We met Franco Fusignani, CEO of Benetti Yachts: the man who ferried the shipyard into the world of “giga” yachts
by Franco Michienzi and Paola Bertelli
WITH HIS CLEAR IDEAS AND A PASSION THAT TRANSLATES INTO A FOCUS ON THE SMALLEST DETAILS, Franco Fusignani has played a key part in the radical transformation from a shipyard that built mega yachts to global power in the field of boats over 100 metres long. “The manager from Fiat” is how Franco Fusignani was diffidently described when he joined Benetti Yachts as Operations Manager two years ago, going on to become CEO more than twelve months ago.
He ended his career at FIAT as Managing Director of Iveco and even worked in the nautical sector for a period with Aifo Marine Engines, which went on to become Iveco Aifo Marine Engines: the engines at the times of Fabio Buzzi’s race victories.
However, the most important aspect today is the results he has achieved at Benetti, with more than twelve yachts launched over the last eight months, including three giga yachts. An enormous effort that projects the brand into a new dimension.
What did Chairman Vitelli ask when he called you?
To take the industrial side of Benetti into hand and reorganise it. He said: “Give me consistent quality, prompt deliveries and, above all, the possibility to stick to a cost budget. Make the system stable and credible!”. And I have to say that over the last two years we’ve delivered all our yachts on time and within budget, and our quality is acknowledged by everyone at the top.
What were the first things you did when you arrived in the yard?
I kept quiet for a month, watching, observing and talking to everyone. I believe that when you enter somewhere new you have to be humble, you have to respect traditions and expertise. Then I started getting involved in the organisation, with simple, clear and very flat moves. I rearranged some of the staff and inserted new employees in the right places.
Did you use standardised processes for the industrial reorganisation of Benetti?
The process comes from the industry, where I worked for many years. I adapted it for this particular sector, which is neither industrial nor artisanal. Or better still, it is artisanal but needs to be taken to a semi-industrial level. For the latest boats, we cut production times by a third: we’re now able to make 65-metre yachts within 24-27 months. We’ve reorganised an entire series of activities. We start the interior fittings on the boat that arrive at the yard from the site where we build the hulls, with the engines, generator sets, compartments, all the tanks, the main wiring, the main pipework, the pumps, and the winches already installed. This means that we’re already six or seven months ahead in our work, as well as facilitating the “finishing touches” that need to be added afterwards. Moreover, it’s also useful during the assembly phases: installing the engine without the deck in place is a completely different matter, and this is also true for the pipework, the electrical systems, the tanks, the generator sets and so on…
When launching the most recent “giga” yacht, Chairman Vitelli said: “We’ve shown the world that we’re perfectly capable of occupying this market segment” .How important will the “giga” segment be for you?
It’s important, we need to be there. It helps to stabilise our planning, it keeps the yard busy for a certain period of time, it keeps our expertise high and it brings innovation. Innovation and expertise are then gradually transferred to our smaller boats too. We’ve been making a huge effort lately. In the future, we have to spread our efforts over time: giga yachts are very welcome but to the extent of one per year.
Over and beyond industrial matters, what other aspects are fundamental to the growth and success of Benetti?
Having a sales team able to keep up with the changing products and to illustrate their content, innovation, and quality. Salespeople have to empathise with the client straight away. Before providing a quote, I always say:“Make sure you understand exactly what clients want, live with them and their families on the boat for a few days, go and see their previous boats, take hundreds of photos of the interiors and exteriors, see how they use them and then make a bespoke offer. And when you seala deal, clients always have to be informed about every aspect, including technical matters”. There shouldn’t be any surprises.
Does this mean that sales people need technical skills?
Absolutely. During our reorganisation process, we worked on the figure of the Product Manager. This figure is now a specialist who works alongside salespeople during the negotiation, specification and contract-signing phases. Once signed, this figure follows clients all the way through to the end of the yacht guarantee period.It’s really important for the PM to maintain a close relationship with the captain and owner at all times.
In practice, the PM and salesperson act as a constant presence whom the client can refer to?
Definitely. Let me give you an example: at 2 a.m. in Italy, an owner emails to us from the United States because he wants certain changes made to the length of the boat, the dashboard, the beach area and other things. Twelve hours later, he has already been presented with a new rendering, which he accepts by email thus anticipating the signing of the contract. Timing, listening and looking after clients are all important aspects. Sometimes you also have to be brave enough to say no. There’s no need to go overboard. However, to be able to do so you need a yard with a strong image, a yard that works hard… certainly not an empty yard.
Does your facility also include an after-sales service?
This is fundamental. The response speed is extremely important. Our clients tend to enjoy fifteen days of holiday per year and they want everything to be perfect. “Let’s see in a week”is not good enough. You have to be there within 24 hours and start the diagnosis before you arrive.
In technological terms, can you imagine something different from today?
Do you carry out research as an end unto itself? There are lots of aspects we can work on, such as safety, automated sailing, “respect for the sea,” lower fuel consumption and improved efficiency. For example, I think that hybrid engines are no longer just a fleeting fashion. They still need to reach a certain maturity, but they’re here to stay and this is demonstrated by the giga hybrids launched this year. The hybrid evolution in giga yachts will be huge over the next few years: the weight and size of the batteries are less important in these vessels. As regards research, here in Varazze we have a centre employing fifteen people who focus on developing new solutions, new technology, new system interfaces. To this, we should add all the work carried out in synergy with our suppliers.
What is the thing you are most proud of during this period?
I see people smiling, I see people working hard, but I also see them happy to belong to a certain world that makes things and achieves things. When the yard manager calls me and says: “Franco, we’re delivering the boat two days earlier than expected”,or“we’ve launched the complete boat with little need for finishing”, these are moments of real satisfaction because it means that people are proud to have achieved that goal.
(Franco Fusignani, a year of epic launches – Barchemagazine.com – October 2019)