CEO of the Year
Founded 43 years ago, the Oyster Group combines Oyster Yachts and Southampton Yacht Services (SYS) and is one of Britain’s biggest, most successful builders and restorers of luxury sailing yachts.
Renowned as among the very best performance ocean cruisers, encompassing great comfort and practicality, the Oyster range of semi-custom, hand-built yachts now spans 47 to 118 feet. Larger yachts are also tended to by the expert custom restoration and build division, SYS.
The Group employs just over 400 staff and annual turnover exceeds £40 million. Each individually commissioned and extensively personalised Oyster yacht is a showcase of craftsmanship and yachts are priced between £650,000 and over £10million pounds, with consequently very high client expectations. It’s an expert, multi-discipline business with extensive in-house skills and trades split between the Group’s two sites, Southampton on the south coast, Wroxham on the east coast.
David Tydeman joined Oyster as Group CEO in 2008, "I knew the founder very well over about a 30-year period. I’d also been involved in private equity, refinancing and restructuring companies in the construction industry over the 10 years or so before Oyster. With bankers having bought Oyster from the founder in 2008, it seemed like a good combination of my skills to try and take the company to the next phase."
David’s background marked him well for the post. "I’m a naval architect, chartered engineer and MBA. I began my career as a marine surveyor at Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, then worked for Occidental, Hamilton Brothers and British Gas on large North Sea construction projects. In 1995 I became Technical Director at the American Bureau of Shipping. In 1997 I was recruited by Vickers (later Rolls Royce) and became the Managing Director of a global maintenance business unit. Prior to that, I held various Executive and Director-level positions in large capital projects.
"In the early 90s I was MD of Beneteau UK, developed the Melges 24 Class across Europe [both significant yachting concerns] and was CEO of the Construction Division of Skanska UK, part of one of the world’s leading construction groups."
Throughout David’s entire career he has been a passionate yachtsman, racing offshore for most of his life and was Rear Commodore with the Royal Ocean Racing Club for a while.
At Oyster David has implemented much change. First came the complete turnaround from employing contracted yacht building yards to acquisition and outright ownership of all construction facilities. Then came the shifting of head office down from the east coast to Southampton. And all along the way, the sympathetic evolution of range and product offering accelerated and further extended into the superyacht scene without losing sight of the introductory end.
"Typically we keep our owners with us as they increase the size of their yachts," says David. "We now have owners on their fourth, fifth and even sixth Oyster yacht. Keeping not just abreast but ahead of the market, we maintain generally a two new-boat development programme. Depending on yacht size it might be two to four, even five years from first thoughts to eventual launch. It’s a lengthy and very involved process from design through engineering to final fitting, rigging and finishing. Major capex with significant balance sheet impact."
That consideration has taken other British yacht builders over the brink while Oyster maintains a market lead. The company has always worked closely with owners and, unusually so, at the point of conception.
"We design the boats very much around the type of sailing our owners like to do," says David. "We tease out the formula that we think is a good, efficient way of delivering a combination of needs. The owner can then concentrate mostly on refining the layout, finding a balance, for example, of the cabin spaces for himself, his guests and his crew, choosing the fabrics and furniture, and we can engineer a platform for him to then customise."
Oyster divides the range into three sections. Up to around 60ft with four models mostly run by family and friends. Then 60 to 80 feet when you begin to see professional crew aboard. But it’s not until 80 feet and above that there’s space for crew to have enclosable galley and own discrete quarters.
"What we find," says David, "is that people will jump from below 60 feet up into the professionally crewed boats. We have about 30 per cent a year moving up from a 55 or 60-footer into an 80-footer. That’s adding 20 feet and a bit more luxury for the eight guests with a professional skipper or chef and deckhand. And then of course there’s the new 118-footer for ten-twelve guests and crew of six. With the midrange boats, there’s an interesting pattern. Here they’re often first time to Oyster. We position the three categories of boats very much with the owner’s use in mind. The mid-range tends to be younger owners. Two-thirds of our business is English/ American and expats around the rest of the world."
From day one of tenure, David has confronted the outfall of the global financial crisis. Many areas of luxury goods have suffered. Yacht building is one. Yet Oyster thrives. "It’s not easy," says David, "but we adapt. We also have a good operating model."
While serving as CEO across all Group concerns, David has a strong team around him with design, engineering and finance all running out of head office at Saxon Wharf in Southampton’s still industrial docklands where all Oyster yachts beyond 70 feet long are built. Here also is associate group company Southampton Yacht Services, renovating and refurbishing superyachts considerably longer. Both share infrastructure, both create a flow of shared skills and capacity. Elsewhere, the Wroxham facility, close by the Norfolk Broads, has its own dedicated yet co-joined top management team building from 47 feet to this division’s current largest, a new 67-footer set to launch during 2016.
All this combines into a formula that works. Throughout the crisis the workforce has remained mostly level. In early 2016 with a growing order book, Oyster recruited a further 50 staff. The order book has consistently filled. Another good year for Oyster. It’s not easy, but it is good.
Company: Oyster Yachts
Name: David Tydeman
Email: kate.porteous@ oysteryachts.com
Address: Saxon Wharf,
Lower York Street, Northam
Telephone: 44 02380 831000