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Paolo Casani, the Asia report
Camper & Nicholsons
29th October 2019

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Paolo Casani, the Asia report

Today’s Chief Executive Officers are frequent flyers. None more so than Paolo Casani, who flies the Camper & Nicholsons flag across 12 worldwide bureaux. Casani’s current focus is Asia. While business etiquette may differ in his latest offices in Hong Kong and Phuket, yachting remains a global aspiration.

“We have always been bolder than other brokerage houses,” says Casani. “Hong Kong was logically our next port of call.”

In 2017, Camper and Nicholsons opened its first office in China. “During our two centuries of history, each company leader navigated to new international waters,” he explains. “As CEO I’m custodian to our future. That’s why I’m sailing in their wake.” The search for new markets led the company to pioneer the industry’s first overseas office in Cannes, followed by Palma, Monaco, Miami, Antibes and many more. “We have always been bolder than other brokerage houses,” says Casani. “Hong Kong was logically our next port of call.”

Casani claims that China’s potential as a yachting powerhouse is self-evident. According to a report by Swiss bank UBS, China boasts nearly 400 billionaires. “Another two are minted every week,” adds Casani. “More importantly, the same report says that 97% of those billionaires were self-made. That shows me there’s appetite for further success.” For the past four decades the Chinese economy has doubled in size every eight years.

Recent visitors to China confirm that things are changing fast. The country now hosts five of the world’s ten highest buildings. In Beijing the Supercar Club has hundreds of members who drive vehicles as fabulous as the McLaren P1 and the Zonda R. Yet in the 1980s locals could be imprisoned for conversing with foreigners. In the 1990s stores still used ration tokens. “Now Chinese are global citizens familiar with most international brands,” says Casani. “That’s a dynamic commercial change.” But the Camper & Nicholsons CEO sails more cautiously than most. “We don’t franchise or license our heritage. When we are present, we are there directly.” In short, diluting the company’s DNA would be a gross navigation error.

Here Casani has form. He presided over world-beating Italian brands including fashion label Ferragamo and yacht builder Azimut. Each one now enjoys a powerful trademark in the mainland. “Being physically present is key,” he explains. Casani cites the example of Louis Vuitton, which opened a Beijing branch in 1992. “Although the store probably didn’t break even that year, it cemented a long term relationship.” China now accounts for a third of all revenues for Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH.

In business as in yachting, face time is all. “Commerce is based on personal relationships the world over, but here in China it’s particularly important.” This requires patience, says Casani, “but when links are established, they are for life.” That said, a passion for craftsmanship is appreciated as keenly in China as in Casani’s native Italy. “Chinese culture is arguably the world's oldest, with millennia-old traditions of art, architecture, philosophy and design,” he explains. “To achieve perfection you have to be patient.”

“Deals are struck on yachts, alongside social occasions, which makes marinas very important,” Casani explains.

The same face-to-face etiquette applies onboard. “Deals are struck on yachts, alongside social occasions, which makes marinas very important,” Casani explains. “That’s why some of our Asian owners maintain a dayboat for trips from Singapore or Thailand, plus another for longer cruises.” China watchers will note sumptuous new marinas in Zhongshan near Macao and on Hainan Island, China's version of the Balearics. In the latter, Sanya Marina has already hosted several editions of the Volvo Ocean Race.

However, as China develops, its charter parties are sailing further afield. Camper & Nicholsons Hong Kong office has been brokering trips - in five languages - around Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago, where 1,000 species of fish cavort around 500 species of coral. Thailand’s accessibility renders it Asia’s yachting go-to. “That’s why we opened our second Asian office in Phuket in 2018,” explains Casani. “You can fly to the island from 20 Chinese airports, then be sitting in our office on the Andaman Sea 20 minutes later.” From here the Tarutao National Park, an envy-inducing cluster of limestone towers that crumble into icing sugar sand, are a day sail away.

South East Asia offers allure to an older client base. “Our European and American clients, familiar with the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, are cruising here too,” says Casani. The Italian’s vessel of choice in these tropical seas is 65m Lamima, a traditional Indonesian phinisi with the accoutrements of a superyacht, including a PADI diving centre and Asian-inspired spa. “I’d charter it myself if I wasn’t building frequent flyer miles between Hong Kong, London and Monaco.”

Casani’s days are long for a final reason. Just as west meets east in the charter market, Asian shipyards are building ever more sophisticated yachts. “Some years ago Chinese firms purchased several European brands, like Ferretti in Italy and Sunseeker in Britain,” explains the CEO. That knowhow is now being refined and refigured by China’s leading boatbuilders, like Cheoy Lee and Kingship. “Our staff in Hong Kong were the first to market these builds to a global audience,” says Casani. A shining example of the Made in China marque is McConaghy's Frers Trimaran. This multi-hulled gesture of modernity, to be delivered in 2020, engineers a helipad and glass-backed Jacuzzi into a 46m frame. “It’s a model you couldn’t conceive two decades ago. Just like China itself.”