Superyachting offers extraordinary career opportunities, but equally new cultures and continents offer an extraordinary depth of diverse talent that knows nothing about yachts. A new programme called Grit is aiming to put the two together.
Superyachting may have had relatively humble roots as an industry, growing out of the passion of a handful of owners and the passionate crews and industry professionals. However, over the past 30 years the industry has burgeoned into a global force that employs, directly and indirectly, an estimated quarter of a million people – but that workforce growth has largely been concentrated in traditional western and often ethnically Caucasian cultures. It’s something that former yacht interior crew and business owner Margarita Amam is determined to change with a new programme of talent development which – with her characteristic no-nonsense approach – she has called Grit.
For Amam, herself a child of ethnically diverse parents and someone who has worked through the superyacht industry to the point of owning her own business, the idea first came just after the pandemic hit. “Once people were done baking banana bread, I came into that cycle of thinking more deeply about what I wanted to do,” she says. “The 2021 Superyacht Forum was my first time on such a big stage, taking part in a panel discussion about talent in the superyacht industry. The conversation was largely about talent retention, and I noticed that people are sometimes not aware of the current state of the globe and the global talent pool that is available.”
A chance encounter while walking her dog where she lives in Bremen, Germany, proved the moment of inspiration. “I started reaching out to people, and by coincidence I ran into a young Kenyan man who is such an advanced IT developer in Kenya that he won a scholarship and was invited by the university of Berlin to use his skills here,” she explains. “He came from a country that regularly has no electricity – can you imagine what it takes to develop and hone your skills with those obstacles?”
The pair talked deeply and he put her in touch with some fellow former students who went to the university. Among them was Lily Kwamboka, a graduate with a degree in finance who is based in Kenya. Her work experience spans everything from call centres to managerial positions, as well as recruitment which makes her a great fit for Grit. Moreover, having worked most of her life even though she is just 27, her story somewhat mirrored that of Amam. No wonder, then, that Amam tapped into her talents and made her COO of Grit.
“We’re trying to bring people of colour into the yachting sector, but it has been a real challenge because first of all these ethnicities don’t have knowledge of yachts,” Kwamboka says. “Secondly, the industry has proven to be white dominated, and thirdly there’s the issue of acceptance – and that runs both ways because Africans can sometimes fear being exploited. There’s also the cultural and language element that needs acceptance on both sides.”
Despite these challenges, both Amam and Kwamboka are determined to show the yachting industry that there are talent streams outside the traditional European recruitment pools that offer real expertise in all sorts of areas. Potential candidates are individually vetted to ensure not only that their certifications and degrees hold up but also that they are the cream of the talent pool. And there really is talent out there to be had. “We are able to grasp things really fast,” Kwamboka beams. “Like in the IT sector, we have been contributors to ChatGPT for example.”
It stands to reason that the superyacht industry, like any other, has a raft of positions in a wide realm of roles that rely on non-yachting skills and training. “The whole platform, the sense, the purpose of it is to show that for the first time there is an ethnic pipeline serving the superyacht industry,” Amam enthuses. “It’s not just about luxury hospitality or crew on board, it’s also about the white collar side of the industry – a social media manager in your design company, a project manager or assistant for your supply company, engineering, IT – these are Masters students who you need. These are people you can employ not out of charity or only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it brings you a different perspective. These are people who are hungry to work, to deliver, and to achieve things in life.”
It’s true in many sectors, particularly in technology, engineering and IT but also in a much broader array of industries, that companies are waking up to the highly educated and highly skilled talent that exists in non-traditional markets, such as India or Africa. More than that, studies have repeatedly shown that it’s a solid business move to recruit using principles of diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI), not for box-ticking or tokenism but because it can massively improve a business’s bottom line. “Management consultants McKinsey produced a report that shows if you have women in your team, your productivity can rise by up to 21 percent,” Aman states. “And when you have ethnically diverse people in your team it can rise by up to 34 percent.”
These are the sorts of practices that the next generation of superyacht owners, many of whom will have made their money through start-ups and in non-traditional areas like tech, are already well aware of. “These self-made millionaires and billionaires understand that socially there’s a cultural shift,” Amam says. “They want to do something with purpose and on purpose, not just for money but with humanity. How better to champion and model those changes than including these people who bring you a different perspective, who understand the billionaires coming from other cultures such as India, Pakistan, South America, or the Near and Far East?”
While Grit is still in its early stages, it has already drawn the attention of a diverse array of forward-thinking industry stalwarts who recognise the need for an injection of diverse talent and who have agreed to become mentors and coaches to the talent pool being developed by Amam and Kwamboka. These include superyacht lawyer John Leonida, former captain of motoryacht A Craig Thurlbourn, project manager Iliyana Popova, tech and yachting entrepreneur Andrew Grant Super, founder of GF Entertainment Emmanuel Akintunde, superyacht training and course supremo Emma Baggett, yacht interior manufacturing specialist Janne Salminen, captain Kelly Gordon, and more. It speaks to an industry that wants to do more for DEI, even if it takes time for the whole industry – like many other industries – to recognise the benefits.
It’s not just about the talent pipeline, either – Amam and Kwamboka have plans for DEI courses that the industry can take to further develop their knowledge and understanding of diversification. And perhaps just as pertinently, Grit speaks to a need to educate these new markets and their talent pools on the superyacht industry and the potential opportunities it provides. It’s not hard to draw the link to future business – these are the areas where new wealth will emerge and where new potential superyacht owners may be created, and it is vital for the industry that these markets are aware of what superyachting is and what it can offer as a lifestyle.