Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 March 2018

Week in the Life: Gulf Craft chief keeps things shipshape

The Belgium-born Erwin Bamps joined the UAE superyacht builders in 2002 and here the chief executive talks about his week 

Erwin Bamps, Gulf Craft chief executive. David Dunn for The National
Erwin Bamps, Gulf Craft chief executive. David Dunn for The National

Belgian Erwin Bamps, 48, is the chief executive of Gulf Craft, a globally recognised UAE-based manufacturer of luxury leisure, fishing and utility craft, including family cruisers and superyachts.

The father-of-two joined in 2002, having worked in Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines in factory automation and telecoms. Gulf Craft has since grown from a firm of 200 employees to over 1,500 based in Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and the Maldives. Here Mr Bamps talks to The National about his week.


We have a number of set meetings for the week that allow me an overview, most at the beginning. What I do is coordination; make sure everybody talks to everybody, is in sync. We get weekly updates from different departments. I go through what’s on my desk, my PA has put there, and go into the first meeting, having one department after another report, talk about the action plan for the week. Afternoon is usually reserved for non-scheduled items; suppliers to have a strategic discussion, a CEO in from overseas to talk about more internal cooperation, creating partnership for some new technology to be introduced.


We do the full sales and marketing review; which events are coming up. I try to keep afternoons open for meetings being created continuously. I walk the [boat-building] plants. We have three facilities; I’m moving around between them every day, allowing us to communicate with people. You cannot derive everything from data sheets and your online dashboard. A lot needs to be seen on the floor, things not covered in your operational management systems; things you can change. You need to watch people work. You can always lift the bar. This is A-to-Z manufacturing; there’s a lot of handwork involved in building boats, because it’s mostly made to order or custom built. You give credit where credit is due.


I do quality checks - random checking rather than total quality control (QC) - on every vessel we produce, to show the commitment of top management. I take pride in and responsibility for every product we release. I do walks on the boats whenever I can, in the afternoons. On the smaller craft, before delivery, I sign off QC inspection sheets, usually sent on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoons. My desk and PA are in Ajman, our headquarters. Umm Al Quwain is the largest of four facilities.


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We have another one in Ajman and in the Maldives where we have service and manufacturing. We have not just Gulf Craft yachts in for service. I’m interested in things that are recurring or systematic problems, things we can change structurally. One of my main roles is the press. People want someone in the executive office to discuss strategic steps of the company. Not only journalists, clients want to know where you’re heading. People are putting money into a company to build a boat delivered 24 months from now. We see clients following us on social media and in the press.


Sales [staff] like me to have a word with the dealers. VAT is the topic of the day. The reassurance part is where I come in. We have different relationships with different people in different markets. You are building a superyacht, a US$10 million $20m toy, and it’s unique … most clients are businessmen, rulers or presidents, royalty or anything in between. They want to know they have commitment from top to bottom. With big yachts I meet every client. With smaller boats I usually meet people who are corporate owners or own 20 boats and put them at a hotel, or military; bulk buyers, or dealers working with us over multiple-year periods. Somebody is dropping by on transit through Dubai, wants to shake hands and remind me I’ve committed to deliver the boat for his birthday [for instance]. We welcome this. We want people to take pride in the decision to work with us. Having this relationship builds emotion into the product.


We have a meeting of the total management board; a performance review of the last week. The yard operates five days. I find myself often on Thursday afternoon in wrap-up conversations with clients or dealers, who’ve spent three/four days with us on a technical journey, want to touch on commercial or strategic issues. Since we are in the luxury industry, the storytelling is important; people need to know the heritage of your business. You give them the vision of the company so they buy into the long-term.


I try to take time off. Usually my family plans my weekend. I live by the mangroves. We go cycling or hiking, go to RAK. There’s gardening I use in a therapeutic way, or shopping. We do work on Fridays and Saturdays; clients want a private dinner because they’re thinking about a project. You end up in a hotel discussing plans, ideas. We find ourselves at events mingling; networking is a big part of our job, not only a boat show/marine event, but Formula 1 or a motor show where there are a lot of our clientele.


The company is globalising. I started out selling to its home market; today most of the largest yachts we sell in the surrounding region, 3,000km radius. We network a lot out of "duty hours"; go to Dubai Marina, coffee with existing clients and hope somebody else drops by. Most sales come from word of mouth. You’re never disconnected. These decisions people make when they’ve time to reflect, which isn’t during the week.