Jouko Huju, GMBA Finland, is one of the founding members of GMBA and an industry veteran with over 25 years of experience in the recreational boating sector. He “retired” a few years ago to spend more time with his family and on the golf course, but life had other plans for him, and you will find him hard at work most days, advising small to medium size firms, both in Finland, and in boating markets around the world.
- GMBA has celebrated its 2nd birthday in January 2022. What was the main reasoning behind the creation of Global Marine Business Advisors?
- Quite soon after I retired from my work as Finnboat’s CEO I started getting calls from smaller companies in the industry asking for help mainly in their export business. I had a few colleagues I had known for years and they also felt that loosing all that accrued tacit knowledge would be a real waste. A few months later GMBA was formed and it now covers 19 people in 18 countries on 5 continents. Normally we would have one advisor per country. In bigger market areas like the US, we now have two.
- Does that vision remain or has the organization’s focus shifted in the last year?
- There are really many companies in the marine industry that struggle with their international business. They need advice, contacts, ideas, encouragement, and somebody to talk to. If one of our 19 members cannot help, we would certainly know someone who can.
- The last year has seen unprecedented growth in boat sales across most of the world. We are seeing big investment in the marina sector, and the global superyacht fleet continues to expand. How do you perceive the growth and stability of our sector?
- The COVID 19 pandemic really created an unusual peak in boat demand. In the past two years many countries have had all time high numbers in boat sales. In some cases, the manufacturers have not been able to respond to the demand. People were not able to travel so they invested in local leisure activities. A notion of “staycation” was created. The pandemic is still with us but people have now started travelling almost on the same level as before Covid. This has already made its mark in demand. The war in Ukraine has brought consumer confidence down at record speed and fuel prices have jumped to all time high. People are now more unsure about their future. Although boat deliveries are still in full speed, the traffic in dealerships, at least in some areas, has been much slower. This is the situation with smaller family boats. In the Superyacht sector the changes are much slower and the demand depends on somewhat other factors.
- What are your predictions for our industry over the next 5 years?
- In general, our industry is cyclical. The overall economic development has a great impact in the sales of family size boats. The global geopolitical challenges, price of fuel and other competing leisure activities have their role too in consumers’ discretionary investments. I expect that with the present realities we should expect a slight downturn in the overall interest in boating. Also the unusual high sales of new boats during the worst years of the pandemic may bring quite a number of 1-3 year old boats into the market thus competing with new boat sales.
- What advice would you give to a company looking to increase their export markets today, that will have the most impact in the LONG term?
- I have always said that we all have to do our homework first. If you wish to expand your markets, make sure that your capacity both in production and people can meet the growing demand. I have often been asked what is the secret to succeeding in exports? There is no secret. If your product meets the demands of the market in style, design and price, all you will need are hungry enough sales people who have the strength to be on the road all the time.
- What is the biggest / most common mistake you see firms making at the moment?
- I do not think one can mention one single thing. I often see companies taking part in exhibitions just because they have received a grant from their government. Their inhouse work has not been completed and that will make all offshore work totally obsolete. In my view everybody should prepare an internationalization strategy. It should be prepared as a team effort within the company. Based on that it will be easier to decide how to invest the often-limited resources.
A few personal questions:
- If you were to go back in time, would you select this industry and your career path again?
- I probably would. Out the 43 years of my working life I have spent the longest time in the marine industry. Trying to help the Finnish companies to succeed has been not the easiest of tasks but the challenge has made us all think, plan and prepare. The Finns are a small nation but out of our boat production we export 70-80%. That is an achievement. I have also been lucky to work with many international marine industry organizations (like ICOMIA, EBI and IMCI) and have through that work been able to get a wider view of things. Not to speak of huge amount very interesting and wise people I have encountered. Many of them have remained life time friends.