The Pendennis shipyard in Falmouth, a port in Great Britain’s southwesternmost county of Cornwall, traces its history back to when the entrepreneur Peter de Savary bought a then-struggling boatbuilding business. He relocated it to the Falmouth Docks, a property he already owned. This year sees the 25th anniversary of that founding, and today the company has, in Mike Carr and Henk Wiekens (left and right, respectively), two managing directors each sharing the duties of controlling the company. Under their guidance, Pendennis has grown to become the major force in the local employment market and establish a strong presence internationally.
Here, Carr discusses triumphs and struggles, plus how Pendennis is training the craftspeople of the future.
Q: Looking back over the 25 years of Pendennis’ history, you must be quite proud of what you have achieved. Tell us about the early days.
A: Pendennis has been around as a name for a long time in this area, but Peter de Savary gave this shipyard its name. It began building yachts for Oyster in 1988 and expanded. With the contract to build what became Taramber (now La Cattiva), he first hired Henk through the yachts designers Dubois. Henk was working in New Zealand at the time. I joined in September 1989 after a seven-year spell at Vosper Thornycroft, where, following a graduate training program, I had held several project-management positions before joining VT’s small yacht-building division for two years. Peter de Savary helped us in our bid to buy the company; he made it possible, but we made it work. From those early beginnings, we have developed two dry docks with purpose-built workshops for both craftsmen and crew, offices, and storage facilities. All of these have been designed to fit under one roof in a three-story extension building to the rear of the dock. The workshops include spray-painting booths for smaller components, as well as purpose-built facilities to house electrical, engineering, and exterior-outfitting departments. We have come a long way.
Q: What is one your favorite moment over that time?
A: I think one of my proudest moments was getting the national recognition for our apprenticeship school and the winning of the National Training Awards Large Employer Award about four years ago. That, and standing next to Henk and Sir Timothy Sainsbury (our chairman at the time) when we opened the Terry Vernon refit center. We named it after our very first chairman, who was both a good friend and an extremely good hand on the tiller when it came to steering our company growth. Another highlight must be our finishing the building of the world’s largest catamaran, Hemisphere, which is certainly testament to our workforce’s broad-based skill set.
Q: Have there been any disappointments?
A: I guess our inability to be a bit more successful in the use of composite building could be called a disappointment because we did not manage to hold it together, but then again perhaps we were getting slightly ahead of ourselves, and there will be lots of opportunities in the future. Although we have built the motoryachts Steel and Ilona, we are still not perceived as builders of motoryachts but rather sailing yachts. We rebuild and refit and build, cover a broad range.
Q: Pendennis has done a great deal to foster an apprenticeship scheme. How did that come about?
A: It started with our need to build a skill base. Jill, my wife, is a teacher by training, and she suggested we instigate a training school. We asked her to look into the possibility; she did and then went on to create it. She did a fantastic job, and it has been hugely successful in terms of what it has done for the company’s workforce, but we have used it to put back a great deal into our local community here in Falmouth, too.
Q: You have recently opened up a service center in Palma de Mallorca. How is that doing?
A: Very well indeed. We have seen some interesting projects pass through the base we have out there. It has been a good exercise not only in helping our customer base, but also it gives our staff here in the shipyard the opportunity to see another side of the business. But I do not see why we should stop with Palma. Why should we not, for example, open a base on the East Coast of America? Perhaps in the south first or maybe even the Caribbean. We have a very loyal base of repeat American owners, many of who I suspect would enjoy our style of management and attitude to work undertaken closer to home. We have grown a good bunch of people and need to offer them some exciting opportunities, or they will leave.
Q: Pendennis is unusual in that you have two joint managing directors. How does that work for you?
A: We made a conscious decision from day one to work together in partnership. We come from very different backgrounds. Henk served his time under an apprenticeship and has always worked with his hands. I came into the industry with a university education, with naval-architectural training. Combining our two skills is infinitely better than working as an individual. Our two personalities mix very well together. We have had amazing times together, I don’t think either of us could have done it alone. We have a different way of handling clients; some align to Henk, some to me. Henk has incredible love of life and people. We each own the same amount of company. There were four shareholders at beginning, now there are 22, with Henk and I being the largest shareholders. Neither of us plans to leave; we work together as part of a board of directors with a chairman at the helm. Currently Henk is more involved in the technical aspects of the yard both in guiding of work and the development, leaving me running the administrative side of the company. This can, of course, and may well change, it just depends on what type of customer comes through the door. In due course, given that he is older than me, Henk will retire, but I will worry about that when the time comes.