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Since joining Burgess Yacht Brokers at the age of 23, Jonathan Beckett has become one of the most successful and experienced yacht brokers in the industry, having orchestrated the sale of many of the world’s most famous yachts.
From 1981 to 1983, he worked in Monaco with the company’s founder Nigel Burgess, before moving to the UK to launch the London operation. Following the sad loss of Nigel Burgess during the Vendée Globe race in 1992, Jonathan was appointed as Chief Executive and has since led Burgess to become one of the world’s leading superyacht brokerage houses.
What made you want to pursue a maritime career?
Well, I grew up in Norfolk, sailing on the Norfolk Broads (a network of rivers and lakes in Norfolk and Suffolk). I always thought I would do something with boats; so, I guess my thought process was that I would do something with boats on the Norfolk Broads. But it proved to be something else…
How did you first get into the industry?
I went sailing in the Caribbean when I was 18 years old. I sort of just took myself out to Antigua and got a deckhand job on a 55ft sailing boat, which was the largest boat I had ever seen. I thought it was brilliant. I spent about 10 months in the Caribbean and then I came back and went to university.
When I left university, I walked into a newspaper shop and picked up a copy of Yachting World and wrote to every advertiser or company that featured in the magazine with a personal letter and my CV. I sent about 100 letters in total.
I got five replies, and I had five interviews, which was quite good. One of the interviews I had was with Nigel Burgess. It was just him and his secretary at the time, and he said: “Look, I really like you. I think we’d work well together, but I can’t afford to employ anyone else at the moment. But I’d love to keep in touch with you. So, stay in touch and let’s see where we go.”
I got another job as a yacht broker in Athens — on commission only, which was probably worse than having no job at all. Anyway, it was a good experience, and 10 months later, I joined Nigel Burgess in Monaco.
What do you enjoy most about working in the maritime sector?
Well, I love boats, and I love the water. I’m a very keen sailor. But for me, the passion I guess is the people. We employ a lot of people, but we also employ a lot of very good young people. For me, the passion is seeing young people, who are probably also keen sailors, coming into our sector and developing their careers. I enjoy providing a platform for these people to make a living.
Why do you think online training courses are so beneficial (as opposed to learning in a classroom)?
These days, living in the modern world, everybody is doing two jobs or two peoples’ jobs. It’s very difficult for people to find the time to take out of work or out of their studies to do a full-time course during the day. So, I think an online course is very beneficial to the industry.
Having said that, there is no substitute for sitting with people and being in front of people. I spend my whole life travelling the world meeting people — meeting clients, meeting other promoters, meeting shipyards — because you can make things happen when you do that. The online course is extremely valuable, but I think it’s also important that students make sure they actually get out and meet some of the people in this business.
Why is the fact that MTA Course Directors are all active industry experts so important?
I think you’ve got to be working at the core place. You know, it’s interesting when you look at companies around our sector. There are a number of company owners or company CEOs who have been working at the core place for years, who know the industry inside out and have this immense knowledge and understanding of the way things work.
There are other companies who have drafted in outside shareholders as an owner or an outside CEO, and I think it’s very difficult for them. I think they don’t quite understand how the industry ticks. They don’t understand that it sometimes takes five years to find someone a yacht. If you have a broker who built the relationship, there’s no point questioning why he hasn’t closed the sale within 12 or 24 months — it just isn’t that sort of business.
So, I think it’s very valuable to have these company leaders and industry leaders who have worked in the business and truly understand all the ins and outs because it’s a very unusual industry.
What’s your favourite part about being a Course Director?
I think it’s a great thing to help young people. It’s all about young people going forwards, so anything you can do to help them is a pleasure.
How will the Superyacht Operations course help students excel in their careers?
I think it’s a great course. It’s a great thing for somebody wanting to come into our industry who hasn’t been working in it. It’s great for them to get that under their belt. And, certainly, if you’re looking to employ somebody and they’ve taken themselves off and done that course, it will look very good on their CVs. It’s one of those boxes that’s a great box to tick in terms of coming into the industry.
What skills do students need to be successful in Superyacht Operations?
I think definitely patience! Certainly, being a good communicator is also essential. It’s all about communication. It’s about relationships. And it’s about tenacity and patience.
What do you look for when hiring people at Burgess?
When we interview people, we’re always looking for somebody who is, I guess, “streetwise” and who has very good communication skills. Those are the two things we’re really looking for.
If you employ a young person, you have to train them on the commercial aspect of it, but you also need people who are very good communicators and who work very hard. It’s quite interesting in our company; the people who work the hardest are the people who are the most successful.
Finally, what are your tips to help students achieve their dream role in the maritime industry?
You’ve got to be very persistent and tenacious. You might get knocked back a few times. You’ve got to put your foot through the door and try to meet people. Doing the course is one thing, but once you’ve enrolled on the course and you’re actually studying on it, maybe make a few phone calls or write a few letters to people like me saying “I’m doing this course and really keen to come into the industry. I appreciate you might not have any positions open for me, but I was just wondering if you could give me the benefit of your knowledge or insights about the industry”. I do that all the time.