Founded in 1875, Lürssen has been responsible for building well more than 3,000 pleasureboats, naval vessels, and of course megayachts. In terms of the latter, some of the most famous megayachts in the world have emerged from its sheds, including Limitless, Octopus, Pelorus, Skat, and of course the soon-to-be delivered Azzam, which will officially be the largest pleasure yacht in the world. But clients don’t head to Lürssen simply for big boats; they select it based on its reputation for quality. That’s among the reasons why the International Superyacht Society honored Peter Lürssen, a managing partner of the shipyard (Lürssen is run by Peter and his cousin Frederich), with its Leadership Award in 2005. And, it’s the reason why Peter is our selection for the Leadership Series interview. Here, he discusses what it’s like running such a historic company, what type of advice he and his team give clients, and whether he thinks anything will ever eclipse Azzam.
Q: There are undoubtedly some special challenges of heading a well-established, family-owned company. One that first comes to mind is whether you feel more pressure to succeed due to the family legacy?
A: I have always wanted to work in the shipyard, and, of course, there is a certain pressure when you want to carry on as the fourth generation with the successful work of your forefathers. Obviously, you learn to live with the pressure, and soon you think about how to successfully prepare the handover to the next generation, and sometimes it helps, having experienced this pressure, to help the next generation to maybe have it a bit easier.
Q: Does there ever come a point when working with a client where you feel compelled to give your opinion, such as to caution against doing something that might make the yacht difficult to resell? Do clients appreciate input, and do you even feel that it’s appropriate to offer opinions?
A: First and foremost, it is our mission to build what the clients want, to create the bespoke yacht that fulfils the clients’ dreams and expectations. However, we always point out when we feel that there are issues that may compromise the safety or the enjoyment or the practical use of the yacht. Our clients generally appreciate it if we offer honest advice based on our experience.
Q: Lürssen is set to deliver Azzam, the world’s largest yacht, later this year, a size that most people probably consider unfathomable for a “toy.” Do you think there’s the potential for yachts to be even bigger?
A: I think there may always be an individual who would want to top the top, but yachts of this size will remain the exception.
Q: There’s lots of talk about transparency these days among people in the industry. Do you think buyers/owners have been hampered by a lack of transparency, and if so, what should change to improve business and customer service?
A: I think our industry is as transparent as many other industries, and we find that our clients are generally well informed about the markets. However, as every market in which there are many players, one has to make an effort to be fully informed.
Q: Quantum once observed that superyachts contributed zero-speed stabilizers to naval-vessel technology. As someone who also builds vessels for the world’s navies, what other overlaps do you see?
A: Yachts and naval vessels are both highly engineered ships that, for example, share a need for low noise and low vibration and reliability of systems installed on them. We are fortunate to have a very large and highly qualified engineering division for yachts and a second one for naval vessels. With the combined knowledge of both divisions, we are in the position to find solutions for even very demanding challenges.
Q: Do you see any substantive upward trends in the demand/prices for yachts in your sector?
A: It is very difficult to talk about trends in demand and prices in a market that in absolute numbers only has a very small number of contracts placed every year. We have neither increased our capacity nor our prices during the boom times, and we have not lowered our prices in the tough times. A price for a yacht depends for a large extent on the labor involved in producing the ship itself as well as all the components such as machinery and interior, and the labor cost has not fluctuated in any significant way during the crisis. We therefore have always maintained a constant level which we openly explain to potential clients, and very fortunately we have been able to maintain a decent order book over the years.
Q: Chinese people seem to be gradually developing an interest in yachts. Have you any interesting observations or experiences in that market?
A: We, as many of our competitors, have been watching the Chinese market for several years. The infrastructure and the regulatory environment are currently more suited for production boats up to a maximum of 100 feet. However, with the ongoing development of the Chinese market, we are hopeful that there will be, eventually, a market for larger yachts as well. One just has to be patient.