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Captains must earn the right to be treated like a CEO

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Owner’s View: by Peter Herm

Captains regularly bring up the issue of owners interfering in the management of the crew and the management of the boat in general. They point out that in an owner’s business, if the owner saw some issue with an employee, corporate process would cause the owner to contact the employee’s supervisor to deal with the issue rather than the employee directly. Don’t chew out the stew; tell the captain.

In many cases, captains say that the owners tend to take crew issues into their own hands rather than going through the chain of command as they would/should in their business. To some degree the proximity probably influences this I am sure, but there is another reason.

Captains are also not happy about the micromanaging from the owner. Why does this happen and how can captains fix it?

The short answer is that many captains are not perceived by their owners as managers of a business. They are perceived as seafarers. Hopefully, all captains are seafarers, but are they also managers and businessmen? For captains to be treated as managers, they need to act like and be continually trained as managers of people and businesses.

Captains must earn the right in the owner’s eyes to be treated like any of his/her other managers in their shoreside businesses. With my captain, I respect the chain of command. He makes all of the daily decisions, but he earned it.

Some of the tip-offs that show which captains are business-oriented and those who are not include the following, in no particular order:

  1. Are the accounts detailed, accurate and provided on the requested schedule?
  2. Are crew managed like an executive would manage his team? Fire early and often? Lead and train? Set a great example?
  3. Does the captain have business and management training, either formally or informally? Does he/she regularly read management books that would be applicable to managing employees in a business as well as a crew?
  4. When making an expenditure, does the captain shop it carefully, getting three bids from vendors? Does the captain spend the owner’s money as if it were his own?
  5. Is the captain an expert in yachting? My managers are experts in their business. They attend conferences and are up to date on what their competitors are doing today and will be doing tomorrow. They actively educate themselves, both formally and informally.
  6. What publications are on the bunk-side table? Sports Illustrated and Hustler, or Forbes, Boating Industry and Superyacht Report?
  7. Did you go to METS in Amsterdam in November? How about the Refit Conference in Ft. Lauderdale last month?

Micromanaging by owners is a subset of the above, but a little more complex. Some owners micromanage because they feel they have to. For others, like me, it is my nature to micromanage certain things because the boat is a topic I care about more than a lot of my business issues.

As in all things, this whole topic is most easily resolved with an open and honest conversation between the owner and captain. Communication on issues that cause friction is best done early and often. It may get resolved or it may not, but if it isn’t discussed, it can never be.

Captains who seek to be treated and respected as a manager of the boat and not just a seafarer must invest in themselves, become educated on management, and become an expert in this industry of boating.

To me, this sounds pretty obvious, but check out that stack of reading material by your bunk. Are they industry and business magazines, or something else? How serious are you about your profession?

Bow west and high tide only.

Peter Herm is the pen name for a veteran yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S.

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2 thoughts on “Captains must earn the right to be treated like a CEO

  1. Wendy Umla

    From the start, just reading the title of this article, I felt myself becoming agitated. A Captain must earn the right to be treated like a CEO. The owner has hired the Captain to be his/ her CEO. If the checks are properly done PRIOR to hiring, that respect should be in place. The trust needs to develop as it does in any corporation.
    I have stepped onto several vessels and the owner has been “yes”-ed to death. Whatever they want, whenever they want it. As a professional I get to tell them no, it is not safe, no, 3 days in the yard is not enough for maintenance, no, that crew member is not a team player and needs to go. Insubordination or well trained, experienced CEO?
    An owner needs to understand the complexities of running their yacht, their asset, their business. If they cannot acquiesce that authority to the captain, they either have the wrong captain or perhaps shouldn’t own a yacht.
    Too often I hear owners say it is easier to keep the ‘devil they know’ than to try to find a new captain. If their captain is not being transparent, is not organized, cannot manage their crew, it is the owners responsibility to find one that is and can. We are out there, and are proud to show our professionalism. We have the experience and yes, we are worth every bit of our salaries.

  2. William

    Most of the time a owners boat is his pet project and he enjoys spending time with it, therefore wants to know everything happening on it. But there is a difference between knowledge and interference. They obviously come from corporate environment where a different set of rules apply where they have loads of managers on different levels who specialize in specific areas. On the yachts we don’t have the luxury of always following corporate rules or having loads of crew. Getting 3 quotes for every job is sometimes impractical and we would outsource to the vendor that we rather trust than the one with the beneficial price. Same applies with doing additional courses while we run on skeleton crew to save the owner money. Most of the time crew have to resign to do courses as yachts tend to give less time off. To read up on industry relevant material is a good idea, but you do this in your own limited time after a long day? Is experience maybe a factor where younger or less experienced captains are pushed onto bigger boats to save money but lack in management experience, forcing the owner to micro manage his yacht, creating a culture of micromanagement. Micro managing prevents crew from being pro-active because they have to wait for instructions all the time. This creates a lot of frustration for crew and so for the owner. If the owner wants to enjoy his yacht, he has to realize that the key to this is a happy crew. As the previous writer states, do your interviews properly and explain to the crew exactly the level of activity the owner will have on the yacht. This goes down stream to all crew. Ask all your questions during the interview to understand exactly what culture you will be getting into and if you are a professional in your job you will most likely steer clear of micro managed yachts

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