Russell Currie.

26-04-2019Humphrey Carter

Russell Currie is passionate about the nautical industry and Majorca, although his early experience of the water was not in the warm climes of the Mediterranean, it was during holidays on the somewhat cooler Isle of Arran, Scotland.

"Growing up, we would spend every holiday there and I loved it. Boating, diving, you name it," Russell told the Bulletin last week on the eve of the Palma Boat Show.

And as Russell grew up, what was originally a great source of fun became his profession. "I trained as a mechanical and production engineer in Plymouth, but me and a few mates were always on the water. We cashed our grant cheques in and bought a ski boat. We all shared the same emotion for the water, so we worked the bars and restaurants to pay for our studies. Whenever we could, we were out on the water - skiing, diving, etc.

"After a night behind the bar and with 20 pounds between us, the choice was always food or fuel; obviously we opted for fuel. Then, at the ripe old age of 23, I answered an advert in the local newspaper. Princess Yachts were looking for a power boat test engineer. Not only did I find the title extremely attractive, I also thought it was just the perfect answer to give any young lady should she ask what I did for a living: much better than my mates who were draughtsmen and budding accountants.

"So I got the job and spent six wonderful years at Princess, working my way up to chief test engineer at Princess Yachts International. It was great training for me and in a way it laid the foundations for my career. I learnt about the products, how factories worked, how the industry functioned, I immersed myself in all things nautical and learnt as much as I could. But although my time in Plymouth was great, there was one major problem. The weather. After six years of having spent nine months of the year in wet weather gear, I fancied a change. In April 1993, aged 29, I was hired by Sunseeker as engineering director at Sunseeker International’s factory team to set up a service network here in Majorca, which had become the nautical hot spot in the Mediterranean.

"That was another important development in my career, but I eventually reached the point that I no longer wanted to work for someone. I wanted to work for myself, and this year we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Fairline North Mallorca, which I left Sunseeker to set up."

The new dealership was a huge success from the start. Fairline Yachts now have three on the island, and Russell has also been key to Fairline expanding into new markets such as the Middle East and Asia.

"It’s all about logistics really. Marinas around the world are basically pretty much the same, they all serve the same purpose. So it is question of sharing out expertise and marketing our premium brand products."

However, while the sun continued to shine on business in Majorca, stormy weather began to brew when the global banking crisis broke in 2008. Looking back, Russell says that he thinks that a large number of companies were hit by problems which they were not aware of at the time. Problems festered and gradually got worse until they finally surfaced, catching many businesses by surprise. To a certain extent that is what happened to Fairline.

Some misguided investments were made and the leading British company lost its direction and fell into administration in 2015. But Fairline, a global premium brand, soon attracted interest from investors. In January, 2016, it was announced that the future of Fairline had been secured thanks to a deal that saw the assets of Fairline Boats being bought out of administration for an undisclosed sum.

A new company, Fairline Yachts, was to be funded by two long-term UK-based Russian investors. They were both highly experienced in managing and developing marine businesses and in the production of high-technology products, IT and media services. Both are also passionate boat owners. They turned to Russell, appointing him as managing director to lead the new business.

"It was a pretty daunting task to say the least. By my side I had Martyn Hicks and Karl Guilding, and we just got our teeth stuck straight into the new challenge at hand. We were having to revive a premium, global brand; it was either make or break. It was all go from day one, we never stopped and we turned the business around. That first year, we set ourselves a sales target of 36 yachts. Twelve months later at the Dusseldorf Boat Show we sold our 86th yacht."

The Scotsman remained at the helm of Fairline Yachts for three years and stood down last December.

"I felt I had taken the business as far as I could. I had been living out of a suitcase and hotels for three years and wanted to come back to Majorca, my business and my family."

During Russell’s three years in charge, Fairline Yachts received the Motor Boat & Yachting Judges’ Special Award 2018 for ‘the best turnaround of a business’ and won two World Yacht Trophies for best exterior design of the Targa 63 GTO and Targa 43 OPEN. As MD, Russell was pivotal in the boat builder’s turnaround, with the acquisition of the 200,000 square feet shore-side manufacturing site in Hythe, Southampton, which allows Fairline to build bigger boats than has been possible before.

"Collecting the special award was pretty emotional I have to admit. None of us were expecting it, but we were given a tip that it would be worth attending the award ceremony at the Rosewood Hotel in London. So we did; nice dinner and plenty of wine. Just as proceedings were drawing to a close, I have to admit we were feeling a little disheartened having not won anything. Then our award was announced. Not only was that a surprise, it was a night of no speeches. But the judges insisted I made a speech. Well, coming from the wrong end of a wine bottle, I managed to string a few words together. Most importantly I was able to thank David King, Robert Braithwaite and Sam Newington, the founders of Princess, Sunseeker and Fairline, all of whom I have worked closely with during my career and learnt a great deal from.

"This is a very complex industry. It involves designers, builders, engineers, sales teams, so many different skills, but in the premium market, respect, confidence and friendship are vital. The relationship and the bond with clients is crucial. That, I think, is where Fairline stands alone, especially here in Majorca where everything, compared to other nautical destinations, is so easy.

"The purchase process is simple. It’s such an accessible destination just two hours flight from most European capitals. The water is pristine, it’s safe, no dangerous tides, it’s great for family boating. The only dangerous thing in the water is a jellyfish, unlike Australia, for example. The island has a first-class infrastructure and service industry and that is paramount for our industry. All around the island now we have excellent marine service teams. In Puerto Pollensa, this winter, we doubled our service turnover, for example, and more and more local people are training and moving into the industry which is very encouraging.

"All this has helped to establish the Palma Boat Show as one of the most important in the world. The marine industry here is first class and the location second to none."