In the second article in our series on Women in the Marine Sector – Northern Hemisphere, we meet the inspiring Elisabet Holm and Helene Mellquist. Both women have spent the majority of their careers at one firm where they honed their skills and expertise working across a variety of departments.
Elisabet Holm is the Head of Marketing at Baltic Yachts, where she has been working for over 24 years. She started her journey in after sales, and after dipping her toes in a number of departments she was able to move in to the marketing department, where her true passion lies.
Helene Mellquist is the President Volvo Penta, a position she assumed amidst the Covid- 19 pandemic in July 2020. Her career at the Volvo Group began in 1988 and she has held many senior positions at the company, the previous position being President for the European Division at Volvo Trucks. She has also held the position as CEO at TransAtlantic 2012-2015.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE KEY INDUSTRY SEGMENTS IN YOUR COUNTRY AT THE MOMENT, THOSE DOING WELL AND THOSE MAYBE STRUGGLING?
By and large the leisure marine industry in Finland is doing extremely well. There are three key segments in terms of yards:
- Outboard powerboats (mainly below 30´ in aluminium, GRP and “hybrid” boats w. aluminium hulls and GRP decks) Here the predominant boat type is a bow rider or day cruiser, with Finnish builders having extremely strong market shares domestically, but also dominating the Swedish and Norwegian markets. Notable brands are AMT, Bella, Buster, Finnmaster, Yamarin, Silver to name but a few.
- Inboard powerboats (between 25´-46´typically). There are a couple of major boat types; the most successful one being the utilitarian looking but luxuriously outfitted 4*4 of the sea like the Targa or Sargo. There are also several noted builders of more traditional inboard powerboats like Grandezza. For these products the markets are less centered on the Nordic markets with some brands even having global appeal.
- Sailboats (currently 36´and up) This segment is really comprised mainly of us, Baltic Yachts and our neighbour, Nautor´s Swan. Where Swan typically these days is more engaged in high end production boats below 100´, and we almost exclusively build full custom yachts above 100´.
There is also a healthy ecosystem of suppliers; everything from stainless steel and titanium hardware to hydraulics to upholstery. Geographically the Finnish industry is divided into three major geographical clusters; the Ostrobothnian cluster on the west coast (sailboats and inboard powered powerboats mainly), the largest aluminium boat building cluster in Europe in Ähtäri (central Finland) and the GRP outboard boatbuilding cluster further North in Kuopio.
Due to a very active MIA (Finnboat) we have really good statistics and are pleased to note annual double digit growth in all sectors over the past few years.
We see a continued surge of interest in leisure boating worldwide, as well as in Scandinavia. During the pandemic, we have seen an increased desire from people to get out in nature and this has led to record levels of people turning to boating – across the full leisure segment, from day boats to superyachts.
For the Nordic markets, this has translated into increased sales of both new and used boats across the leisure segment. We welcome this increased interest in boating and look forward to how we can continue to introduce new people to boating.
Our easy boating philosophy is an ideal fit for tapping into this trend. We aim to making boating as easy and accessible as possible. One recent example of this is the launch of our Assisted Docking technology this year, which aims to make docking a boat even easier than ever before. The easier we can make the experience, the more people we can introduce to the joys of being out on the water.
In parallel to this increased interest in leisure boating, we are seeing increases in accelerating sustainability ambitions, which is leading to growth in certain segments in the commercial marine business. One example here is the continued growth in the offshore energy segment. We are contributing to this growth by exploring new, innovative solutions for crew transfer vessels, as we are doing together with Danfoss Editron and Danish owner, MHO& Co.
We have developed a fully integrated solution made up of a Danfoss Editron electric motor supported by Volvo Penta variable speed gensets that drive two of the first Electric Volvo Penta Inboard Performance System (IPS) units. This is one way that we are working towards increased sustainability and tapping into this market trend.
WHAT ARE THE CRUCIAL ISSUES MOST BUSINESSES ARE ADDRESSING TO ENSURE SURVIVAL AND SUCCESS?
Addressing the question from our own, slightly skewed perspective I would raise the push towards sustainability as the strongest “must win battle” today. This development was already palpable before the pandemic, but the lock down period really hit the afterburner, with us seeing ALL new commercial projects being seriously discussed having an unforeseen level of demand for sustainable solutions being paramount. Fortunately for us, this is an existing competitive advantage we already have, and are thus well positioned in the global marketplace to lead the way towards zero emissions boating.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We are continuing to see more and more signs of the urgent need to accelerate actions towards increased sustainability. Momentum is gaining, as there is demand around the world for more sustainable solutions, combined with a shift in investments. This is a transformation that we welcome and embrace – not only within Volvo Penta, but also across the Volvo Group.
Sustainability is an area we believe is critical to success for the future.
HAS THERE BEEN A NOTABLE CHANGE IN SUPPLY CHAINS FOR MARINE INDUSTRY BUSINESSES WITH A MOVE TO SOURCE MORE LOCALLY?
Due to the nature of our business, we have really built up our own ecosystem of local suppliers for key components and materials over the past decades. Also due to our genuine sustainability push we have managed to create a circular economy for many materials and components where our waste (like the wood and plywood materials used for our molds) is reused by local actors. We also do a fair amount of R&D on new materials such as flax, and are currently looking into recycled carbon fibre which is looking promising in the long term.
Worldwide there are impacts to global supply chains at the moment, with shortages of components like semi-conductors impacting many industries. It is too early to say whether this has stimulated any trends to source more locally.
WHAT ARE THE KEY CHANGES YOU HAVE HAD TO MAKE IN YOUR BUSINESS DURING THIS PANDEMIC TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE?
We have been blessed in the sense that we managed to keep production running all through this intensely challenging time. However, our internal restrictions have been pretty draconian from early March 2020; a key factor in being able to weather the challenges this well. Internal communication has been one of the key challenges. Here we have introduced a number of new measures to enable us to efficiently reach out to the entire staff despite there being no possibility of gathering everybody together for traditional “company info” type events. Our video versions of company info´s have been well received, and interestingly we now find ourselves communicating more frequently than before the pandemic.
Another interesting notion at the beginning of the pandemic was that marketing as we knew it was essentially shut down. So we decided to focus heavily on digital platforms instead, and as a result we increased to volume and frequency of content there; and this has been a highly successful approach. One that we could happily validate at the recent Monaco Yacht Show. Never before have the average visitors on our boat seemed to be so well aware of recent developments at the yard.
Speed and flexibility at implementing new ways of working has been key. During the pandemic, we have accelerated our digital transformation, deploying new ways of working digitally to get closer to our dealers and customers – in spite of lockdowns and travel restrictions. For instance, we managed to successfully, remotely commission solutions on commercial vessels like we did for a crew transfer vessel for Northern Offshore Services.
We have seen an acceleration of the digital transformation happening also across the leisure boating sector – with consumers looking for new ways to search for and buy boats online. This includes the introduction of online boat shows, virtual show rooms and yacht tours, and online solutions to stimulate boat purchase.
We expect this trend to continue, hand-in-hand, with traditional approaches to the boat buying process, like physical boat shows and events.
WHEN INTERNATIONAL BOAT SHOWS RESUME, WILL THEY BE AS IMPORTANT AS BEFORE?
Coming off the Monaco Yacht Show there is certainly a pent up demand for live events. All boats, but maybe especially custom superyachts are “touchy, feely” products, where you definitely need to immerse yourself in the actual product to be able to sense the quality, and to some extent the luxury as well. So for us, the few boat shows that we do continue to be an important tool in the marketing tool box.
Connecting face to face will continue to be an important touchpoint for the leisure industry, as the boat buying process is an emotional decision. What we imagine going forward is more of a hybrid approach, where digital touchpoints will have a key influence on the boat buying process, but people will still also want to see and experience boats through boat shows and private events.
WHAT DO YOU VIEW AS THE MAIN OBSTACLES WOMEN FACE IN THE MARINE SECTOR?
That there is still a need for these kind of questions meaning a woman has to work harder and be better at her work than her male colleagues to be recognised.
I don’t see that women face any specific obstacles in the marine industry. The challenge we have on the leisure side of the business today is to get younger people into boating. Across the leisure boating industry, we need to team up on painting the benefits of the experiences you can have through boating. There are many unique experiences you have by getting out on the water – beyond just the trill of boating itself. We need to tap into the experience-driven mindset of a younger generation by making boating an attractive alternative.
THE WORLD IS NOW SHAPED BY TECHNOLOGY CHANGE, SOCIAL MEDIA, CONSUMER EXPECTATIONS AND HYPER CONNECTIVITY HOW HAVE YOU EMBRACED THESE FACTORS TO DEVELOP YOUR BUSINESS?
I think we are really fortunate to be building custom boats for innovative, bold and curious customers. There is a great dynamic at play when we together embark upon the remarkable journey that each custom build is already during the build time. For us it is an inspiring and iterative process, where we find ourselves mutually pushing the boundaries of what has been done before, and I think, if possible, we have become even more flexible in our approach to new ideas. This is an exciting time, especially considering the advances in hybrid and electric propulsion that will truly shape the industry for years to come. And in our case we find, interestingly, that what is morally and ethically the right thing to do (=actively push towards building our yachts as sustainably as possible) is also financially rewarding.
We are working to evolve our unique At Sea customer journey online to ensure customers receive the right information at the right time in the right channel. This includes continuously evolving our online presence through channels like our web site, social media and eCommerce. It also includes identifying ways to increase digital integration across dealer and OEM channels, which are as important aspects for managing the complete digital customer journey.
We are also considering how to create an even more personalized and tailored experience online. This is critical to connecting with our customers for today and will continue to be essential for the customer experience of tomorrow.
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