Mr Vitelli, congratulations on Azimut Yachts turning 50 this year. What events has the company planned to celebrate this major anniversary?
We will celebrate in different ways, primarily with our own workforce – such as awarding gold medals to employees with a long history in Azimut-Benetti – and with clients who have been repeat owners of our boats. The focus will be on our beautiful factories, which are among the best in the world, and on Italian lifestyle.
For 19 years, Azimut-Benetti has topped the Global Order Book for yachts over 24m. How have you managed to lead such a competitive superyacht industry for so long?
If I was to list the main assets that contributed to making the Azimut-Benetti Group a leader, I would mention three. Firstly, financial stability; being a privately-owned company, this allowed us to invest the profits within the company and to resist during the international financial crisis. Secondly, consistency, meaning the capability to maintain a continuous and coherent direction and positioning. Finally, innovation, both in terms of technology and design where we have always been disruptive.
Since Azimut created the Grande brand, we entered the world of luxury superyachts with the right identity. Azimut owners dream to buy a Grande and get a very personalised service. Soon, Grande will include an extraordinary three-deck megayacht which will lead to a unique innovation.
The key words in our group are continuity and consistency. If we have been fully committed to superyachts since the acquisition of Benetti, it’s just logical that the market recognises it. Being committed means to show the direction for new strategies, new solutions, new concepts and the Vitelli family passion for the product. This makes all this possible.
Your daughter, Giovanna, has taken on an increasingly important role at Azimut-Benetti in recent years. How closely do you work with her to ensure your company – and your legacy – is in good hands?
We share all the strategic decisions. We control the product development, but we clearly know that a company of this size increasingly needs a separation between the manager role and the shareholder role.
By the way, Giovanna is doing an excellent work in the selection of talented designers coming from luxury residential and retail experiences, bringing a blast of fresh air to our recent models.
You’ve mentioned photos of you when you were four years old hugging an Evinrude 1947 outboard motor, instead of playing with sandcastles on the beach. What do you remember of your earliest years and your passion for boats?
I loved the challenging trips on the sea. I made incredible adventures on a 3m inflatable with sail and on a 4m plywood dinghy with the Evinrude motor you’re referring to. With these little boats, I was on the water for several days, cruising on the open sea.
What led you to create Azimut in 1969, when you were still at university?
I was moved by passions: passion for boats, passion for business, a desire to beat the successes of my father, my dream of a family business.
I spent the first money I earned on chartering sailing boats. I found it so fantastic that I thought, why not share this experience with other people? And why not try to make some money in doing it? It was as simple as that!
Why did you decide to start producing your own yachts?
I decided to build instead of just importing boats because I felt the potential of the Italian style, of the Italian skills, of the Italian artisanal labour. I wanted to be cleverer than the yacht builders I was representing in Italy. And I could start with little money because initially I was totally subcontracting my production.
How did the opportunity arise to buy Benetti in 1985?
I thought it was an opportunity not to be missed and when you are 35, you do not consider the risks too much. One or two years earlier, I had lost the opportunity to buy Baglietto and I wanted my ‘revenge’. And Benetti was a much, much better opportunity!
Since the acquisition, how have you divided your time between Azimut and Benetti?
In principle, I mainly dedicate myself to strategies and control, but when a business line, Azimut or Benetti, requires much more attention, due to an economic situation or a change of management, I give all the necessary time and even more to the area of business that may require my experience. And now my daughter Giovanna is doing the same, with particular attention to product development.
Can you talk about how the Asian market has grown for Azimut since you were first represented in the region from 1987?
The Asian market has always been important for us. Actually, we were pioneers in exporting in Asia. We were the first in Hong Kong, the first in China, the first in Japan, the first in Australia and, more recently, among the first in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
I remember beautiful trips done with some business colleagues in the early 1980s to better understand those countries. This strategy was very useful because when the difficult times arrived in Europe, we were already exporting 80 per cent out of Europe, while our competitors were exporting no more than 30-40 per cent out of Europe.
Today, the area including Asia-Pacific countries counts for about 15 per cent of the Group’s total turnover. Like everyone else in the yachting industry, we were expecting a boom in China, which is still a semi-silent country, but personally I am optimistic. It will take some time … but it will happen. And Azimut is the best brand in Southeast Asia!
If you were to assess the global yacht industry since 1969, what have been the main turning points that have changed the market?
I think that the first turning point was moving from wood to fibreglass. I would then mention the introduction of pod propulsion and finally the ability to use creativity to improve aesthetics and function.
If you were to predict the biggest change in the industry in the coming decade, what would it be?
My personal opinion is that small companies will disappear. The investments required for innovation for them will be higher; automotive perfection will be a basic requirement. We will always be ahead of those changes.
Full interview appears in Yacht Style Issue 45, available on Magzter: