Clarity is needed, the editorial by Franco Michienzi

The seizure of Russian oligarchs’ boats has led to mass media attention that could end up undermining the entire industry

by Francesco Michienzi

Personally speaking, I have never been interested to find out who owns a yacht or superyacht. When I meet owners, I like to hear their stories about their relationship with the sea, and their reasons for buying a boat; I couldn’t care less whether they are incredibly rich or simply very wealthy.

However, at this frenzied moment in time, the hunt for oligarchs’ pleasure boats has intensified, and has become a favourite topic for mass media of all political colours and cultural stripes. Barche magazine has always steered clear of irrelevant gossip, trying to follow the model of simply stating the facts as they stand. For some journalists, however, it is more important to discover who the various boats stationed in the Mediterranean belong to, lending credence to the equation that Yacht = Oligarch = Absolute Evil.

We can all agree about the absolute evil of the man who has started a ridiculous war against innocent and defenceless men, women and children. I am always puzzled to read that the available information is constantly being updated, as stated offhandedly by an Italian official involved in identifying the assets to be frozen of business owners close to the Russian regime. This long list of personal property and real estate, not always in the name of its real owner, includes, for the time being, 680 Russian oligarchs, businessmen and high-ranking officials whose goods have been targeted by EU sanctions. In the port of Trieste, customs officers stopped the sailing boat A, worth roughly €530 million, which can be traced back to Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko.

NOBODY KNOWS HOW THE MARKET WILL CHANGE IN
THE NEXT FEW YEARS, SO WE NEED INDUSTRIAL PLANS THAT CAN BE ADAPTED TO MULTIPLE SCENARIOS.

I would prefer to leave all this to the news reporters, and instead focus on the damage that this approach could have on our industry. In any case, I believe the concept of encouraging oligarchs to work together to stop the war is pure fantasy, since they still have numerous tax havens, where the majority of their wealth is hidden away and anonymised behind the same shadowy curtains used by the mafia. And this is the point. We have pretended that certain manufacturers’ success stemmed from their ability to build boats of superior quality and with cutting-edge technologies out of many firms’ reach. The truth is that their ability to manage financial relationships and move capital around the international economic chessboard was much more important.

Every time a gigayacht is sold, a transaction often approaching half a billion euros, we should ask where the money is coming from. This topic is too big for us little Davids. It’s crazy to imagine that Goliath is transparent and has no skeletons in the closet. And it’s impossible to imagine Goliath turning back the clock. But one thing we can hope for is that some of the Italian boating industry could increase its transparency in the interests of building a better world.

Italy’s industrial model should be built on just a few key elements: design quality, as the Italians are among the best in the world at it; structural organisation, given that Italian shipyards are some of the most efficient and well-organised; quality in processing raw materials, where Italy is unrivalled; flexibility in problem-solving, which is undoubtedly one of Italy’s strong points; work ethics, because this is a choice that everyone should embrace; and transparent accounting, which would send a strong signal reiterating that there is nothing to fear.

AFTER THE CRISIS IN CRIMEA IN 2014, EUROPE INVITED MEMBER STATES TO REDUCE THEIR DEPENDENCY ON RUSSIAN GAS. BUT ITALY
DID THE EXACT OPPOSITE, DOUBLING ITS DEPENDENCY INSTEAD.

And finally, the ability to interpret the market and what it really needs. The risk of drugging the market by launching boats that have not yet sold is so high that its negative effects will surely be seen in the medium term. There will probably be a new form of natural selection, where only the most resilient, clear-headed and long-sighted companies survive. The president of the General Confederation of Italian Industry, Carlo Bonomi, has said we face a perfect storm. «The war is speeding up a process that was already underway: the economic recovery began slowing down in September, the lack of energy policy goes back decades, and some reforms have been due for 30 years. Now we need radical interventions». To this I would add that businesses themselves need to make changes to the way they are managed, with clear objectives paired with a range of strategies for various possible scenarios. The crises of the past 20 years should have made us stronger and wiser when it comes to tackling any new scenario, but I see certain firms acting as if we were living in 2007.

(Clarity is needed – Barchemagazine.com – May 2022)