In just a few short years, Roger Liang has taken Kingship from being a new player on the world stage to being a yard worthy of attention and respect. Between his smart business principles and the strides the yard is making in innovative technology and even “green” construction, it’s clear that Kingship intends to remain a contender for years to come. In this Leadership Series interview, Liang discusses how troubles with a yacht he commissioned two decades ago didn’t dissuade him from pursuing his passion—and how he skillfully avoided becoming another “client buys shipyard” disaster story. He also discusses what he’s done with Kingship to make it strong business, and separates fact from fiction about yacht building in China.
Q: Some people may not be familiar with your experience in the commercial shipping industry. Can you explain it, and why you decided to make the transition into yacht construction?
A: I have always had a passion in superyacht, but the transition actually came with my personal interest when I bought my first yacht. When my family ferry business was sold in the 1980s, I commissioned my own steel and aluminum yacht from Baglietto (a 56-footer which is still cruising today). Any thoughts that this purchase would mean some lazy hours on the bridge deck were soon forgotten; what I got instead was a new career. The yard hit some choppy financial waters, offering me a chance to step in. I bought it and restarted the company, and I ran the yard with Gérard Rodrigues and another friend.
Q: There are several stories about how yacht buyers end up purchasing shipyards to get their projects completed. Unfortunately, these situations usually do not work out well. However, you had an interesting, and even arguably successful, situation with Baglietto. To what do you credit your success?
A: In my years at Baglietto, I had the chance to work with several of today’s world masters who were only beginning their career back then, namely Giovanni Zuccon, Francesco Paszkowski, and the late Jon Bannenberg. They have all become some of the world’s most influential designers. They have all been so inspiring, and I had learned a great deal from them.
Q: After the sale of Baglietto, you turned your attention to establishing an Asia-based shipyard. Why did you select China as the location for Kingship, rather than another country?
A: I wanted to build in Asia, waters closer to home. I looked into many places including Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia, and Singapore before settling in China. There are several reasons why I chose China to be the location for Kingship. First of all, China is already very mature as a shipbuilding nation. She was already the world’s 3rd or 4th largest shipbuilding nation in terms of tonnage output 10 years ago. She is probably the 1st or 2nd largest in the world now. Secondly, building a superyacht requires both workers and engineers to work together. In China, there are not only a vast amount of disciplined and well-trained workers, but also engineers. In the last 10 years, China has the largest numbers of engineers graduating from universities every year, which provides a firm base of skilled labor force providing knowledge and techniques to the industry. Furthermore, to build a successful business, there must be a network of good supporting industries. To build a superyacht, other than craftsmanship, we’d need supplies of good marble work, glass work, woodwork, and also furniture. These are the reasons why I strategically locate our shipyard at Zhongshan, where we have easy access to all these talents and industries which make our business so viable.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about yacht construction in China?
A: The utmost important elements in this industry are quality and goodwill, which people think China lacks at the moment. However, the truth is that China had years or centuries of fine craftsmanship. She has always had some of the best engineers and shipbuilders. And also in the related areas, like furniture making. We have great carpenters and marble workers. That strong base of craftsmen is a great help to us. We have to give the Chinese craftsmen more credit.
Q: It seems that just as Kingship was gaining ground and becoming a more well-known name internationally, the global recession hit. How has it impacted your yard?
A: As I have pointed out, “innovation” isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind, but it’s a key driver. During recession times, people would try to avoid unnecessary spending, and to attract potential buyers, you must add in extra flavor in your products; and innovation would play this part well. Therefore, we chose to introduce Green Voyager to the world. She has successfully caught the world’s attention and is currently under construction.
Q: With Green Voyager, Kingship is challenging not just yacht buyers’ perceptions of how a yacht can be designed and engineered, but also the industry’s perception of what can be accomplished. Do you envision equally daring and different projects for the future?
A: Of course. I have always done things radically. I was in all the yards in the world, learning from all the masters. And I had to compete. I got a taste for reliability and improvement—making the next boat better than the last. This is what I always believe in. Building something different and innovative is always the key.