Chris Cecil-Wright is the adventure loving founder of Cecil-Wright and Partners: A superyacht brokerage based in Monaco and London with a focus on superyachts over 40 meters and Northern European builds.
My early morning interview starts with Chris having just come back from a brisk bike ride. Towel in hand, he’s still dabbing his forehead as he begins the interview and instantly exudes enthusiasm and a friendly personality through his beaming eyes and wide smile.
Having previously founded and worked at one of the largest yacht brokerages in the world for over 20 years, in 2013 Chris relocated back home to the UK with his young family to start his next adventure. His new brokerage grew around servicing a tight-knit group of clients in a uniquely close way.
Here we find out a bit more about Chris, the way he thinks, and amongst other things discover the value he brings to his clients…
How would you describe Cecil-Wright & Partners to someone hearing about your company for the first time?
We are unique in being a relatively compact yacht brokerage for the top end of the yacht market, and notably, we don’t try to be all things to all people. If you work with us, you will know the company from top to bottom and you will receive a service commensurate with that ethos.
We focus on superyachts of forty metres and above and specialize in the Northern European shipyards who build the very best and offer the best value for money – not the cheapest – but without question the right balance of quality against cost.
When I started in the industry in 1992, there were about 150 superyachts of any size, and I knew everything that was worth knowing about those yachts. Importantly I also knew the name of the owners and how to contact them and there’s a good chance I would have done that at some stage during their ownership of the boat.
Over recent years however, the volume of yachts has grown exponentially and the ownership base has broadened geographically. There is less point in staying abreast of the entire industry because, as a broker, we can only add value by providing in-depth and detailed information. It’s simply not possible to be across every single boat. So, we focus on those that we know give our clients the very best yachting experience.
These days anyone can go on the internet and find themselves a 60metre yacht. Photos are very seductive and before you know it, you’re about to buy a yacht – there’s nothing stopping you from doing that – but if you’re in that market, chances are you’re an extremely successful individual and you’re used to getting good information. We provide that.
It’s obvious to anyone that not all yachts are equal but it’s often less obvious what makes one boat much better than another. When you look at similar ‘big white boats’ and ask ‘why is one $50 million and the other $150 million?’, we have answers for that, and that is where we add value.
As a self-confessed “fanatic” of yachting, can you describe where this passion came from and was working around yachts something you always wanted to do?
I’m from the Midlands, which is as far away from the sea as you can get in England, but I grew up by the sea as my family built a house in Hampshire in the 1920’s which we still have. All my childhood holidays were spent there. Sailing was what you did. It never left me and it’s now a huge part of my life.
The early part of my career was in the Army, first in the Cavalry and then the Army Air Corps, but an injury meant that was not a long term option so I refocused on what I loved which was sailing and approached the only yacht brokers I’d heard of to try and find a position.
I’d called Camper & Nicholsons a number of times with no luck until a friend from Sandhurst Military Academy introduced me to his uncle Nick Edmiston. He gave me a job but it was basically unpaid and I was starting right at the bottom but I loved it! I knew I’d found the perfect meeting of my passion for sailing and a business I was good at.
The first yacht I sold was a glorious 105ft sailing yacht called Bolero. I loved this yacht and that drove my desire to sell it and be part of it in some way. It was owned by the manager of the rock group Duran Duran. The buyer had come in off the street and we’d been through piles of yacht details together. In the process he’d left this beautiful gold pencil behind. I had his address and I had it couriered straight to his office. It turned out to be a precious heirloom. He ended up buying Bolero and three more boats from me after that.
Bolero was the first boat I ever sold. After the sale I was driving back from Nice. It was moored right in the middle of Villefranche harbour and as I came round the bend I could see it through the trees. It took my breath away and I’ll never forget it. That was a key moment in my career.
Passion is important, and it’s kind of infectious. People get wrapped up in it, but to us, it’s like that first sale of Bolero, we are just really pleased with a sale when everyone is happy – when the buyer is pleased, the seller is pleased, the deal is sensible, a genuine balance.
What comes with that is the realization that people believe, trust and rely on the information you give them, so much so that they make a decision that will affect their life. That is a real privilege and we take seriously the responsibility that comes with it.
What motivated you to take the leap and start Cecil Wright & Partners back in 2013?
It was timing really. I was at Camper & Nicholson’s for two years, and at the time, Nick Edmiston was the managing director, and there were around 30 brokers who worked at nine offices around the world. Nick left to start his own business Edmiston & Company. I was the first person he called. He rang me on a Friday, “Come and work with me. Move to the south of France and be my partner in the business,” Hmmmmm ok, there’s a thought!” – By Friday evening, I was on a plane to Nice, where Nick picked me up.
On Saturday morning, we drove down to Saint Tropez because we were thinking of opening an office there but decided against it. Then on Sunday, we looked at one in Monaco, and Sunday night, I flew home. On Monday, I resigned, and by Monday evening, I was back in Monaco!
For twenty years I worked as Nick Edmiston’s business partner in Edmiston & Company in Monaco, as both a shareholder and partner, but the company was getting bigger and bigger and was very diverse. Nick’s son was also coming through the business, and I only had a small shareholding in the company, so this, combined with the broad growth strategy, was at odds with the direction I wanted to go in.
It was time for a change. I had three children all born in Monaco and my wife and I both agreed that we wanted to bring them up in England. So, we bit the bullet and moved back to Hampshire. After twenty years in Monaco it was a real leap in the dark but we couldn’t be happier.
Does your work take you to many different places across the world, or do you interact with your clients mostly from where you’re based?
My business is very much based in Monaco which is still the centre of the yachting world but the changes in communications that have happened since I started in this business have completely revolutionized everyday working practice.
I’d been used to taking as many as six flights a week, and now I take less than that in a month. Buying and selling boats requires being on the ground to see the boats and understand what the value is but now I can do much of this through highly detailed 3D Matterport scans. We’re just listing a boat that I haven’t seen in a few years, but we’ve had it scanned recently in Monaco, and I can now look at it in incredible detail and give my opinion on its value, all of which can be done from my desk here in England. Much less wasted time which is now more focused on what really counts.
We’ve already sold four yachts from 3D Matterport scans alone, where clients in the USA have seen the scans online while the boats have been in Europe and have then sent their teams over to survey it and do due diligence before agreeing to buy the boat. The yacht has then been bought, refitted, and re-crewed before being sent over to the USA for the owners to see it for the first time.
It’s the same with new builds. While you still need to visit the shipyard often, many of the design meetings that I’d previously go to in London or South of France or New York or Hong Kong, in person, can now be held really effectively online.
In fact, it’s rather entertaining. The other day we all decided we’d have a design meeting in person in London. When we all sat down around a table with our laptops to look at the designs, we quickly realized all we were doing was looking at our laptops the entire time and we could easily have been working remotely!
You’re well known for building some significant superyachts in your career such as Madame GU, TANGO, and Hampshire II. Can you describe your involvement in each of these particular projects and what makes them special?
I’ve been involved at various levels in building a great many yachts but boats such as the ones you mention are milestones for me particularly as they are 100% attributable to my efforts.
In these instances, I found the designer for the client and took the client through the design process through to acceptance of the design, the choice of shipyard and working with the shipyard to deliver the yacht ready to sail. It’s a monumental process of organisation involving a very thorough attention to detail spread over a period of years and the employment of hundreds of individuals.
Ultimately delivering a new build yacht is what gives the greatest satisfaction in this business but it’s a marathon compared to the sprint of an ordinary sale and you need to have both sets of skills and endurance to ensure a successful conclusion.
We’ve noticed you have an affinity with the Dutch shipyard Feadship. Are you able to describe your history and relationship with them?
I’ve overseen boat builds in many places around the world, but when I got my first opportunity to build a Feadship I realised you needed a client who understood that it’s not about price per metre. Their ethos is quality all the way, born from years of the understanding of what makes a great boat. It’s what gives Dutch boats their timeless quality.
The whole process with Feadship is unique compared to all the other shipyards I’ve been to. You start to build real relationships with the people that work there. You don’t have to keep introducing yourself and learning the quirks and foibles of the different characters every time.
My relationship with Feadship is such that I now know all the teams, all the carpenters, all the plumbers, and where all the shipyards are and what they do. I know everything about their capabilities and can help anybody else do it quickly because the relationships are strong and this results in efficiencies for not only yourself but the client.
If I could be that efficient with every shipyard, I would do that for everybody, but I can’t know every Turkish, Greek, Italian, Spanish or English shipyard owner. I know Feadship and they know me. Together we have built some of the finest yachts on the water and I see no reason to change that.
What is your favorite aspect of the business? Being involved in new builds, helping to source and sell existing superyachts on behalf of clients, or creating experiences of a lifetime for charter yacht guests?
I actually just love closing deals. I don’t care if it’s the charter of a 35m classic Feadship or a 3000-tonne new build. I see this as a creative process creating exceptional life experiences for people who have the ability and the passion to enjoy life to the full.
When it works, I love that acceptance by whomever it is I’m working with, and the ultimate acceptance is when they close the deal, and that makes me feel good.
Do you have any golden advice you often find yourself giving clients regarding new superyacht builds?
Everybody is different, and it’s all to do with personality, aspirations, and the job the client wants the boat to do.
It’s like buying a pair of shoes – you don’t buy a pair of rubber wellies to wear to the opera – you’ve got to have a reason and an understanding of what you’re trying to achieve. Find help from somebody in the market and find someone you like and trust because chances are you are going to spend quite a lot of time initially with them.
In any business where there are large amounts of money in play you will find people who are not quite what they appear to be and truthfully while there are a number of very good brokers out there it’s is a lot less than you’d imagine. It’s easier than you’d think to get into trouble.
It’s also important to look at the overall costs and not just the purchase price. Most people that I come across in this industry can afford to buy what they want – whether it’s a 30m, 50m, 100m boat – it doesn’t really matter as they can afford to buy it – but it’s all to do with what you want the boat to do and the running costs.
The cost of a boat is the difference between the purchase price and the selling price plus the running costs and if you are poorly advised when you made the purchase that is going to be a much larger number.
Chartering a yacht of similar size to one you’re thinking of buying will teach you a lot about what you really want. The cost of the charter will pay dividends in helping you get the boat that really suits your individual needs.
We get the feeling your career and Cecil-Wright & Partners are both very much built around quality relationships, and you’ve collated quite the “little black book” of artisans, designers, and industry friends who you can call upon to collaborate on new projects. Would you consider sharing the names of some of these people and why you’ve chosen to work with them specifically? E.g., Redman Whitely Dixon, Winch Design, and David Snowdon?
You’ve already mentioned some of them, and there is a wealth of talent that this industry has the ability to draw on. You mention Andrew Winch, who has been a great supporter of me, as I’ve been of him, and it has been a nice way of working. We’ve done many things together over the years, both in and out of yachting, and he’s a good friend of and I think we have a great understanding which translates so well in the end result.
Andrew listens to what the owner wants rather than imposing his own preconception. He’ll get inside the mind of the owner and design something to suit them, whereas some designers may say, “Look, the way I design a boat is like this.
Do you want that? If you do then, I’ll design something for you, and if you don’t, that’s fine but go somewhere else”. That’s one way to do it but some clients may see that as arrogant and excludes them in what may be a once in a lifetime dream project. Andrew asks what is you want and designs it for you.
In the bigger companies, I tend to find individuals who I like working with. With RWD, for example, Toby Ecuyer is a great guy, he’s come out of the business and is doing his own thing now. Also, Mark Whitely is now running his own business, and I work with him a lot. As I said there is a wealth of talent but those are just some of the players I trust and with whom I’ve had great success.
Can you share your thoughts around superyacht trends, and are you noticing anything in the data you are seeing?
I’ve seen a few sales cycles in my career, and this current cycle is busy. I’ve never seen it as busy as it is today, regarding the number of boats being sold. There are one or two gaps in new build orders for the shipyards though, and while there’s good demand, it’s not blistering.
I tend to see the trends more as “must-have” design elements for owners. They aren’t necessarily things like squash courts but are new design elements that most owners want to incorporate into their new builds. At the sensible end this is more of an evolution and most sensible buyers will decide against gimmicks.
Thinking of trends that are going to stick, fitness and well-being are the keywords. Where a gym used to be an afterthought or a conversion of unused space, now it’s at the top of the list. This is in keeping with people’s lifestyle and that’s true across the board. What people do on land they are likely to want to carry over to the yacht. This goes for their appreciation of an art collection on board to having the easiest interface with the water.
In the early days that was often a struggle now you see the most fantastic expanding beach club and swim platforms. Tenders need to be elegantly stored so they don’t interfere with the lines of the yacht and make getting on and off the boat a seamless activity. Really everything is becoming more and more refined all with the aim of making life at sea more fun.
We are thinking about this evolution all the time on behalf of clients and you can be sure we will be suggesting it if appropriate before they think about it. We have a phrase in our business, which is “to surprise and delight.”
Do you have any exciting upcoming projects you’d like to share with us?
Haha, you’re forgetting the middle name of any good yacht broker and that of course is discretion! I’ve got some projects on the go, but I can only say watch this space!
How can you be contacted and where can people find more information about your Cecil-Wright & Partners?
For more information on our company and to contact us, visit our website www.cecilwright.com