x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Jumping ship leads to a superyacht venture

Erwin Bamps explains how he jumped ship from the telecoms industry to the boat-building business.

Erwin Bamps, the chief operating officer of Gulf Craft. Duncan Chard for the National
Erwin Bamps, the chief operating officer of Gulf Craft. Duncan Chard for the National

q What were you up to before you got into the boat-building business?

a I came to the Gulf working for telecoms, first in Dubai, then I was living in the Philippines. The business in 2000 and 2001 was not thriving worldwide. There was a crisis in Asia and a lot of the big investments for infrastructure development were put on hold because of dollar and currency fluctuations. I thought, as ambitious as I was, that business is not growing and it's tough to really make a mark.

So what sparked the change from telecoms to boating?

I came back to the UAE and ventured into boat building in 2001 because I got to meet the chairman of Gulf Craft. When I asked him "why are you building boats?" he turned to me and said: "I want to make money." I loved that answer.

Why?

Because there are too many people in this industry who love boats. I have a Master's degree in electronics engineering and have always been working as a general manager in offices in Dubai, Manilla, Japan and Europe - and every time the bottom line consideration was a driving force. We were profit-oriented.

That's all it took for you to jump ship from the telecoms industry?

When I came to the company the chairman said something else. He said: "You know what I want to do with this company? I want to build a legacy. I want to build a homegrown company out of the UAE that builds a brand out of the desert and exports it worldwide to meet and exceed what people expect from brands in Europe and the US."

Gulf Craft was mostly building small fishing boats when you started. Now you've got 135ft superyachts under construction that sell for US$7 million (Dh25.7m) a piece. What was it like for a regional company trying to compete globally?

In 2002 in Dusseldorf … we were trying to promote our boats to European companies. "You're coming from the UAE? Are you manufacturing anything in that country? Is it good quality that adheres to standards?" There was so much prejudice about "Made in UAE".

How did you try to change that perception?

The first priority for me was to make sure people inside the company understood quality is everything - and not quantity. Not cost. We started cleaning up the factory and doing the product better, with better features, like a gym downstairs in a boat.

What else did you do?

Another thing was being open to interior design. People here like royal, dark colours: browns and burgundy and black velvet. But if you went to a berth in Europe, you wouldn't find that colour pattern. They liked light wood and white finishes.

What's the biggest change at Gulf Craft compared with when you started?

We have stopped selling boats … and started selling experiences.

* Neil Parmar