at P.Vos Ltd. from the age of 16 through till 22.
Chris started his own business repairing existing boats and building new boats, the most notable being “Mad Max” (a one-tonner designed by Laurie Davidson.)
He moved to Australia in 1990 and his first contract was to build a power catamaran for a long-time friend. It was during that time that he met Phil Frazer who was building a similar boat designed by the same person. He was invited to join the original Maritimo team building the plugs for the first M60 motoryacht back in 2003.
When that project finished he formed a small team and started building offshore race boats for Bill, one of which became the World Champion back in 2012.
Chris was then given the opportunity to go to American Samoa for five months to build a 100-foot traditional Fautasi Racing Canoe for one of the villages just after the tragic tsunami of 2009.
Moving back to Australia he resumed working at Maritimo, continuing to build race boats and then moved over to the R&D section building plugs and moulds for the Maritimo range of luxury cruisers. In his current role, he oversees manufacturing for Maritimo’s entire range of luxury motor yachts.
“I have been with Bill since Maritimo started in 2003. I like the fact that Bill thinks outside the square, he definitely has a different way of doing things that usually ends up right. But he will also listen if you say that you don’t think something will work out the way he wants.”
Peter (Muddy) McGrath, Service, Australasian Warranty and Hardstand Manager with Ross (Rossco) Willaton, Shipping, Service and International Warranty.
PETER (MUDDY) McGRATH, SERVICE, AUSTRALASIAN WARRANTY AND HARDSTAND MANAGER
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Muddy’s love of racing started with the sedan and stock cars that would come in to the shop for repairs after a race meeting. During that time he helped his mate on his race boat Stephenson’s Express and shortly after that he put a blown engine in his own boat Aurora. He was asked to drop two engines into a 33-foot Cat with skeptical critics saying it would never work. Running on an extremely tight budget he proved them wrong and won the New Zealand Class Championship and the United Marathon. Peter Turner took the boat over, renamed her Sleepyhead and the two Petes ran that year’s Trans-Tasman races and won the series.
It was during that time that Muddy met Bill who had been crossing the “ditch” competing in the Trans-Tasman series with his Riviera sponsored Cat. In 1999 Bill asked Pete to come to the Gold Coast to rig and assemble some race boats for him including the Tencara, which still runs today.
When Bill sold Riv he continued racing but under the banner of his newly-formed company, Maritimo Offshore, and moved Muddy and his crew from a cramped shed at Hope Island to a purpose built race shop adjacent to the Maritimo production facility in Coomera. The race shop boasts the top of the range equipment from a 1500 horsepower dyno, engine assembly rooms, overhead cranes, numerous spare parts and machinery galore.
Pete ran the race team from 2000 to 2013 and a highlight was running with his fellow workmate Ross (Rossco) Willaton when they won the 2012 World Championships in Key West Florida.
When Bill revamped the Maritimo site at Hope Island into a full service facility with a 70-tonne travel lift and multiple hardstands, Muddy was the perfect man to run it. He moved from Coomera to Hope Island and now manages the facility offering the owners of all makes and models the opportunity to restore, repair or maintain their boats.
ROSS (ROSSCO) WILLATON, SHIPPING, SERVICE AND INTERNATIONAL WARRANTY
Better known as “Rossco,” Ross Willaton has been involved with Bill for more than 20 years, initially at Riviera, racing powerboats and now taking care of the vital customer service and shipping operations at Maritimo.
The only genuine “local,” (born in Brisbane and growing up on the Gold Coast), Rossco worked with Riviera dealership Greg Swain Marine for nearly 30 years.
Although based at Hope Island, Rossco could be anywhere at any time. “My primary role is ensuring that a Maritimo owner is a happy owner,” he says.
A resident of Willowvale, where he runs horses on an eight-acre block, Rossco joined Maritimo in January 2005. “I might be a new boy, but I’ve known most of the team for quite a few years,” he explained.
After plenty of experience test-driving Bill’s various offshore race boats, Rossco has also had success in competition, winning the Australian Class 2 Championships for Bill in 2002 and in 2006 and 2011 taking out the Class 1 title with Bill’s stepson Luke Durman.
A man who thoroughly enjoys his day-to-day role with the company, Rossco sees a bright future. “I think the boat range we’ve produced to date is outstanding and from my viewpoint the service problems have been absolutely minimal,” he said.
“It’s just further proof of the talent of Bill and the team he has gathered around him.”