Under the leadership of CEO Dr Jens Gerhardt, yacht manufacturer HanseYachts has in recent years been building its brand portfolio as well as branching out into new territory. Jens, who is keen to keep positioning the German company as innovative and a market trendsetter, has clear goals in mind when it comes to further expansion.

It is easy to fall back on nautical metaphors when describing the fortunes of HanseYachts over the past decade – and, for that matter, the wider yachting industry. It has by no means been plain sailing. As Jens explains, a number of tough decisions had to be made in the years that followed the global financial crisis, with HanseYachts at first recalibrating and then plotting a course through troubled waters.

Dr Jens Gerhardt on steering the company through a time of change

Jens became only the second CEO in HanseYachts’ history when he took on the role in 2012 (former CEO Michael Schmidt had founded the company in 1990), at what was a time of sweeping changes. Munich-based asset manager Aurelius Group had acquired a majority interest in HanseYachts in 2011, and Jens notes that the financial blows absorbed in the previous years had taken their toll.

Looking back on the course of action that was subsequently taken, Jens describes it as a classic restructuring concept. “We focused on the first two years and really cutting the costs back as much as possible, especially, of course, our fixed costs,” he says, explaining that HanseYachts (which has been listed in the General Standard of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange since 2007) “had tremendous fixed-cost issues”.

Dr Jens Gerhardt, CEO of HanseYachts
Dr Jens Gerhardt, CEO of HanseYachts

The decision was made to shut down a number of global facilities, with HanseYachts focusing on its Greifswald site in north-eastern Germany. While the status of the Group in the industry was well established, the time had come for change, and this in turn presented Jens and his team with an opportunity to chart a new course.

“After this first stage was officially finished, we launched the second part of the concept – after cutting back costs, you start to grow quickly. We started that initiative with a renewed focus on quality, to try to introduce a new concept and thinking in production,” Jens explains of the rationale behind the process.

HanseYachts sees smoother sailing

Five years on and it is now demonstrably a case of smoother sailing. In capitalising on hard-won momentum, Jens is firmly focused on steering HanseYachts in new directions. Certainly, he is clear in his view of the company’s position in the market. He credits an innovative and trendsetting approach for setting HanseYachts apart from its competitors.

“We are quite innovative. We make claims of breaking rules or setting trends.” Indicative of this, HanseYachts – which comprises the sailing yacht brands Hanse, Dehler, Moody and Varianta, as well as the motor yacht brands Fjord and Sealine – has collected a number of awards in recent years, including a European Yacht of the Year award in 2016 for the Hanse 315 in the family cruiser category.

It would also appear that imitation is, as they say, the sincerest form of flattery, with Jens noting that, “We like to be copied by others because, if so, what we do is innovative.”

Yachting trends

Among the trends now emerging in the industry, Jens stresses, yachts must become easier to sail and anticipates that yachting will see “fewer and fewer things that are typically nautical.”

We are quite innovative. We make claims of breaking rules or setting trends.

Indeed, it is notable that he equates aspects of the design of the company’s flagship, Hanse 675, as looking “like a bar in New York”, with a heavy emphasis having been placed on interior design.

“People want to have, if not the same brands as they do at home, at least something that feels like being at home,” Jens observes. “They want to enjoy the ocean and nature, but in the same level of luxury that you would have at home or on a much larger yacht. We will see this in smaller and smaller yachts: fully equipped boats that are very small.”

HanseYachts gets bigger and better

With both sailing yachts and motor yachts in the company’s portfolio (HanseYachts purchased the Sealine motor yacht brand in 2013, adding to its acquisition of the Fjord motor yacht brand in 2005), Jens notes the financial leverage that having a wider portfolio and two independent products provides in a competitive industry.

“The bigger you are, the better the spread of fixed costs over the whole boat,” he explains. “The more you have to do, the better your utilisation is, and the more you purchase, the cheaper you can purchase, and the more reliable you are for your supplier, and so on.”

It is now a matter of continuing to grow, and Jens notes that opportunities currently exist in building on the company’s global reach and further expanding product lines, observing that “there are many areas where we do not have a brand yet”, with there to “be a time when organic growth is the next step, the next necessity”.

He stresses the importance of an overarching strategy and building a successful team in order to achieve these goals. Being from a yachting background himself, Jens clearly has a passion for the industry in which he works, and it is in stressing the family benefits of boating that this passion shines through.

“Your kids will love it and you will love it too, because your kids will engage with you again,” he says. “On the open ocean, there is no wi-fi. They will discover nature again, they will discover you again, and they will discover themselves again. There is nowhere that a family is better together than on a boat.”